Dell pledges to make greener computers over the next decade

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Dell is launching new efforts to shrink its carbon footprint and cut down on e-waste. The sustainability targets were unveiled at a summit in Austin, Texas, alongside other initiatives on diversity, inclusion, and privacy.

When it comes to stemming the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change, Dell will source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2040. (For comparison, Apple announced in 2018 that it uses 100 percent renewable energy.) Dell isn’t just switching to renewable sources; it’s also trying to use less energy. It plans to make its products more energy efficient and cut the emissions generated directly from its operations and its electricity usage in half by 2030. The company will work with other manufacturers to shave off emissions along its supply chain.

Dell is also making new commitments when it comes to recycling. By 2030, the company plans to reuse or recycle an equivalent product for every device that a customer buys. It is also pledging that, by then, at least half of all the materials used in its products will be “recycled or renewable,” and 100 percent of its packaging will be recycled or renewable.

“We believe that this is a business critical initiative,” Christine Fraser, Dell’s chief responsibility officer, tells The Verge. “The imperative is really what our customers and our team members expect of us.”

The company plans to expand its current recycling program. It already recycles electronics, no matter the brand, dropped off at participating Goodwill locations, and it also has a mail-back program with FedEx. As a result, it’s recovered 2 billion pounds of used electronics since 2008. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Dell estimates that it collects less than 10 percent of the products it sells. Less than 5 percent of its product materials are currently made from recycled or renewable content.

“I would give the industry a very poor grade in general in making sure that the electronics they put on the market are recycled,” says Scott Cassel, founder of the advocacy group Product Stewardship Institute. People throw away 50 million tons of e-waste globally — about 4,500 Eiffel Towers — each year, according to the World Economic Forum. The WEF says that number could balloon to as much as 120 million tons by 2050. What’s worse, toxic heavy metals can leach out of electronics to contaminate soil and water.

At the root of the Eiffel Towers of waste, polluted soil and water, and even manufacturing’s intense carbon footprint is a single problem that all electronics makers — not just Dell — need to improve on, according to Vesela Veleva, director of the MBA Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. If consumers kept their electronics longer instead of needing to replace them every few years, we wouldn’t be burning as many fossil fuels or throwing so much stuff away. Making durable products that people can use longer would be an even bigger step, and it’s one that companies like Dell haven’t quite made yet. “These are great goals but unfortunately they don’t get to the core of the problem, which is extending the useful life of the product,” Veleva says. “Recycling is just the tip of the iceberg — it’s not going to be enough.”

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