Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Trisa Thompson: I am Vice President of Corporate Responsibility. I have managed corporate responsibility at Dell, which includes our giving and sustainability work, for three years. Prior to that, I was vice president of legal for our global operations, marketing and product groups; I joined Dell’s legal team in 1998. Before Dell, I was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Seyfarth, Shaw, where I specialized in federal, state and local procurement law and litigation.
I like to say that my current role in corporate responsibility combines my vocation with my avocation. As a lawyer, I dealt with many environmental legal issues. My personal avocation has always been working in my community, and I care a great deal about sustainability. So this is a great combination.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
TT: Our recycling program is probably our most visible long-running program. We knew early on that we needed to help our customers reuse or recycle their electronics responsibly and safely. Every product carries our founder Michael Dell’s name, so he felt a special interest in ensuring the Dell brand was managed well and wasn’t negatively affecting our environment. Our industry-leading global recycling programs have collected more than 800 million pounds of material since their inception.
Today, we use a materiality analysis to help us determine our CSR areas of focus. We use a variety of stakeholder engagement practices — everything from formal workshops to informal email — to solicit feedback. With that in mind, we can shape our sustainability strategy and reporting to ensure we’re addressing the areas that customers, NGOs, employees, shareholders and others most care about.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
TT: First, Michael Dell. His personal commitment to all that we do is inspiring, and his support for this work is unwavering. Second, when I first stepped into this role, I was surprised at how many people in the field were willing to help me quickly get up to speed. I know I will forget many of the people, but here are just a few: Shelley Esque from Intel, Aron Cramer from BSR, Gabi Zadlmayer from HP and Elizabeth Lowery, who was with GreenOrder at the time. All of these great people helped me find the forest in the trees. There is so much information out there, and so many conferences. This “team” helped me prioritize and focus on the critical issues.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
TT: Years ago, when I made my first big career transition and was contemplating moving to a state where I didn’t know a soul, a partner of mine in my old law firm, Grace Bateman, said to me: “Nothing is irreversible.” That one short sentence has given me the strength to take risks in my life that I might not have taken – but am glad that I did.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
TT: Our team members volunteered 707,000 hours last year in communities around the world. I am honored to work with such giving, passionate people.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
TT: Specific to sustainability, I would really like to see a great way to measure the impact of technology, and the true lifecycle of our solutions, on the world’s footprint. For instance, for technology that enables people to work from home, what is the impact on greenhouse gas emissions? There simply is not a uniform, “miles per gallon” metric for this today. But, we and many others are working on it.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
TT: My best day is when the team member leads at Dell who impact sustainability and giving (from operations to facilities to products and more) get together, brainstorm about and envision what could be, and then start to figure out how to get there. I work with wonderfully creative, dedicated people at Dell.