Dispatches from OpenWorld: The TH Interview—Sean Donahue, Dell Green Guru

Sean Donahue thinks everyone should think about going green. That's what he's doing here at OpenWorld: spreading the good green word about Dell's environmental commitment and helping customers, partners and other businesses alike connect to find better ways to help green the planet. We caught up with Sean to chat for a few minutes about "the wall," Dell's growing commitment to the planet and what it means to go green an OpenWorld.

TreeHugger: You've spent a lot of time here at OpenWorld talking to people about "the wall" and Dell's various green programs. What do you think most people associate with "green"? Is that good or bad?

Sean Donahue: So far, the reaction to the wall has been positive and overwhelming. As you can see, there are quite a few different thoughts about this, but here, with the tech crowd, a lot of folks associate green with energy efficiency, which is clearly important to them.

We wanted the wall, and the activities in our booth to be as simple as possible, to attract as many people as we could. It's really important to us to create a dialogue, and that starts with our customers. The more we can learn from them about what's important and what they need from their personal computers, not only can we serve them better, but we can scale that up to a larger dialogue on, say, data center efficiency, or another big issue that is facing business today.

But the point here is to definitely drive a dialogue about the environment. It used to be that companies were telling their customers what to do and how to do it, and it's definitely not like that anymore. We believe that the ideas and innovations are out there, and not necessarily with Dell. So we want to listen to as many people as we can.

TH: When someone walks into the booth with little or no regard for "green" — we've seen several stop by and mention that they drive a dirty car that gets poor gas mileage, or don't recycle, so they don't really think much of "green" — what do you hope that they take away with them?

SD: We definitely want everyone to realize that they have a role to play when it comes to protecting the environment, so if we can raise that level just a bit among this huge crowd, we're doing our job. We also want people to talk to each other about it — I've seen several people strike up conversations about what they see written on the wall, what kinds of things they like to do — and we want them to know that it's okay to talk to each other about it.

I also hope that they walk away with some awareness, or maybe they can even learn something by hanging out by the wall, checking it out. Protecting the environment warrants a conversation, not a one-way dialogue; as a global tech company, we want to harness interest, facilitate the dialogue and help people make environmentally-smart decisions when they purchase. But that all has to start with a conversation.

TH: When people ask you to recommend what actions they should take themselves, as both a technology professional and individual interested in helping save the planet, what do you tell them?

Well, our role in protecting the environment really begins with design, and ends with recycling. In between, our customers are using them, so can we encourage them to do all the little things well: turn them off when they aren't in use, and practice smart energy management techniques to save energy that way. You can't eliminate energy use in computers, unfortunately, but you can make a different by purchasing carbon offsets to mitigate the carbon emissions that come from that energy use. Recycling is really the big thing here, though, especially now that Dell offers to recycle any Dell machine ever built, for free. That kind of thing can be a rewarding experience, especially for those who are just learning that they can take action to protect the environment.

The reason we value the conversation aspect is that we don't have all the answers. I really think that with Michael's leadership, we'll get there, but I do think that the ideas, as we go forward, are already out there: in online communities, with our partners, and with our customers.

So that's part of why we want to facilitate best practice sharing between our customers. They can go to dell.com/earth to learn how. Our blog, Direct2Dell, allows everyone to share idea and comments. Ideastorm is a way to submit ideas to improve Dell's environmental initiatives. We think there's a lot to be learned all over the world.

The new era will be how businesses partner with organizations and consumers to protect the environment. It's more than transactions: it's a partnership.

2 million people visit dell.com every day; if we can encourage and empower those people and exchange ideas with them, then that's the foundation for a new era of environmental leadership.

About the Author: Collin Dunn