It is not easy for information technology (IT) companies to balance growth with sustainability. Cranky shareholders, Wall Street expectations, and stressed out employees make delivering corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs a challenge for the most seasoned professional. Add the fact that IT companies have seen their products–especially computers–become commoditized and assembled through an unwieldy supply chain, and such tasks become even more difficult. And now that companies are moving their business more towards cloud computing solutions, checking that “energy efficiency” box will not be so easy as data centers consume huge amounts of energy.
Nevertheless, Dell is tackling energy efficiency, environmental stewardship and additional CSR-related initiatives as best it can, as outlined in its latest Corporate Responsibility Report.
Dell’s accomplishments include the following:
- An updated energy and environmental strategy. Dell has stopped purchasing Renewable Energy Credits, central to its promise of becoming a “carbon-neutral” company. Dell has touted its carbon neutrality goals for several years, for which it has been both praised and pummeled. Dell instead will focus on becoming more energy efficient, a reality with the growth of cloud computing. To that end, Dell continues to use clean energy for its Texas headquarters, has made its laptops more energy efficient, and is lowering its data centers’ energy consumption.
- Waste: Dell is on track to recycle more than one billion pounds of electronic waste (e-waste) by 2014. The company offers mail-back recycling of Dell-branded products in 78 countries, has rolled out similar efforts to over 2,000 Goodwill locations, and has worked with both retailers and non-profits to facilitate waste diversion at even more locations.
- Sourcing: While increasing the amount and frequency of its supplier audits, Dell has participated in the launch of a conflict-free smelter validation process, and has organized best practices and ethics workshops for its suppliers in Asia. Dell also has committed to over US$1 billion in annual business with women-and minority-owned companies, and has ramped up agreements with veteran-owned businesses as well.
- Stakeholder engagement: Dell has worked with both internal and external stakeholders on a variety of initiatives. The past fiscal year witnessed Dell participating in several socially responsible investor events, expanded the use of social media to allow stakeholders to communicate their needs and concerns over the company’s activities, and incorporated several recommendations and best practices within Dell’s operations.
Dell implies that these programs had a role in the company’s strong fiscal year 2011 performance. After a tough FY 2010, revenues increased 16 percent, and other financial metrics showed strong growth, too.
As more IT companies shift from hardware to services, look for the tone of these companies’ corporate social responsibility agendas to evolve as well–and Dell, with its changing focus, is a prime example of a company rolling with these changes.