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article imageQ&A: How Dell Technologies beat its sustainability goal Special

By Tim Sandle     May 17, 2019 in Business
At the start of the year Dell Technologies reached their 2020 goal of recovering two billion pounds of used electronics, and the tech company continues to push the sustainability agenda. David Lear, VP of Corporate Sustainability explains more.
By Earth Day 2019, Dell surpassed its 2020 goal of using 100 million pounds of recycled-content or otherwise sustainably sourced materials in their products. This was built upon strategies like identifying a new closed-loop process to recover the rare earth magnets and introducing new carrying cases featuring a water-resistant coating made from reclaimed automobile windshields. This is part of what is sometimes termed the 'circular economy'.
In explaining more about the company's approach to environmental issues and the notion of sustainability, David Lear, VP of Corporate Sustainability at Dell Technologies, outlines Digital Journal why these concerns sit at the heart of the company's corporate values as well as future developments signed to push the sustainability agenda still further.
Digital Journal: What is the circular economy?
David Lear: Circular economy is an economic system based on designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, and finding ways to regenerate natural systems – moving economic activity away from consuming finite resources while creating society-wide benefits. For example, at Dell Technologies, we have mined our global takeback efforts to recycle and reuse gold from used computer motherboards to create new motherboards for Dell Latitude notebooks. We also work with our customers and supply chain partners to put recycled plastics and rare earth magnets from old electronics back into new products.
DJ: Why does Dell Technologies place such an importance on sustainability?
Lear: We believe the power of technology is one of the greatest forces to help define, refine and evolve the human experience. Environmental concerns are top of mind all over the world. Recycling rates are at less than 15 percent and e-waste has become the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, so we are doing our part and striving to engage broader audiences to address this challenge. A company’s social impact and environmental footprint must be core to its business. With more participation from businesses and consumers, we can scale closed-loop processes (where materials from old electronics are recycled back into new electronics), whether that’s plastics, gold, or rare earth magnets.
DJ: What is your commitment for recovering used electronics? How are you progressing with this?
Lear: Dell Technologies is an industry leader in global electronics recycling infrastructure. We offer takeback options in markets all over the world, making it easy for customers to responsibly recycle their used electronics.
We set a goal to recover two billion pounds of used electronics by 2020 and I am proud to say we surpassed that goal more than a year ahead of schedule.
A big part of our success has come through our Dell Reconnect Program in partnership with Goodwill. The program allows consumers to drop off any brand of used computer equipment, in any condition, for free recycling at more than 2,000 participating Goodwill locations throughout the United States. Since 2004, the Dell Reconnect program has recycled more than 500 million pounds of electronics.
We have also worked to raise awareness. We collaborated with entrepreneur and activist Nikki Reed to create a limited-edition jewelry collection sourced from gold recovered from Dell Technologies’ recycling programs to demonstrate how there are valuable materials in old electronics. In fact, there is up to 800 times more gold in a ton of used motherboards than there is in a ton of gold ore.
DJ: Are you using recycled materials in Dell products?
Lear: From plastics to carbon fiber to metals, Dell Technologies is finding ways to put recycled materials back to work in meaningful ways. We’ve been using recycled plastics for more than a decade now and in the past few years we’ve refined our process for turning plastics from used computers collected through our recycling programs back into new parts through our closed-loop supply chain. That program currently feeds into more than 125 different products and was the first to earn UL Environment’s closed-loop certification.
We’ve built on the success of our closed-loop plastics work to also close the loop on gold and rare earth oxides used in magnets. With gold, we worked with our suppliers to demonstrate how it could be done, incorporating into Dell Latitude 5285 2-in-1 notebooks last year. This year we worked with Teleplan and Seagate to take the rare earth magnets in hard drives from recycled storage equipment to grind them down and reform them as new magnets to supply the industry, including hard drives Seagate supplies for Latitude 5000 notebooks.
But it’s not just from our own recycling. We look for ways to bring waste products back into the economy by treating them as resources. For instance, we are taking carbon fiber scrap from the aerospace industry and using it to make the bases for various Alienware and Latitude notebooks.
Another recent example is with our eco-friendly laptop carrying cases, like the Dell Pro Slim 15 backpack. These backpacks and briefcases feature a water-resistant coating made from reclaimed automobile windshields. The coating is made using the plastic layer of the safety glass used for windshields – this is what keeps the windshield from splintering into dangerous pieces. We’re also solution dying these backpacks, which results in 90% less wastewater and 29% less energy while generating 62% fewer CO2 emissions. Every bag produced will keep approximately one pound of materials out of landfills, or approximately six million pounds per year at our expected usage.
We also recognize that truly advancing the circular economy means we have to scale beyond our own efforts. In 2017, we partnered with the non-profit organization Lonely Whale to bring together a cross-industry consortium of global companies that shared a commitment to scaling the use of ocean-bound plastics. From this initial working group, a new program called NextWave was born, with companies like General Motors, Herman Miller, Interface, Trek Bicycle and IKEA joining the alliance. NextWave member companies are now working together to develop the first-ever commercial-scale supply chain for ocean-bound plastics and to make that openly available to other manufacturers. Together with founding members, we anticipate using three million pounds of ocean-bound plastic over next 5 years.
DJ: What is your new process for recovering rare Earth magnets?
Lear: We partnered with Seagate and Teleplan to identify a new closed-loop process to recover the rare earth magnets from recycled enterprise equipment. The project started from several conversations we had with our suppliers that take our end-of-life materials and start to process it. At the beginning, our project partners looked at different recovery methods such as grinding up drives and separating out the magnet materials. But we ended up going with the approach of separating the magnets and reforming them into magnets for new drives. Our take-back streams are enabling Seagate to create up to an estimated 300,000 hard drives annually, which helps the rest of the industry move toward a closed-loop, circular approach.
DJ: How will these magnets be used?
Lear: The reformed magnets are put in new hard drives to be used in new laptops. In the initial pilot program, Dell Technologies will use magnets in 25,000 Seagate hard drives for our Latitude 5000 series laptop. We hope to expand the program to other rare earths and other platforms in the future.
DJ: Are you working with other companies on sustainability projects?
Lear: We have an exciting effort with supplier Chakr Innovations in India. They are capturing the soot in the exhaust of its diesel generators and turning it into ink for printing on boxes shipping in India. We have shipped approximately 125,000 boxes per month printed with the pollution ink since Dec 2017 and estimate that our use of this process helps clean the equivalent amount of air breathed annually by about 110,000 people.
Our partnerships with Chakr Innovations, Goodwill, Nikki Reed, Seagate, Teleplan and NextWave are just a few examples of incredible organizations we have worked closely with to implement circular economy-related processes in our product and packaging design.
DJ: How are you promoting these activities?
Lear: As the largest technology company in the world, we’re in the best position to lead. We believe it takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to meet the increasing need for sustainable practices in the technology sector. Dell Technologies has a history of setting long term goals which send strong signals to all of our stakeholders, and fosters rich collaboration with our customers, suppliers, influencers, other technology companies and industry leaders to embed sustainability at every step as we drive human progress, together.
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