Dell’s sustainability program envisions a better future

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Disclosure: Dell is a client of the author.

At Dell Technologies World this week, one of the most interesting briefings I received was from Cassandra Garber, vice president of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance). That’s because when I first talked to Dell in the early 2000s on this topic, it was on the wrong side of the ESG effort.

There are two kinds of companies that talk about sustainability. One kind treats it as a marketing tool with little substance; the other treats it more like a religion. Dell’s initial effort was basically, “if you buy a product, we’ll plant a tree.” It sounds nice, but is also a clear indicator it’s just giving this important topic lip service. Since then, Dell has embraced its ESG commitment, funded it, and created showcases of its efforts — like Concept Luna, the sustainable design project that could redefine the technology market and make it far greener. 

Let’s talk about how Dell increased its focus and credibility in ESG.

Passion makes a difference

Doing ESG right requires leadership by someone who is supported by company executives with a passion for the work. One thing Garber has is passion for ESG. Her eyes glowed when she talked about the work she is helping drive into executive compensation and awards programs. When talking to several of the product people at Dell, I found they are into this effort, too, and take pride in projects like Concept Luna, the first fully sustainable laptop computer Dell uses to showcase what is possible.

This passion covers the company, starting with Michael Dell and Jeff Clarke at the top and including CMO Allison Dew, and every product manager I met at the event. Dell is serious about this effort, and it shows just how aggressively it’s changing things like management metrics and corporate success measurements. 

Concept Luna explained

As for Concept Luna, I had a chance to see it fully disassembled and reassembled, and the speed in which you could take the laptop apart was nothing short of amazing. With a little practice, you should be able to fully strip down the machine in a few minutes. Dell even used organic materials that can be safely dissolved to lower the exposure of contamination when the product is eventually discarded. (And this concept fully embraces the “right to repair” effort cutting through the industry now.)

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Liquid immersion cooling

Another interesting concept at the show was what looked like a modern, insulated cryo-sarcophagus with a clam shell opening on top. Seriously, it looked like something out of a science fiction movie. It contains a non-conductive liquid in which you place servers, which is far more efficient at removing heat than air, and far more economical as well. (This technology has been particularly useful for crypto mining.)

The liquid should also reduce the chances of any water intrusion, which can cause corrosion, damaging the immersed computers. Even at the highest levels of performance, you shouldn’t have a heat-related failure.

The sarcophagus is opened at the top — it would be cool in future Dracula movies — but it had a very important and practical purpose: to reduce the costs associated with cooling, while significantly increasing cooling effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the booth showing off this hardware wasn’t staffed, so I couldn’t get the full backstory. But it looked to be part of this effort.

Moving ESG forward

Doing ESG well requires several things to come together properly. One of the most interesting efforts I’ve seen was driven by HP’s former CMO, David Roman, who used HP’s philanthropy budget to increase HP’s marketing impact while improving the effectiveness of the good HP was trying to accomplish at the time. What he did was give certain celebrities the ability to spend that philanthropy budget if they, in turn, became HP advocates. They jumped at the deal at no charge. 

At Dell Technologies World, Dell’s Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President Allison Dew had actor Matthew McConaughey on stage; McConaughey is clearly passionate about ESG-type projects. Imagine if he became a passionate advocate for Dell — how powerful would that be? I think Dew could pull this off and I think Garber’s passion would be incredibly hard to refuse. So I expect some amazing ESG progress by next year’s event. 

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