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#BusinessCase: How Dell Saved $39.5M, Slashed Emissions, Increased Sustainable Materials by 20%

Click here to view full graphic. | Image credit: Dell

Today, Dell unveiled the significant progress it has made against the 21 goals under its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Based on a baseline of its Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) performance, the company aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its facilities and logistics by 50 percent, ensure 100 percent of product packaging is sourced from sustainable materials and is either recyclable or compostable, identify and quantify the environmental benefits of IT-based solutions, and much more. The new update report summarizes the company’s efforts in its Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16), which ran from February 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016.

Perhaps most notably, the company's ‘Connected Workplace’ telecommuting program continued to yield impressive results: Since FY14, it has saved the company $39.5 million and avoided 13,000 metric tons of GHG emissions (as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)) and an estimated 25 million kWh of energy. For employees, it eliminated hundreds of millions of miles of commute travel and over 35,000 metric tons of CO2e. Dell employees in the U.S. who telecommute save an average of $350 per year – a total of $12 million – according to the figures from Dell’s latest study on the program, The Sustainability Benefits of the Connected Workplace, also released this month.

The study was intended to contribute to both the company’s goal of quantifying the environmental benefits of IT-based solutions, and to the Net Positive Project, of which Dell is a founding company member. Besides gaining a better understanding of their work from home program, the study authors – John Pflueger, Principal Environmental Strategist at Dell, and two of his colleagues, Sarah Gibson and Christian Normand – wanted to know more about how to conduct studies for Net Positive work.


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At SB’16 San Diego, I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Pflueger about the study. When asked what the most challenging part of the study was, and whether it was the metrics – how to measure “net positive” impact – Pflueger explained that carbon emissions, commute round trips, mileage, and so on, were rather easy to measure since they are well-understood.

“For the Connected Workplace study, the hard part was the process,” Pflueger said. “There’s not a lot of prior art on how one conducts a Net Positive-type of study, so we had to make up some of it as we went along, double-check it with folks, write it up; I have no doubt that the next study that we do - or that somebody else does - is going to improve on the process we followed, but it’s a start.”

Social metrics, he added, are more challenging to capture. He provided the example of another Dell study under the Legacy of Good program that looked at the sustainability benefits of online education. They approached the study with questions such as, ‘How has Dell helped students reduce their footprint by enabling online education?’ and ‘How has Dell helped Arizona State University (ASU) reduce its footprint by not needing the same number of buildings to support a larger student base?’ “And we found that,” he said.

“But what we also found was that when Arizona State put the IT tools in place for online education, those tools began to be adopted for the in-classroom education. It changed the way ASU delivers education in general,” Pflueger continued. “A really big pay-off was ASU’s ability to deliver degrees in a less resource-intensive way. One of the ways they measure themselves is ‘degrees awarded,’ and that’s kind of a metric we didn’t expect to encounter anywhere, in the beginning of this.”

Such efforts are part of the company’s larger intentions to benefit its people and communities. Dell aims to has 50 percent of eligible team members enrolled in flexible work programs such as Connected Workplace, directly help 3 million youth, and more by 2020. Through its Youth Learning programs, Dell has provided access to technology and related skills for 1.6 million underserved children around the world. A survey of 320,000 participants revealed that half had used technology for the first time in a Youth Learning program.

Dell is also walking the talk with its products. The company is 72 percent of the way to their goal for sustainable material use, and approximately 93 percent of Dell packaging by weight is now sustainably sourced and recyclable or compostable. In FY16, Dell used more than 14.1 million pounds of recycled plastics in its products, 3.4 million pounds of which came from the company’s closed-loop efforts. This represented a 20.5 percent increase compared to FY15. Since the start of Dell’s Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14), 36.2 million pounds of sustainable materials have been used in its products, meaning the company is on track to meet its 50 million pound target. For its packaging, Dell defines ‘sustainable materials’ as those which come from recycled or renewable (preferably rapidly renewable) sources, and approximately 72 percent of shipments in FY16 were packaged entirely in sustainable materials.

In terms of operations and logistics, the company sourced 41 percent of its electricity needs from renewably-generated sources last year, and from FY15 to FY16, saw an 18.6 percent decrease in Scope 3 GHG emissions from the transport and distribution of select Dell products worldwide, among other achievements.

Overall, Dell has successfully built on the progress it made in FY15, and is well on its way to meeting its ambitious targets for 2020.


Hannah Furlong is one of Sustainable Brands's Contributing Writers, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]


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