Sustainability is a complex, multifaceted, evolving concept requiring a holistic and adaptive approach. Sustainability goals may need to be revised and expanded as our understanding of the challenges and solutions develops. Linear thinking implies a straightforward progression from one point to another, with clear steps and a fixed path. Sustainability goals often involve addressing interconnected social, environmental, and economic challenges, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy, conserving natural resources, improving social equity, and fostering economic growth. These interdependent goals often require simultaneous and coordinated actions across multiple sectors and stakeholders. A linear strategy may overlook the complexities and interdependencies involved in achieving sustainability. Instead, a more effective approach is to develop a comprehensive plan that is flexible and adaptable, allowing for adjustments and learning as new information and insights about changing circumstances, emerging technologies, and evolving societal expectations come to light.
Last week, for my TEQ podcast, I sat down with Cassandra Garber, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability and ESG at Dell Technologies, to discuss this need to balance rigor and flexibility as the company released its latest Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report.
This year's report reflects Dell's efforts in strategically rethinking its goals to enhance the emphasis and coherence of its endeavors. The tech giant condensed the number of goals from 25 to nine, focusing on areas where the company believes it holds significant responsibility and can make a meaningful impact. "We dramatically reduced the number of top-line goals and nested others under those top lines because they contributed to them, making a clear connection between the different issues. This rationalization also allows us to see more clearly the positive contribution to the four areas the company has selected to positively impact: climate action, circular economy, inclusive workforce and digital inclusion. We have also become more aggressive and ambitious with the goals, especially around Scope 3," explains Garber.
Throughout the past year, Dell has been diligently addressing significant issues such as climate change, accelerating the circular economy, promoting digital inclusion, and fortifying its inclusive workforce. Its ongoing initiatives encompass:
- Enhancing product energy efficiency, implementing green data center solutions, utilizing sustainable materials, and innovating ways to recover and repurpose old technology to aid customers in attaining their business and sustainability objectives.
- Expanding healthcare access for rural communities in India via its Digital LifeCare program, which has remarkably grown from serving 58,000 individuals in 2018 to an impressive 238 million registered beneficiaries as of January 31, 2023.
- Collaborating with 345 nonprofits and contributing 14,000 volunteer hours through its Pro Bono programs, which connect its employees with charitable organizations worldwide.
When it comes to Scope 3, Garber is urging competitors as well as suppliers to work with The Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) to validate goals so everyone is working within set parameters and goals based on scientific data. Dell worked with SBTi to validate its updated set of 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets, ensuring they align with current climate science. SBTi also classified Dell's scopes 1 and 2 target ambition as in line with a 1.5 degrees
I could not agree more with Garber on the need for a common framework. In our current state of urgency regarding the sustainability of our planet, having a shared framework is not just important—it is absolutely vital. The global challenges posed by climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation require immediate and collective action. A shared framework ensures that efforts to address sustainability issues are cohesive, collaborative, and able to achieve substantial impact within the limited time we have to reverse these trends.
Time is of the essence, and we cannot afford to waste it on fragmented approaches that may lack coherence and effectiveness. By adopting a unified and shared framework, we can streamline sustainability initiatives and avoid duplication of efforts. This will maximize the efficiency of our actions, allowing us to make rapid progress in combating climate change and safeguarding the planet's resources.
Moreover, a shared framework serves as a powerful tool to guide governments and regulators in developing comprehensive policies and regulations. As the global community recognizes the urgency of sustainability challenges, governments are under increasing pressure to implement stricter measures to hold corporations and industries accountable for their environmental impact. A consistent framework will help standardize reporting and disclosure requirements, making it easier for companies to comply with regulations while ensuring transparency and accuracy in their sustainability practices.
Another change Dell made to its ESG reporting is evolving "Upholding Ethics and Privacy" to "Upholding Trust," including security, privacy, and ethics. Garber is particularly passionate about this point: "This is how we work. At Dell, we measure what matters. And this is a perfect example of measuring what matters. If we are forcing ourselves with rigor, with structured governance around actually achieving trust in a metric-driven, very public way, it will put a whole level of emphasis on it. That's how we intend to drive a new level of conversation about it."
As the tech industry increasingly focuses on generative AI, it is easy to understand why trust will be critical for any business, both at a consumer and enterprise level. I would argue that trust is the cornerstone of successful ESG strategies. It establishes credibility, fosters stakeholder engagement, mitigates risks, and creates long-term value. Building investor confidence and enabling adaptability, trust is essential in navigating the complexities of sustainability challenges and ensuring a sustainable future for all.
Let’s end on the “S” of ESG: Social.
While the current political climate might make it harder to discuss social impact, Garber underlines one simple concept: "When we talk about ESG, we are just talking about people. This is where our effort at Dell starts and ends: with the people for the people, whether we are talking talent, our customers or our partners." In the realm of ESG efforts, people are undeniably at the heart of the sustainability equation. Environmental, Social, and Governance factors revolve around the well-being and impact on individuals, communities, and society as a whole. People represent both the beneficiaries and bearers of ESG initiatives, as their actions, choices, and needs significantly influence an organization's approach to sustainable practices. Prioritizing social responsibility, inclusivity, and fair treatment of employees, customers, and communities not only enhances an organization's reputation but also fosters loyalty, trust, and long-term partnerships. Recognizing the centrality of people in ESG strategies paves the way for positive change, equitable development, and a more sustainable future that benefits everyone involved.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.