Mobile Enterprise recently spoke with Mark Newton, environmental policy manager of sustainable business at Dell, about the computer maker's environmental initiatives. These include Plant a Tree for Me, a program conducted in partnerships with The Conservation Fund and Carbonfund.org, which offers customers a way to offset the carbon emissions related to their computer use.
MOBILE ENTERPRISE: What was the impetus behind the Plant a Tree for Me program?
MARK NEWTON: It's part of a larger climate strategy that we have that looks at each aspect of the product lifecycle, from sourcing and manufacturing to design, use of the product, and end of life issues and we realized that we had an opportunity to address the product use [by partnering] with our customers and offering them the opportunity to offset the carbon associated with their use of the product. It turned out that it really resonated with our customers. People know about climate change, but they don't really know what to do about it.
ME: Can sustainable initiatives and increasing profits be complementary ideas?
MN: They're absolutely complementary. Even when you get beyond the obvious one, which is trying to quantify, in terms of lost business that may occur, if you don't consider these issues. It's absolutely in your best interest to be looking at these issues. Any company that's not is missing out on great opportunities. ....The whole idea of environmental performance is moving from a compliance topic to an equity topic, and companies that understand that and can position themselves to provide products that are environmentally preferable are opening up new markets for themselves. Some of the things that we're doing to provide our customers with more energy-efficient products are saving them literally billions of dollars through electricity savings.
ME: What advice can you give enterprises that want to be more "green" but are unsure of the first steps to take?
MN: Embrace external relationships. Whether they're NGOs, customers, businesses that you partner with or that you're dependant upon. Even competitors. Much of this is very precompetitive. A standards framework hasn't been established yet, and there are great opportunities still to provide vision and leadership, to set those standards and ultimately a regulatory framework that can help govern continued progress in this area. Another is finding things that resonate with customers - things that are intuitive, that have a good return on investment and help customers understand the importance of the issues. Dell is a very strong proponent of producer responsibility, which essentially means that if you produce a product, you need to take it back at no additional charge to the customer. Dell is the only company that takes back all of the product it creates worldwide, free of charge. In addition, it will take back any other manufacturers' product with a Dell purchase.
ME: Are there other initiatives at Dell that can be examples to its peers?
MN: There's a great opportunity still, with respect to recycling. Dell partners with Goodwill, with a program that we call RECONNECT. [Most people] don't consider a company like Dell, or even your local landfill, as a place where you'd want to go recycle or donate. But when you have something that you paid $2,500 or $1,500 for many years ago, it's now sitting on your shelf because you think it has value. But you'd much rather have it re-marketed or resold or donated to somebody else. So it really resonates with Goodwill. Just like if you have clothing of value, you'd rather give it to Goodwill than throw it away. It's convenient, and this program has really helped move forward the return rate for our product. We're trying to eventually get back everything that we sell.