Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tough lessons for Dell

In June of 2007, Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell set out to make his computer company the greenest technology company on the planet, through a variety of initiatives including tree planting, energy efficiency, recycling and offsetting.

By August of 2008, Dell declared itself to be carbon neutral. The Wall Street Journal decided to investigate this claim, and their damning criticism highlights the many challenges facing firms and individuals seeking a carbon neutral path.

In calculating their footprint, a lack of clarity and standards around what to include led the Journal to conclude that Dell was missing the boat. A great interactive graphic is available here , and a static graphic is shown below. First off, Dell should be applauded for their transparency in the process; it shows their commitment. But what should Dell include in their total carbon emissions? Our methodology would say that to be totally carbon neutral, Dell should force their suppliers to deliver carbon neutral (part of the a product input) , but that users should take responsibility of energy used to run their Dell products...not Dell. Whatever the answer, clearly explaining the methodology is important so that the rest of use can choose to agree or disagree with their claims.

In offsetting, Dell fell into some obvious traps in choosing how to offset. They ended up supporting projects without clear additionality, and failed to take a personal interest in where the money was going. The wind projects supported clearly did not result in any less GHG...their wind partners reported that they certainly would have built the wind farms regardless of whether they had been able to sell RECs. This means that Dell's money had no impact on the climate, it only enriched the Windmill operators. This is unfrotunate, since there are plenty of projects for which this is not the case. ClimatePath wants to create a more direct and transparent connection between projects and ofsetters, and the ClimatePath Ecologic Fund exists to make sure that credits and credit issuers deliver, and avoid this sort of commercial transaction with questionable benefit to the planet.

In this instance, Dell learned the hard way that carbon credits are no more of a commodity than are microprocessors: There is a difference.

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