When it was announced in May 2009 that Dell ranked first in a corporate sustainability report issued by Technology Business Research (TBR), the global computer powerhouse responded with “We will do better.”

It’s a sentiment that defines this truly “green” technology company. Whether it’s a free worldwide recycling program, company-wide power-saving initiatives, or innovations in products and package design, Dell is constantly striving to find new eco-friendly ways to conduct its day-to-day business operations.

When it comes to being environmentally responsible, Dell walks the walk in every arena, from how it runs its business to how it produces, packages, and retires its technology. Here are just three ways Dell is doing better by the environment:

1. Dell takes recycling seriously.

Everyone knows about Dell’s free global recycling program, which the company launched in 2006. It’s the main reason why enterprise IT decision makers in eleven countries recognized Dell as the top brand for “green” technology in 2009.

In addition to its take-back programs for residential users, businesses, and schools, Dell’s partnerships with companies like Staples and organizations like the National Cristina Foundation facilitate responsible computer recycling. Through its partnership with Goodwill Industries, Dell offers Reconnect, a free drop-off program that lets consumers in over fifteen states recycle their old computers at participating donation centers, diverting more than 96 million pounds of electronic waste from landfills since 2004.

Not only are Dell’s recycling programs keeping computers out of landfills—here and abroad—but the company’s packaging materials are also 57 percent curbside recyclable.

And Dell’s recycling initiatives don’t stop there. Its Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle program has placed permanent recycling centers in all its facilities to collect cardboard, plastics, foams, metals, batteries, and other materials. Through this program, Dell had a reuse/recycle rate of 85 percent in 2005.

2. Dell is focused on reducing emissions.

With a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 2015, Dell is always finding ways to operate more efficiently, consume renewable energy and offset its remaining carbon impact.

At Dell, being efficient means automating building controls, such as lighting and air-conditioning systems, and installing software on company computers to turn them off at night and repower them in the morning. It means removing 4,000 data center servers in one year to double utilization levels and save $50 million in energy costs. All these efforts, and more, make Dell’s carbon dioxide emissions relative to revenue the lowest among the Global 500.

But it’s Dell’s use of renewable energy that makes it stand out from the rest. (The EPA agrees, having named Dell one of the top five Fortune 500 companies in renewable energy purchasing.) In 2009, the company announced that 26 percent of its global power comes from renewable energy sources, with nine of its facilities operating on 100 percent renewable energy. By also purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs), Dell was able to achieve carbon neutrality in 2008.

Along with a host of other initiatives—such as using a ground-moisture monitoring system for landscape irrigation and building a 516-panel solar structure in a parking lot on its Round Rock, Texas, campus—these efforts have paid off: the company reduced its net greenhouse gas emissions by over 18 percent from 2008 to 2009.

3. Dell designs for the environment.

Computer equipment has the potential to be a big environmental offender, whether through its energy requirements, carbon output, or presence in landfills. Dell aims to reduce those impacts through its Design for Environment program. This internal framework, based on international standards and best practices, guides Dell as it designs new products and packaging solutions.

What does designing for the environment mean? For Dell, it means:

  • Using recycled, recyclable, and alternative materials in its equipment and packaging. The company has recently begun packaging some of its products with bamboo cushioning, a material that is highly renewable, durable, and certified compostable.
  • Creating energy-efficient products. Since the EPA launched its ENERGY STAR program in the 1990s, Dell has been adhering to its strict power-efficiency guidelines in many of its products.
  • Reducing product packaging. To meet its goal of reducing packaging by 10 percent by 2012, the company’s packaging engineering team works on reducing box size. One solution has been bundling like products in multipacks.
  • Eliminating or reducing potentially hazardous substances from products. Alternatives are sought for substances, such as mercury or arsenic, that may be harmful to the environment or human health.
Beyond its internal specifications, Dell also aims to comply with environmental standards set by third-party organizations, such as the EPA. Ecolabels found on Dell products include ENERGY STAR and the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).

Dell’s environmental initiatives extend to its employees and suppliers as well. Primary suppliers are expected to demonstrate a commitment to the environment and are required to report CO2 emissions data in quarterly reviews. Employees and full-time contractors are trained on hiring in environmental issues and are given opportunities to help develop the company’s green programs and processes.

The company even encourages its customers to be environmentally responsible: in 2007, it created the Plant a Tree program, which allows consumers in the United States to donate a tree directly or with the purchase of Dell equipment. According to the Conservation Fund and Carbonfund.org, Dell’s partners in the effort, the 258,000 trees planted since the start of the program will absorb an estimated 287,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next century.

Want to know more about Dell and the environment? Check out the Dell Earth section of the company’s website.

Editor’s note: Dell is a Mother Nature Network sponsor.