By David Lear, executive director, corporate sustainability, Dell
A shift in thinking has taken place in the past few years; businesses are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint, and are striving to reinforce their environmental credentials, to find ways to care for the environment, minimise their impact and even win business.
In the past, many companies may have side-lined green initiatives, either deeming them too costly to implement or through lack of awareness of the concrete steps that could be taken and the business benefits. With changes in the environment, such as the increased accountability for CO2 emissions, rising costs of energy and legislation such as the WEEE Directive, businesses are increasingly changing their processes and creating innovative methods to minimise the environmental impact of their operations by using resources efficiently and managing wastes effectively.
For example, the supply chain, one of the most fundamental parts of many businesses, can prove to be a key place to accommodate sustainable initiatives.
Take the material used in packaging goods. Researchers have discovered many different ways to create cost-effective packaging from sustainable materials. Packaging is now made out of a range of organic materials including bamboo, mushrooms, cotton hulls, rice hulls or even wheat chaff. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable and sustainable member of the grass family that is incredibly strong and, when harvested correctly, and doesn’t require replanting.
Dell, the company I work for, piloted bamboo packaging in 2009. We considered all aspects of the production of this packaging to bring every step in line with its sustainability initiatives. After the bamboo is harvested, it is mechanically pulped at a facility nearby. During this process, 70 percent of the water is reclaimed and used in the process. Nothing is poured out, and no toxic chemicals are used. If it’s sunny, the pulp is dried by the sun, reducing electricity use. Materials are also sourced and packaged locally so this “in-region” solution means that you can cut down on the carbon which would be emitted if materials were being transported over long distances. The packaging is also biodegradable and can be composted to nourish the soil and plants.
Why did Dell make a move to bamboo packaging?
Quite simply, our customers demanded it. As environmental concerns are becoming more top of mind, customers want packaging that is smaller, made from sustainable materials, and easier to recycle or compost at the end of its life. The decision also made business sense; through bamboo and other packaging efforts, Dell has eliminated more than 20 million pounds of material from its packaging and saved $18 million since 2008.
Businesses are becoming much savvier when it comes to creating smart and sustainable supply chains. A packaging initiative is just one example of a company bringing its business process in line with its environmental principles, and we hope that this trend will continue across the sector. Savvy businesses will look for these innovations to give them a competitive advantage.