“IT can help businesses grow sustainably,” says Dell at Fortune Brainstorm Green

Fortune contributing editor Marc Gunther started with a simple question: how can companies grow while minimizing their impact on the planet?

Dell CIO Robin Johnson joined Starbucks president Cliff Burrows and ZipCar CEO Scott Griffith on a panel at Fortune Brainstorm Green's final day to offer some pragmatic answers.

IT consumes about 40 percent of the power of used at Dell's Round Rock TX campus, Robin said. He wagered that stat is pretty consistent across most large companies, offering an opportunity to drive incredible energy and cost savings at those businesses and for our planet. Robin discussed solutions we use at Dell that our customers can and are emulating. With virtualization – software that lets one server do the work of many – Dell has doubled the useful work of our data centers without using one extra kilowatt of power. That equals better productivity with no additional environmental impact. Robin said we feature virtualization in every customer briefing we do, because "the net effect of having all of our customers driving this kind of efficiency in their businesses is perhaps the most important thing we can do for our planet today." Here, here.

Even simpler, Dell is using software to automatically power off around 50,000 computers every night, saving around $1.8 million in energy cost each year. We offer these solutions to our large enterprise and public sector customers, as well.

Starbucks (one of our partners in Team Earth) is tackling sustainable growth by addressing its cups. Only 1 percent of Starbucks customers bring a reusable cup into the store. That 1 percent, though, is around 26 million people – not insignificant, but huge headroom. Starbucks aims for 25 percent its cups to be reusable (either a tumbler or ceramic served in-store) by 2012.

ZipCar has 360,000 active users in 13 markets. Its CEO says 19 percent of US household income is spent on transportation, but people's cars sit idle 90 percent of the time. Each Zipcar, which is rented by the hour, takes about 20 or so cars off the road and is shared by 40 or 50 people. Very cool. 

All in all, it's been another great experience at Fortune Brainstorm Green. Off now to hear Bill Ford's closing keynote.

About the Author: Michelle Mosmeyer