Recycling, packaging progress among Dell's 2010 sustainability achievements

Company has reset timeline with respect to eliminating certain hazardous materials.

Dell has been a favorite target of unfavorable Greenpeace attention in recent months because of adjustments it has made in the phase-out of hazardous materials from its products (back to that in a moment), but if you take a look at the technology giant's latest corporate responsibility report, you'll find there is much to applaud.

For starters, Dell was the first computer company to take a stand against against exporting non-working computer equipment -- which has been a contentious issue in the fight against the improper handling of electronic waste (aka e-waste) in emerging economies including China and India. Watch for this to continue as a corporate responsibility issue -- not just for the computer companies themselves, but for those of you offloading non-working technology as you replace it.

This is an issue that is still very much in its nascent phase, but Dell has had an active recycling effort for close to a decade. Not only has the company collected more than 484 million pounds of equipment since 2006, but it is about 44 percent of the way towards its goal to eliminate more than 20 million pounds of packaging material by 2012. It also has been among the first to experiment with entirely new sorts of packaging materials, such as bamboo .

Another big goal is using recycled materials in its product portfolio: So far, it has shipped products built with more than 7.2 million pounds of post-consumer recycled plastic -- which is the equivalent of recycling more than 263 million water bottles.

One thing that Dell did not manage to pull off during the year, which is why Greenpeace is giving it such a hard time, was eliminating all remaining brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVCs) from its products. Its latest stated goal with respect to these materials is that all newly introduced Dell personal computing products will be BFR- and PVC-free by the end of 2011. The company also support a full ban on these products in telecommunications, IT and consumer electronics equipment by 2015.

Another area where the company gives itself low marks was on training 35 suppliers on their own levels of accountability. It also believes it could do more in encouraging its Tier 1 suppliers to publish their own corporate responsibility reports.

Here are some of Dell's other ongoing goals (including new ones):

  • Reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from operations by 15 percent per dollar of revenue from 2007 to 2012. It has also pledged to operate at net zero emissions (through the purchase of renewable energy and offsets) from 2008 to 2012.
  • Achieve takeback volume totals of 1 billion pounds by 2014
  • Recycle 99 percent of nonhazardous manufacturing waste by 2014
  • Offer server-managed power management to customers, which would have the effect of cutting 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions
  • Reduce fresh water use by 5 percent by 2013

Here's another number to ponder: Dell now dedicates 1.4 percent (pre-tax) of its roughly $53 billion in annual revenue to charitable giving.

You can argue, on any given day, about which of the tech companies is "greener" in terms of sustainability -- because they all tend to leapfrog each other on different elements of their external and internal strategies. One thing that really distinguishes Dell's strategy, though, is its willingness to take risks. That is evident in its use of bamboo, as well as its e-waste stance.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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