Dell Declares It's "Carbon Neutral"

Dell said this morning that it has achieved its “carbon neutral” goal in less than a year’s time — about five months ahead of the computing giant’s previous schedule — through a combination of energy efficiency, voluntary green power purchases and carbon offsets from rainforest preservation in Madagascar. The program aimed to eliminate or offset 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from Dell’s operations in its first year.

Going carbon neutral isn’t easy to do right, but Dell seems to have gotten the essentials down: Get the numbers in place; go for efficiency upgrades first; then offset the rest. (That’s Neal Dikeman’s “Evaluate, Efficiency, Environmental Offset” trinity.) The company dedicated $5 million to the project, which was spent over a period of about two years.

Dell focused on three categories: Direct emissions from actual energy production and fuel use (scope 1); indirect emissions from facilities energy use (scope 2); and employee air travel (scope 3). Carbon emissions from building energy use made up 80 percent of Dell’s calculated impacts, so that’s where the company focused its efficiency efforts, trimming 20,000 tons (4 percent) of carbon dioxide annually. While we’re encouraged by Dell’s plan, we think the company could find additional opportunities for energy efficiency; without major attention to efficiency, buying premium-priced green power is sort of like buying a closet full of new suits just before going on a diet.

So far, Dell has focused on efficiency improvements with a return on investment of three years or less: upgrading lighting fixtures at the company’s Texas campus, updating heating and cooling systems at facilities around the world, and implementing smaller measures across its facilities, such as occupancy sensors for lighting and a power management system for all networked computers. “You can imagine how big our network is!” Dell spokesman Bryant Hilton remarked.

The company has purchased a total 645 million kilowatt hours of green power through voluntary utility programs and renewable energy certificates (as well as VERs), accounting for a total savings of about 400,000 tons of carbon. “If you look at the whole picture, we invested the RECs and VERs…primarily in projects in India, China and the U.S., where we have significant operations and the green power supply needs to be developed,” Hilton noted.

The remainder (and a little extra for good measure) was offset through a partnership with Conservation International. Dell’s next steps are focused on working with its supply chain to reduce carbon inputs to its product lines.

In addition to its carbon-neutral dreams, Dell has started to offer more low-power, eco-computing products. Dell said back in May that it would design its laptops and desktops to consume up to 25 percent less energy than its current computers by 2010. The company plans to meet that goal by adding more energy-efficient circuits, fans and power management features, and by investing in energy-efficient hardware like chips, power supply and memory. And of course there’s that eco-chic bamboo PC that started rolling off Dell assembly lines last week.