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Andrea Newell headshot

Dell's Investment in Sustainable Packaging Earns a Certified Recyclable Rating

By Andrea Newell

At SXSW Eco, many innovative companies and NGOs have come together to discuss ideas for environmental protection. Local computer behemoth Dell was on hand to discuss their new packaging strategy.

Oliver Campbell was an engineer with no experience in packaging, but that didn't stop him from joining Dell's packaging team. As he put it, "I didn't know what couldn't be done." In fact, he drew on his farm background to help his team come up with some creative, sustainable and eco-friendly ways to package Dell products.

"We sat down and thought: what could we do at Dell that could save forests and improve the standard of living for people in other areas," Campbell said. The answer? Develop a packaging solution that reduced environmental impact.

The Dell packaging team began looking at bamboo. It very strong and has high tensile strength, it grows extremely fast and has a very high potential to be recycled. "By the end of this year, nearly 1/2 of consumer notebooks and three quarters of our business notebooks will be packaged in bamboo."

This change comes after only a year and a half with a brand new material. Campbell reports that the customers love it and it also saves Dell money. Dell spent a year researching and testing bamboo to ensure it would protect products and could be recycled. For their efforts, the company recently earned a certified recyclable rating under the FTC guidelines.

In addition to bamboo, Dell is looking at other agricultural waste products to figure out how they can be used. They have had success with molding mushrooms into cushion components. Dell strives to source packaging materials that can be recyclable or compostable after use.

Dell was also scrupulous about investigating the impact of these new materials up and down the supply chain. "I knew pandas ate bamboo. I didn't want to end up on 60 Minutes, so we walked the supply chain to ensure they fed at another location." Campbell sees supply chain as a series of relationships, each needing the requisite due diligence and maintenance to remain healthy and combine to create a sustainable packaging solution. He sees a future where supply chain and product lifecycle enjoy a new, more intimate integration.

Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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