Blog Post

How Carbon Neutral Is Dell, Really?

I am highly skeptical when big companies get trendy and start spewing cool. Lately going green has become the new black. Dell (s DELL) in particular has been making a lot of noise about being “green,” most recently bragging that it has becoming carbon neutral five months ahead of its own plans. Or did it? Spurred by a brilliant article in the Wall Street Journal, Katie Fehrenbacher over on Earth2Tech helps deconstruct Dell’s claims that it is carbon neutral, a claim that is up for debate:

  • According to the WSJ, Dell claims “carbon neutrality” by “purchasing environmental credits.”
  • Dell is dedicating $5 million to the carbon-neutral project, a joke compared to its annual revenues.
  • Dell is only neutralizing about 5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that go into making its products.
  • Mid American Energy Co., owner of wind projects in Iowa, is the biggest contributor to Dell’s renewable energy certificate offsets, says that the wind projects would have been built without Dell’s funds.

Dell toots its own horn on its blog, though without saying much.

4 Responses to “How Carbon Neutral Is Dell, Really?”

  1. This sort of criticism is a classic example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    On the one hand, Dell is, by every measure, doing far more than almost any IT company in the world. They deal with their direct emissions through reductions and offsets that meet the highest standards and certifications and spur more investment in clean energy. In essence, they are paying a subsidy today so their competitors will not have to in the future. They enable their customers (downstream) to take responsibility for their emissions and are requiring their suppliers (upstream) to report and have put them on notice that decisions will be made in part on their environmental impact. And they are using the same metrics as the EPA uses and the rest of the CSR community and they are clear about their claims.

    But living in an a) competitive environment and b) in a severe recession, they are not able to do everything.

    I suggest anyone to:
    1. Ask yourself if your company is doing as much internally as Dell
    2. Ask yourself if your company is asking your customers or suppliers to do as much as Dell

    A better suggestion is to highlight and commend companies like Dell and News Corp. for what they are doing, prod them to do more and ask their competitors to meet or beat what they are doing. What we need to solve the climate crisis is a competition among companies to be green, not a repudiation of companies that are doing more than most for not doing everything.

    Eric Carlson

  2. Om,

    Thanks for your comments and feedback. Dell is not the first company to commit to a carbon-neutral goal, and we certainly hope many more will follow. Yahoo, News Corp., Google and HSBC are a few other examples. In your post, you touch on “environmental credits,” certainly an ongoing discussion topic in business and policy circles. It’s important to note that purchasing green power to help reduce or account for carbon emissions is becoming widely accepted in the environmental community. I’d encourage your readers to visit the EPA’s Green-Power Partnership Web site ( to learn more about the EPA’s view and companies’ progress in this area. While certainly not a perfect system, it is the best method we have at our disposal today.

    Eric Carlson at also shared an interesting perspective yesterday on the need for more companies to invest in profitable wind-energy projects ( We agree that private sector investment is critical to transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

    Regarding our extended footprint, we’re working closely with our suppliers every day to help them reduce emissions. We’ve required our primary suppliers to report GHG emissions during quarterly business reviews since 2007. We’re also helping customers reduce their emissions through energy-efficiency and programs like “Plant a Tree for Me.”

    Again, thanks for shining a spotlight on this important issue. Happy New Year!