Blog Post

Dell's Carbon Neutral Goal Is a Mere Fraction of Emissions for Its Products

Dell (s aapl) recently made it clear in a blog post that it thinks rival Apple’s (s appl) green laptop claims have a lot of holes. Well, the Texas-based computer maker, which has been making one of the most substantial efforts in the computing world to produce more eco-products and neutralize its carbon footprint, also has a few questions to answer when it comes to the validity of its green efforts.

This morning the Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Ball has a really interesting investigative piece that claims Dell is actually only neutralizing about 5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that go into making its products. That small figure will surprise many who listened to Dell announce recently that it had reached its carbon-neutral goal a good five months ahead of schedule.

And while it’s difficult to know how much Dell could boost that percentage, the WSJ article also points out that Dell is largely relying on renewable energy credits to offset its carbon footprint, which can be highly controversial. It was no secret that Dell was using renewable energy credits as part of its carbon-neutral plan, along with energy efficiency, but we are unsettled to hear that the company “is claiming carbon neutrality mostly by purchasing environmental credits,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The kicker is that the Wall Street Journal also did substantial legwork looking into whether or not the renewable energy credits were supporting projects that would have already happened even if Dell had not supplied funding. Mid American Energy Co., the owner of wind projects in Iowa that are the biggest contributor to Dell’s renewable energy certificate offsets, says that the wind projects would have been built without Dell’s funds.

All of this isn’t an implication of Dell and acts instead to shine a light on the problems associated with carbon neutrality and offsets. Dell has actually been pretty aggressive about this — a lot more aggressive than many in the industry. And we hope that a closer look at Dell’s carbon footprint plans ends up helping the company make those plans better, and does not deter it and other large corporations from attempting to reduce their emissions.

Overall we hope that more transparency will spur companies to take this issue even more seriously. Dell has said it is dedicating $5 million to the carbon-neutral project, which was spent over a period of about two years. Considering Dell’s overall balance sheet, that’s nothing. Boost that budget and we’re thinking the company will get better results.

9 Responses to “Dell's Carbon Neutral Goal Is a Mere Fraction of Emissions for Its Products”

  1. Thanks for the comments guys.

    To ‘How Carbon Neutral Is Dell, Really?’ I wouldn’t call the WSJ article a reproach of companies, more like making the process of going carbon neutral and emissions offsets more transparent. Hence why I said in our post that: “we hope that a closer look at Dell’s carbon footprint plans ends up helping the company make those plans better, and does not deter it and other large corporations from attempting to reduce their emissions.” I think it is entirely fair and necessary to examine the carbon neutral process.

    To Hal Jordan, I agree with you that Dell has taken admirable steps in this area, which is why I said in the post that they have been making one of the most substantial efforts in this area in the computing industry.

    It seems to me that the main point of contention perhaps is that both commenters think I didn’t praise Dell’s green efforts enough. I disagree with that. We have discussed the positive aspects of Dell’s carbon reducing efforts in a variety of posts on earth2tech (as well as in this post) and Dell’s very capable PR team has done the same in the media throughout 2008. The WSJ piece was one of the first I’ve read that took a closer look at Dell’s carbon neutral project, and yes, pointed out some negative aspects. I would expect that Dell is doing the same kind of analysis and if they’re not, they should be doing it.

  2. How Carbon Neutral Is Dell, Really?

    A one-sided article in the Wall Street Journal today confuses life-cycle analysis, additionality, and complementary climate and energy policy approaches in a “smart-sounding” but misleading reproach of companies such as Dell, Google and Timberland that have taken early steps to reduce their greenhouse gas impact. The comments in the WSJ following the article deconstruct its vague but implied claims that these companies “aren’t doing it right”. Journalists that don’t do their homework but still pretend to be climate policy experts (or otherwise have hidden agendas) are getting easier to spot these days (right Katie?!)

  3. Hal Jordan

    Wait… Jeff Ball? the Wall Street Journal? Oh… so before falling for it, check your sources and you’ll find that Jeff Ball (with long standing links to the OIL INDUSTRY) is not exactly the environmentalist’s watchdog behind the curtain. He has recently published in WSJ a series of ‘hit pieces’ on companies and projects that attempt to do something real about climate change. Usually presented as “not green enough” he throws journalistic stink-bombs at some of the best players, concepts, and projects out there. The goal is obvious, given the venue. No really, check your sources (all of you), it helps. Dell has made quite admirable steps, within their own sphere of infuence, to reduce the impact of their products, Apple, as we know, is great at marketing.

  4. Hi Katie,

    Thanks for shining the spotlight on this important issue. We are not the first company to commit to a carbon-neutral goal and we obviously hope many, many more will follow. It is key to driving new sources of green energy across the globe. Yahoo, Google, HSBC and News Corp. are just a few of the companies that have taken a leadership role in this regard.

    The guidelines that Dell uses to reduce, eliminate and account for emissions are widely accepted by the environmental community. The process isn’t perfect, but as you note in your post, companies should not be deterred from reducing their emissions. Eric Carlson at posted an interesting perspective on the need for more companies to invest in profitable green energy projects –

    Our work is only getting started when it comes to protecting the environment. The Journal story (and discussion topics you raise in your post) serve as a reminder that we’re at the dawn of an exciting and essential era of environmental responsibility, one that we’re committed to leading.

    • SeanatDell