Dell has committed to improving the energy efficiency of its desktops and laptops, and says that by 2010 they will consume 25 percent less energy than today.
The company said it will do this by continuing to integrate what it calls energy-smart technologies into its circuit designs, fans, power management features and power supplies. It is also likely to get a substantial boost towards its energy goals from suppliers such as AMD and Intel, who are creating more energy-efficient processors and chipsets as process technologies shrink, and from advances in storage technology such as the introduction of solid-state drives.
"Our customers are inspiring us to address the environmental challenges facing our planet," said Albert Esser, vice president of power and infrastructure solutions, Dell Product Group.
Dell has also pledged to become the first in its industry to "neutralise the carbon impact of worldwide operations" by the end of 2008. Like other PC makers, Dell has a recycling and refurbishment scheme as mandated by the WEEE directive.
However, more can and should be done, say green campaigners. Environmental group Greenpeace has said manufacturers should look to use more durable materials, in products that could be upgraded, and sell services to support and upgrade existing technologies.
"Products are not built to be upgraded," said Zeina Alhajj, campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace International. "If only the chip and motherboard need upgrading, why throw away the screen and the keyboard? And why should customers buy a product when they can lease it?"
In 2006, laptop maker Asus unveiled plans for a prototype modular PC based around the possibility of leasing individual component modules, so it would be easier for users to repair and replace them. Customers would be able to order components online and pick and choose specifications, Asus claimed.
Esser said Dell has no plans for similar initiatives. "Let's say you update your power supply, that is in principle possible but the cost associated with that doesn't make an awful lot of ROI sense," said Esser. "For now we think if the system is older than three years it is probably so far outdated with the requirements you put on them that the ROI of just looking at particular pieces doesn't make sense — but that doesn't mean that in the future we might consider something like that. Right now, we don't," he said.
Dell has also been criticised in the past for installing unnecessary software — or bloatware — to its PCs which users have claimed slow down the performance and ultimately contribute to a shorter lifespan for the devices. Following a campaign on the company's IdeaStorm forum, the company announced that most of the pre-installed software on its computers would become optional at the point of configuration.
When questioned on whether Dell would promote Linux more heavily as an environmentally sustainable alternative to Microsoft Windows Vista, which has been criticised by Greenpeace and others for its reliance on powerful hardware and its influence on upgrades, Esser declined to comment.