As part of our management spotlight series our managing director Liam Dowd talks with Louise Koch, corporate sustainability lead, EMEA at Dell, on packaging, partnerships and future opportunities

The expectation on business to act responsibly, tackle social and environmental problems, and deliver positive societal impact is only increasing. A sustainable-first approach to a company’s supply chain can deliver significant gains and impacts.

As part of the knowledge exchange in the build-up to the 12th Annual Responsible Business Summit Europe I spoke with Louise Koch about Dell’s innovative recycled sea-waste packaging, some of the challenges along the way, engaging suppliers’ suppliers plus opportunities for her and Dell in the coming 12-18 months.

Liam Dowd: Tell us, in a sentence, what it is you do?

Louise Koch: In short, my role is to activate sustainability as a value proposition in our customer and stakeholder relations.  

In Dell EMC we have such a strong program and performance on social and environmental sustainability, and we see that more and more customers and stakeholders are interested in our work. So my role is to be the ambassador for this and drive our EMEA program for sustainable business development.

Louise Koch, corporate sustainability lead, EMEA at Dell

LD: I recently read that Dell is using ocean-bound plastic as packaging for certain products. Please can you explain how you took this from an idea to a reality?      

LK: The issue of plastic waste in the oceans is a growing environmental and health concern for the ocean ecosystem with whales, fish, reefs and humans all being negatively impacted. The severity of this issue was brought to our attention initially through our relationship with actor Adrian Grenier as our social good advocate and his work with The Lonely Whale Foundation. It is estimated that 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. These items are broken in smaller objects that are frequently ingested by sea life which can affect every level of the food chain, including humans.

This alarming reality led to us looking for ways to address the ocean plastics challenges within our business.  And packaging was a natural place to start. At Dell, we are dedicated to putting our expertise and technology toward doing good for the planet, communities and people, so we decided to help keep plastics away from all three by doing what we do best – innovate.

To bring this idea into reality we referred back to our prior experience of creating a sustainable packaging ecosystem. Before the ocean plastics initiative, Dell pioneered packaging made from bamboo, mushrooms, wheat- straw, and even air carbon. We followed the same innovation model and we developed a new packaging tray made from a blend of recycled ocean plastics (25 percent) and other post-consumer recycled, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastics (75 percent). This tray is now used to protect our flagship XPS 13 2-in-1 laptops during shipping. We estimate that our pilot project will use 16,000 pounds of plastics collected from waterways, beaches, rivers and coastal areas, which is a great success.

LD: What was the biggest challenge for this initiative and how was it overcome?

LK: The lack of formal infrastructure for collecting ocean plastics is a big challenge.  To make this work, we needed to collaborate with partners that have a proven track record of providing a consistent supply of materials.  We also had to identify back-up sources in the event of natural events that are prevalent in coastal regions, like tropical storms and hurricanes.

We also had challenges with the actual material: the initial batch we received had various contaminants. We worked with our suppliers and processors to identify ways to get a cleaner supply that would meet our standards.

Making sure the process would meet our financial goals was a consideration as well. At Dell, we always strive for both financial and environmental sustainability. In the long run, this project will meet that objective; in fact, Dell was able to save on costs over prior packaging materials even in the pilot.

Additionally, as a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy 100 (CE100), we share learnings from our closed-loop recycling system with like-minded business leaders to help others join in the effort to combat ocean bound plastics.

LD: How are you looking to scale up this initiative?

LK: As environmental responsibility is about more than just introducing one eco-friendly product or a single initiative, we are always looking to innovate and use our technology for good. As such, we are committed to scaling our use of recycled ocean plastics and are actively looking at opportunities to incorporate more of this material into our current products and other packaging solutions.

Not only have we made a pledge to the United Nations to scale our annual use of ocean plastics up by 10 times by the year 2025, we’re also forming a working collaboration with other companies to create an open-sourced ocean plastics supply chain to further promote and extend access to the initiative.

LD: At the upcoming Responsible Supply Chain Summit, you are sharing how Dell engages its suppliers’ suppliers. This is both a critical but difficult issue for global businesses. Many suppliers could see this as increased workload and responsibility. How are you engaging your suppliers through your Supplier Empowerment Network to embrace this approach?

We have high standards for workplace conditions and the safety of our own employees in our facilities, and as a company, Dell expect our suppliers to uphold those same standards. We enforce these standards through a variety of tools, including business reviews with suppliers, self-assessments and audits, and our policies and standards are aligned with the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (EICC), of which Dell was a founding partner. 

The EICC allows us to work together with industry partners to drive systematic change in our supply chain, and makes it easier and more efficient for our supplier partners to comply with one high set of standards.

Driving sustainable change requires collaboration and sharing best practices to advance capabilities across our industry – and building a supplier empowerment network was a key focus for us. Through our capability-building programs, we help suppliers embrace opportunities to improve SER performance. We offer a variety of online and in-person trainings, helping suppliers to understand expectations in their onboarding process and to improve suppliers’ adherence to our standards for social and environmental responsibility, such as working hours, vulnerable workers, environmental management, and health and safety.

In 2016, more than 1,000 participants from 114 supplier facilities participated in at least one of our training programs. The actual impact of these trainings reaches many more people, since participants in our EICC e-learning academy program then conduct their own team study sessions with 50-100 workers within their facilities. As a result of this model, approximately 7,000 workers benefited from the programs last year.

What’s also important to note is that suppliers need to see value in participating in these trainings. Suppliers in the program realised significant improvements as a direct result of programs and projects that accompany the trainings, including:

·         71% of facilities participating in the SER HR practitioner training reduced worker turnover rate

·         70% of facilities participating in the SER EHS practitioner training improved Job Safety Analysis

·         64% of facilities participating in the SER EHS practitioner training improved onsite subcontractor safety management

LD: What do you see as being the big issues to watch for in the coming 12-18 months?

LK: If you take a step back and look at the global social and environmental issues that are affecting business and society, it’s difficult not to lose your breath for a moment. Climate change impacts, resource scarcity, political instability, cyberattacks, and lack of human rights protection around the world are all at the top of the list in the World Economic Forum risk report for 2017. And this also affects business in the short and long term.

At the same time, an increasing number of companies are stepping up as global citizens and leaning in to minimize their footprint and at the same time contribute with solutions for a more sustainable future. So although the horizon is cloudy, I remain optimistic.

LD: And finally, in your role, what do you see as being the biggest opportunity in the next 12-18 months?

LK: The biggest opportunity in my view is to unfold the power of business and innovation to develop solutions to a range of the social and environmental challenges we see. We know that you cannot solve all problems in the world with a business model, but business holds a great potential to develop innovative solutions. And of course, working for one of the world’s largest IT companies, I am amazed at how digital solutions are transforming business and society in more sustainable ways.

So, in my view, the biggest opportunity is to leverage the power of digital innovation to drive progress towards a more sustainable future – and here we can use the UN Global Goals as a roadmap. In Dell EMC we already have numerous examples of how digital solutions are improving access to education and healthcare around the world, and how they are driving smarter cities and smarter business by reduce energy consumption and food waste, for example.

Louise will be sharing Dell’s key aspects of Dell’s supply chain strategy at the upcoming Responsible Supply Chain Summit 2017. Other brands confirmed to speak include; Coca-Cola, M&S, Covestro, ABN AMRO, Carlsberg, Bayer, Debenhams, The Body Shop, Volvo Group and many more. Click here for more information

Dell  plastics  UN Global Goals  circular economy 

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