At Dell, the sustainability team, working with suppliers and recyclers, has developed new compostable packaging materials made from bamboo and mushrooms. As John Pflueger, Principal Environmental Strategist, says, “It’s absolutely amazing.”
Sustainability as a domain is moving in the direction of "materiality" — information that is relevant or "material" from the point of view of stakeholders and investors. And Dell, the computer and technology company, is working to make itself well-positioned to make the link between its initiatives and outcomes. "We report into the global marketing organization," says John Pflueger, principal environmental strategist for Dell. "That may sound weird to some people, but I actually think it's a fantastic place for a sustainability organization to sit." Prior to his current role, Pflueger, who graduated from MIT with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, was Dell's subject-matter expert on data center energy efficiency and power consumption. In his current role, he has umbrella oversight over a wide range of environmental issues, including energy efficiency, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, material selection use, issues around waste and recycling and product take-back, and water and water use and management. (Follow Pflueger on Twitter at @JCPAtDell) In a conversation with Nina Kruschwitz, editor and special projects manager for MIT Sloan Management Review, Pflueger talks about how Dell is organized for sustainability, how sustainability initiatives have encouraged collaboration and innovation and how the company came up with cool new packaging materials in the process. So let's talk about packaging. Dell has been an innovator there. Yeah, we've got a great subject-matter expert who runs our packaging group and he's very interested in sustainability-related topics, very personally motivated. So he started looking for different alternatives for packaging, and he found a company in China that was interested in seeing if you could use bamboo fibers in the same way you use paper fibers today for cardboard packaging. Bamboo is native to China and it's one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It's a very renewable resource. They experimented with the material, and they actually found a way to use bamboo as a raw material for manufacturing packaging. Now, I don't think we use it on any of our big systems, but right now, 70 percent of notebooks ship in bamboo. Its structural strength makes it great for shipping our high-tech products. This followed a few high-level principles that we wanted to put into place.