Dell’s Corporate Responsibility Report: Doing Well and Good

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. July 16, 2014

Dell announced key achievements with the release of its Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) Corporate Responsibility Report that offered the first progress update on the goals outlined last fall in the company’s 2020 Legacy of Good plan. The plan outlined Dell’s strategic roadmap for bringing sustainability and business objectives together to create social and environmental benefits while enabling better customer outcomes. Target goals include making Dell’s entire product portfolio 80 percent more energy efficient and its packaging 100 percent waste-free, and applying its technology and expertise to directly help three million youth in underserved communities.

Highlights of the report include:

  • Since 2012, Dell has reduced the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 23.2 percent and its server portfolio by approximately 50 percent. Customers who purchased products in FY14 can expect to spend $449 million less on electricity to power their products over their lifetime compared to those purchased in 2012. The company’s 2020 goal is to reduce the energy intensity of its entire portfolio by 80 percent.
  • Dell’s Connected Workplace program, a flexible workplace program that about 20,000 company employees utilize, helped the company avoid 6,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions last year, equivalent to eliminating nearly 16 million miles driven. Dell is almost half way to its goal of 50 percent global employee participation by 2020, and the company’s solutions earned Dell the #3 spot on Forbes’ Top 100 Companies Offering Flexible Jobs In 2014.
  • Dell reduced GHG emissions from facilities and logistics by 8 percent – the equivalent of planting 1.9 million trees to absorb that much carbon. Dell attributes the achievement to more efficient fulfillment processes (including more ocean-going freight and better packaging) and increased purchases of renewable electricity, constituting 35 percent of Dell’s overall electricity purchases, up from 23 percent the previous year. By 2020, Dell plans to reduce emissions from facilities/logistics by 50 percent.
  • Dell is a leader in terms of supplier diversity, and in FY14 the company spent $4.1 billion with diverse (minority- and woman-owned) suppliers, up from $3.44 billion in FY13. The company continues to be recognized as part of the Billion Dollar Roundtable for its spending with diverse suppliers.
  • Dell is helping kids through its youth learning and children’s cancer care programs. Dell and its partners installed its first two solar-powered Dell Learning Labs, outfitted with energy-efficient Dell Wyse workstations, to bring technology-based learning to youth in underserved areas of Africa. Together, the Dell Learning Labs directly serve 434 students and more than 50 teachers, as well as thousands of other students and residents who also have access to the technology.

The Pitch

Dell does well ethically and financially while doing good works.

Final Analysis

Corporate social responsibility has become increasingly common over the past decade, with companies of every size and kind supporting projects or foundations that reflect their core values. There’s often a sense of self-congratulatory public theater in the proceedings, but that doesn’t cancel or detract from their essential worth.

Dell has been a valuable and generous contributor to such efforts for years, but this latest announcement takes an interesting angle on how it approaches corporate responsibility and measures the worth of its efforts in terms of being a now-privately held enterprise.

To the first point, Dell quantifies its individual projects in terms of their immediate effect and benefits and how they contribute to the Legacy of Good plan. That certainly allows the company to judge both the short and long term impact of those efforts. But Dell presents the results in a transparent methodology that allows third parties, such as partners and customers, to keep an eye on how the company is progressing.

To that point, we also find it interesting that Dell outlines the business value of its actions along with their larger social benefits. So while the company’s Connected Workplace program helped avoid generating 6,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2013, it also aided about a fifth of the company’s 100,000 employees by providing more flexible and efficient workplace options.

Similarly, Dell’s reduction of GHG emissions from its facilities and logistics processes by eight percent – which could be replicated by planting 73 times the number of trees in New York City’s Central Park – is certainly valuable given growing concerns about global warming and related climate issues. But the company should also gain significantly from those recently captured and planned future logistical and facilities efficiencies.

Why does Dell’s position as a privately held company matter in all this? Simply put, while it has left behind the strictures of operating as a publicly-held entity (such as the financial compliance and governance reporting that some estimated cost over $500M per year) it behooves Dell to continue operating judiciously and transparently. That helps to communicate the continuity of its management and operations leadership, which is no mean thing.

But since it went private, any number of competitors have attempted to suggest that as a result, the company has become somehow less responsible and responsive. By transparently discussing corporate social responsibility projects, Dell can clearly demonstrate how it does and will continue to do business. That should help quell concerns among nervous partners and customers, while also putting the lie to rumor-mongering competitors.

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