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Raz Godelnik headshot

Interview with Dell's VP of Corporate Responsibility, Trisa Thompson

Mark Vachon, VP, GE ecomagination, said once that you don’t need to choose now between the economy and the environment. Innovation is the way you can have both. Dell’s 2012 CSR report provides the latest example that he was right. Already a leader in sustainability, Dell continues to utilize innovation to be more sustainable and competitive – from using biodegradable materials such as bamboo and mushrooms for packaging to developing fresh-air cooling solutions for an entire line of data center equipment.

It doesn’t mean that the company hasn't had bumps along the way like GHG emissions intensity that went up (2.2 percent last year) instead of down. Yet, Dell’s lifecycle approach to sustainability is generating, all in all, positive results for the company as we learn from the report. I had the chance to talk about it with Trisa Thompson, VP, Corporate Responsibility at Dell.

TriplePundit: Can you some share with us some of the highlights you present in the report?

Trisa Thompson: Packaging has been a real highlight for us. We have a team that invests a lot of time on the sustainability of our packaging. In 2008, they launched what we call the 3Cs - cube, content, curb - reducing the cube, increasing the recycled and sustainable content and increasing how much is recyclable at curbside. They set aggressive goals at the time and we actually both met and surpassed them. We were able to eliminate more than 20 million pounds of packaging in three years. We increased the renewable and recyclable content in our packaging 40 percent, and up to 75 percent of packaging is recyclable at curbside.

We’re also really happy with the work we were able to accomplish over the last year in recycling. We have been leaders in this area for a long time – we’re the only electronics company that offers free global recycling for consumers. We’re up to 30 percent in how much we collected comparing to the prior year globally -192 million pounds in total. The goal we set a number of years ago was to collect 1 billion pounds by 2014, and we’re collectively now over 800 million, so I think we are going to beat our goal.

The other thing we did this year which I think is pretty progressive is working on our entire line of data center equipment, making sure that it has fresh air validation – basically it means that it can be fresh air chilled up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. The best example is what we did with one of eBay’s largest data centers in Phoenix, AZ. One of their highest criteria was to bring the cost down and make it more energy efficient. We worked with them and actually put a mobile data center on the roof, which had a PUE (power usage effectiveness) of 1.04 at 115 degrees! This is pretty amazing that this is working and it is fresh air chilled.

3p: What are the main challenges you're facing?

TT: One is really trying to figure out is a good measurement system for our overall GHG emissions. Another thing you will see in our report is that we have not completed all of our transitions to eliminate BFRs and PVC out of our products. We’re still making progress there.

3p: Do you take into consideration your business impact when it comes to your social projects? 

TT: It’s absolutely something we look at. When we look at our global philanthropy we think about the technologies that would best serve our communities. For example, on a corporate level, we don’t help build houses because our technology is not really helpful there, but we do focus on education, disaster relief and pediatric cancer where our technology makes a difference.

The pediatric cancer is one example – it started with one signature program, which we launched with TGen, a non-profit that does cancer research. One of the issues they had was that per child there are about 2 billion pieces of data and what they do is that they take some of the genes out of the cancer tumor, do genetic mapping and then match that to a specific treatment. Processing all that data was taking, at the time, over a month, and we built a high-performance computing cluster for them that got it down to a day now.

Another piece they had issues with is that they do pediatric trials in 11 different hospitals and exchanging data has been extremely cumbersome because what they do is download all the data, put it on a hard drive, FedEx it to the other hospital and upload it again. So the project we’re working on now is building a private cloud where they share the data in real time.

I give it as an example because we have a huge medical practice and other hospitals said to us ‘this is really interesting, we’re interested in that.’ So not only is it a great project, but it’s also core to what we do as a business.

3p: Were stakeholders involved in the process of making the report?

TT: We work with CERES - we do stakeholder engagement meetings with our draft report, get their feedback and then we incorporate their comments before we put the final report. This is the third year we’ve done that and we really have found a lot of value from the variety of stakeholders that CERES gathered for us, bringing these thoughts together before we actually created the final report.

[Image credit: Dell]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.

Raz Godelnik headshotRaz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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