Why the Climate Talks in Paris Matter to Dell

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Right now, the world’s nations are gathered in Paris to hopefully hammer out the last details of a climate accord. They do so with a tremendous amount of support from the business community. That support is significant because there is a perception that businesses – American corporations in particular – would rather not see a deal happen. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The perception has been strong enough that it was one of the implied reasons the White House created an initiative before COP 21 (the twenty-first Conference of the Parties on climate change) to demonstrate that companies like Dell recognize the importance of addressing climate change and its consequences.

In fact on October 19, Dell stood with 80 other leading businesses at the White House for a conference on climate change. The price of admission: a willingness to pledge meaningful corporate actions that will reduce their footprint and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. A list of the companies that joined the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and their commitments can be found here.

A quick history of action

Action on the climate may not have always come under the guise of “addressing climate change,” but Dell has a long history of engaging in environmental issues. We stood with the U.S. EPA and then Vice President Al Gore to help launch the ENERGY STAR program in 1992. Reducing energy use by delivering more energy-efficient products is great for the bottom line but it also helps cut emissions (the electric power sector accounted for 32 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012).

We issued our first point of view on climate change in the mid-2000s and have revised it twice (most recently this summer) to keep up with the evolving science and best practices. Some key features have always been a part of our approach. We have always acknowledged that climate change is real and that technology can play an important role in supporting the world’s actions.

And we strongly believe that collaboration is essential for effective climate change action.

OK, but why should business care?

To be very clear, Dell’s policies and practices related to climate change action are not about altruism.

The business implications of our actions around climate change are taking on increasing significance. Our customers are asking about our footprint and our efforts to change it. They want to understand not just the size of our carbon footprint (an estimated 13,693,952 metric tons of CO2e last year) but where those emissions come from and what we are doing to reduce them. They expect action.

It’s not just about making technology’s footprint smaller. We need to do that and remain committed to the Legacy of Good goals we’ve put in place, like reducing the energy intensity of our product portfolio by 80 percent by 2020. But the global ICT carbon footprint is estimated to represent just 2 percent of the world’s emissions totals.

Technology has the potential to have a positive impact that is many times the size of this footprint by addressing the other 98 percent.

High performance computing has helped researchers and designers run the simulations that transform their understanding of systems and processes. Analyzing and acting on the data generated by the Internet of Things has tremendous power to drive efficiency and new insights into a multitude of systems.

But it’s not always through the expected means that technology can generate a net positive result when it comes to the environment. Take the example of electronic health records (EHRs). For companies delivering healthcare, digitized records help improve care, increase efficiency and control costs. But as Kaiser Permanente demonstrated, there is a net positive environmental benefit, too. By switching their 8.7 million members to EHRs, the organization avoid 92,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by replacing face-to-face patient visits with virtual visits and another 7,000 tons by filling prescriptions online. They estimate that full adoption of EHRs could lower emissions by as much as 1.7 million tons across the U.S.

So what about Paris?

Climate change represents a risk to global prosperity and human well-being. That is not good for business and that is why leading brands have pledged their support, as we did through the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and in lending our voice to the Business Backs a Low Carbon USA efforts.

Regardless of the outcomes of COP 21, we know our actions, initiatives and commitments do not end there. We believe strongly that technology has an important role to play in addressing and mitigating the effects of climate change. But we know we cannot do it alone, and a strong outcome in Paris will help everyone collaborate – working toward a shared vision with the conviction and commitment of the whole world behind us.

John Pflueger, Ph.D.

About the Author: John Pflueger

John Pflueger, Ph.D., is Dell Technology’s Principal Environmental Strategist. In this role, John is responsible for driving Dell's corporate strategies on issues around environmental sustainability – including energy, GHG emissions, sustainable materials, water and how Dell’s technology is applied to environmental issues for the health of our planet, people and communities. John received his B.A., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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