Can Technology Have a Net Positive Impact on Society?

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We think so – to the tune of 10X the benefit of what it takes to make and use it. And, luckily, we’re not alone. Many other large companies like Ikea, Coca Cola and Kingfisher also have bold “net positive” commitments to creating positive impact by enabling their customers to live healthier lives and run their businesses more sustainably.

But what does that really mean? We all have different definitions and criteria for “social good” or “net positive.” That’s why Dell is teaming up with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), Forum for the Future Net Positive Group and our customers to establish standard methods and deliver metrics to prove it out.

You may have heard us talk about transitioning to a circular economy. The net positive concept goes a step further to say we will not only decouple our business growth from net new natural resources, but we’ll build social capital in the communities we call home. For example, lets help homes more efficiently use resources through smart grid technologies, and lets support employee productivity and satisfaction through flexible working solutions while reducing our carbon footprint.

Late last year, we kicked off our first net positive research study with Arizona State University to understand the benefits of online learning. ASU Online was created primarily to broaden access and affordability of undergraduate degrees. The resulting ASU Net Positive study shows that the increased access to degrees through online education can create socio-economic benefits of as much as $545,000 or more per undergraduate degree over the lifetime of the graduate while also reducing the carbon footprint by at least 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Online education has become a significant component of ASU’s overall sustainability strategy and a primary innovation engine for evolving ASU’s model of higher education. You can read the full report or join the ASU+GSV Summit panel on “Anytime, Anywhere Learning: From Access to Impact” on April 7, if you are in attendance.

We’ve also kicked off our own study of Dell’s flexible work programs. In addition to enabling our team members to work where and when they’re most productive, flexible arrangements saved Dell an additional $12 million in operating costs in FY14. We anticipate the environmental and team member satisfaction benefits to greatly outweigh any negative impacts.

I look forward to continuing our work with BSR and Forum for the Future to expand our net positive methodology to other industries such as healthcare, logistics and municipal operations. We have much work ahead of us but we hope that what we learn through our research with customers and partners will help demonstrate how technology can not only be a strategic business advantage, but also an enabler for positive social and environmental change.

Follow Dell’s progress @Dell4Good or join the conversation with hashtag #LegacyofGood.

About the Author: Trisa Thompson

Trisa Thompson is the Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Dell, with responsibility for Dell's global giving and sustainability. Previously at Dell, Trisa served as Vice President, Legal, for the Global Operations, Marketing and Product Groups, and was a member of the Legal Team for 12 years. She was the founding co-chair of the Women's Networking Group, W.I.S.E., at Dell, and also serves on the PRIDE Executive Board. She is also a member of the Global Giving and Sustainability Councils. Trisa joined Dell in June 1998 from the Washington, D.C. office of Seyfarth, Shaw. Trisa was a partner with Seyfarth in its Government Procurement Law practice. She specialized in federal, state, and local procurement law and litigation. She joined Seyfarth directly out of law school in 1986.
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