Dell Claims its Operation is Carbon Neutral – Is It Real or Greenwash?

Dells claims it is carbon neutral five months ahead of scheduleIn a flurry of publicity yesterday, computer-maker Dell announced that it has reached its target of carbon neutrality, and it has done it five months ahead of schedule.

Dell has an established record of efforts to become a leaner, greener operation, as we’ve reported here in TriplePundit. From a recent announcement of their 80 PLUS Gold power supply to last spring’s statement that their 2.1 million-square-foot headquarters in Round Rock Texas was powered 100% with renewable energy, Dell has touted its goal of becoming the greenest technology company on the planet.

Tod Dwyer, writing yesterday in the Dell company blog Regeneration, said the company’s $3 billion dollar investment in renewable electricity, primarily from wind, solar, and methane-gas capture, has grown from 12 million kilowatt-hours in 2004 to 116 million kWh today – in increase of 870 percent.

Additionally, Dell’s Plant a Tree for Me reforestation program has “offset thousands of tons of CO2 emissions” according to Dwyer, adding that more green programs are on the way.

As reported in TreeHugger, Dell laid out a step-by-step plan on their course to carbon neutral:

  • Implement efficiency standards throughout the operation.
  • Purchase renewable energy directly.
  • Buy verified emission reductions (offsets) and renewable energy certificates for what’s left.

This is great stuff, of course, but – and you probably see this coming – is it really as good as the company claims? Specifically, how does one gauge what it really means to be “carbon neutral”, and is it really even possible?

Standing Up to Rigorous Scrutiny

Clive Longbottom, from business and IT analyst firm Quocirca, expressed his skepticism, calling claims of “carbon neutral” as “a large amount of greenwash”, adding,

“Computer companies should be focusing on the developments made in recent years in the reduction of harmful material inside the computers, and reduction in the power that computers use. With these high claims, companies are setting themselves up to be knocked back down again.”

“It really worries me” Longbottom said, “when companies claim they have achieved carbon neutrality, when it’s really not possible. You have to question whether they have taken all their workers’ commuting into consideration, and the materials [involved] in making a computer, going all the way back to zinc mining.”

Longbottom has legitimate points here. The term “carbon neutral” is dicey when all aspects of the bigger picture are taken into account – the sort of accounting, incidentally, lacking in not just Dell claims of being carbon neutral (how well, for instance, does the economy take into account the true cost of burning fossil fuels?) – but to dismiss Dell’s efforts for fear of not getting everything perfectly right or accounted for in its initial efforts, or advocating timidity for fear of being “knocked down again” is, in my view, throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Let companies like Dell stand up and shout “Carbon Neutral!”, while at the same time demonstrating the real steps taken they feel entitles them to that claim, and have it stand – or not – to rigorous scrutiny. That’s my understanding, in a nutshell, of how science works and how humanity progresses. Keep plugging away at a problem until it is solved. The important thing is for someone to plug away at it.

Skepticism is essential to the process (and by that, of course, I don’t mean the virulent, mindless ranting, often in ALL CAPS, that I am privileged occasionally to receive on my climate change blog GlobalWarmingisReal).

Perhaps the term “carbon neutral” is a bit of a misnomer and rigorous scrutiny is required of such claims. But where there is progress, we should acknowledge it, learn from it, and build on it.



Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists