By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

In 2008, Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc. announced the company’s aspiration to be “the greenest tech company on the planet.” Since then, Dell has pushed itself to find new avenues to achieve this goal – through carbon emissions reduction, smarter packaging, recycling programs, and other initiatives.

The goal is part of a broader business strategy, Dell explained in the company’s fiscal year 2009 Corporate Responsibility Report [PDF]. He writes:

“We remain determined to be the greenest technology company on the planet, and last year we achieved carbon neutrality in our global operations. At the same time, we raised the standard Dell has set for IT consumer recycling… And Dell Green Teams around the world are educating employees, promoting awareness and inspiring positive actions for the environment.”

The sustainability initiative has added to the Dell brand in terms of consumer outreach – but it has had internal success as well. A large part of the program is related to employee engagement, as part of a larger directive to attract and retain high performing individuals. Gil Casellas, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Chief Diversity Officer writes:

“At Dell, in any economic environment, we consider diversity and inclusion, sustainability and employee engagement integral parts of our business strategy. By continuing to drive these initiatives

throughout the company, we’re able to harness each individual’s full potential, drive innovation and

become a better place to work…”

Sustainability: The Role of Employees

The company’s commitment to environmental sustainability comes from an understanding that, more and more, consumers and employees are looking for a company whose values match their own. The report explains:

“…the next generation of chief information officers, consumers, employees and regulators are acutely aware of the environmental impact and consequences of not protecting our planet. In short, we are focused on our Enviro 2.0 strategy because we know it makes a difference to our employees, customers and other stakeholders.”

One of the reasons Dell’s initiative is notable is that the company has backed up its aspiration with numbers, plans, and achievements. For example, as the report notes, the company is the first in the tech industry to go “operationally carbon neutral.” Achievements like this cannot be attained without the participation of employees.

The report notes, “We rely on the talents, dedication and ideas of our employees — from global Green

Teams to individual volunteer efforts — as we work toward achieving our commitment to become the greenest technology company on the planet.”

For example, last year more than 36 percent of Dell’s global employees participated in September’s Global Community Involvement month. The company needs the participation of its workforce in order to achieve its green goals – and this commitment is gained in two ways – employee engagement in other areas and direct green action by the company – walking the talk.

Two-pronged Approach to Sustainability Engagement

First of all, the company has worked hard to build employee engagement. For example, last year marked the founding of Dell’s Global Diversity Council, chaired by CEO Michael Dell. Additionally, the company was named one of Working Mother’s top companies to work for, and it received a score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

Other notable achievements include achieving 85% employee participation on its annual Tell Dell survey, expanding its nondiscrimination policy to include gender identity, pregnancy, and HIV status, and improving working conditions at suppliers through an audit process.

Keeping employees engaged within other parts of the corporate responsibility sphere encourages them to participate in the green one as well.

Secondly, the company works to find real sustainable solutions within its manufacturing process.

For example, the company has pioneered new ways of packaging that use less material and create less waste. According to Dell’s website, “The company plans to reduce desktop and laptop packaging materials by approximately 10 percent worldwide, increase sustainable content in cushioning and corrugate packaging by 40 percent and ensure that 75 percent of packaging components are curbside recyclable by 2012.”

Dell also partners with Goodwill to offer free computer recycling in the US and Canada as. Mike Watson, senior manager of Dell Global Recycling Services explained, “Donating used goods to Goodwill has become second nature for most people. Reconnect exemplifies what sustainability practices can mean to our communities. It gives new life to these old systems – or, at least, their parts – and gives deserving people jobs and skills they need to be successful.”

Dell’s commitment to sustainability is more than an image. By showing that it is a true supporter of the green movement, as well as a responsible and accountable employer, employees are encouraged to participate in and build its environmental programs now. This paves the way for further environment engagement in the future.