Greenpeace sees red over Dell's toxic record

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner during a Greenpeace direct communication at Dell Computer May 26, 2010, in Round Rock, Texas. Photo by Harry Cabluck

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner during a Greenpeace direct communication at Dell Computer May 26, 2010, in Round Rock, Texas. Photo by Harry Cabluck

It seems that Dell Computer is in the toxic hot-seat today. In a brazen publicity stunt, Greenpeace members managed to scale the walls of a building located on Dell’s Round Rock campus and then hung a banner declaring “Michael, what the Dell? Design out toxics.”

Greenpeace is hoping to draw attention to the fact that Dell has backtracked on a previous promise to eliminate all toxic chemicals from their products by 2009. Dell’s new timeline pushes back this commitment to 2011.
“Dell continues to sell products that are littered with toxic chemicals, despite promises made years ago to phase them out,” said Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner Casey Harrell. “Dell can’t fulfill its aim to be the greenest technology company on the planet until it follows the lead of Apple, HP and Indian brands HCL and Wipro, which are phasing out the use of these toxic chemicals.”

Greenpeace’s full-frontal assault on Dell won’t end with a banner that will likely be taken down by the time you read this. They are also taking their case to the court of public opinion via a  TV ad that will air in Austin, Texas on several channels, including MTV and ESPN, that “explains Dell’s backtracking”.

The spot asks Austin residents to call CEO Michael Dell and tell him to honor his company’s word to phase out toxic chemicals.

According to Greenpeace, two tech companies that are doing their part to get rid of the nasty ingredients found in consumer electronics are Apple and HP. Both of these tech giants have removed PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and BFRs (brominated flame retardants) from their new line of PCs. As a result, they have been ranked higher than Dell on the most recent edition of the quarterly Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics.

The top five companies on the list are Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Philips, Motorola and Apple, while the bottom five ranked companies are, in descending order: Toshiba, Fujitsu, Microsoft, Lenovo, and Nintendo.

I recently bought one of Dell’s new Inspiron Mini 10 netbook computers. Overall, I’m pleased with the gadget, especially when I consider it’s sub-$300 price tag. But I confess I did not take Dell’s environmental record into account when I made my purchase decision. There’s no question, the environment matters and I feel a little guilty at having played a role in damaging it further. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think that I’d have made a different decision, even knowing what I know now. When it comes time to retire my Mini 10, I’m hoping that Dell will take it back and recycle it responsibly, ensuring that none of these toxics make their way into our food chain.

What do you think? Does a company’s environmental track-record have an impact on your decision to buy their products? If Apple’s record was the same as Dell’s, would you hesitate ordering up a new iPad (okay maybe you would hesitate anyway, but that’s a post for another time). Let us know.



  1. Michelle at Dell

    Michelle at Dell here. Wanted to share that Dell is committed to integrating the most environmentally preferable materials into our products.

    We have always been committed to eliminating BFR/PVC from our products, and we plan to achieve that goal by the end of 2011 for newly introduced personal computing products. This task presents challenges, but we’re working closely with our suppliers to find reliable, environmentally preferable alternatives that maintain the performance standards our customers require.

    We already deliver some BFR/PVC-free or -reduced products today. Our G-series monitors, for example, are free of PVC, BFR, arsenic and mercury; their chassis is made of 25%+ recycled materials; and they’re EPEAT Gold certified.

    Building greener products is just one aspect of Dell’s commitment to environmental responsibility, in addition to our free, convenient consumer recycling programs; our industry-leading ban on exporting e-waste; designing more sustainable packaging from materials such as bamboo; and meeting 25% of our company’s energy needs using renewable energy like wind and solar.

    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss.


  2. Phil

    The greening of our industrial materials is a staggering technical feat and to state so is still an understatement of high proportions. Dell along with all manufacturers must do what scientifically and technically can be done, with the proviso(s) that consumers must be willing to bear the brunt of higher costs until at least processes can be refined. The costs are enormous and in some cases not so much.

    The cases of computers and their peripherals are just a small part of the problem. The components are quite another, having been in India and seeing first hand all manner of name brand personal computers being disassembled using low heat fires. Causing air pollution, is a tiny fraction of the problem, the workers are subject and subjected to (without choice, poorest of the poor) working in a super charged carcinogenic waste piles. They become ill, have no health care to speak of and die a horrible meaningless death. Unless you count the fact that, he/she died to feed a family, and to allow the Western world to live in wealth and health and total selfishness. Yes then he died with purpose to the very last excruciating breath in his emaciated body.

    The Western world have become, for decades, a throw away society whose new mantra must be to recapture the manufactured goods for global recycle. Our combined governments waste trillions of dollars on all manner of needless programs. In conjunction with manufacturers, retailers, and the public at large recouping this waste is paramount to the health of every living creature and human.

    Mr. Dell, you are not off the hook by a long shot, it is time to stop with the “ya but” qualifications to each accusation, just get it done without excuses. Own the responsibility and I dare you to go on a secret mission to see the death and pollution that Western technologies have brought to India.

    Nor do I fully blame you sir, or other manufacturers wholly rather the blame is on us all, the public wants cheaper, faster, better, higher… etc. Manufacturers have delivered, cutting costs, using what science thought was a good answer to component viability and the problems showed up after recycling efforts in the western world were found to be too costly. The wheel just keeps going round and round, unless we all need determine to change our attitudes.

    Western society can recycle in a safe and eco friendly manner while enhancing the life(s) of our lands and seas and every living organism, animal and human. So why after so many decades of realization is this not happening?


  3. Adam

    Hey Adam from Greenpeace here,
    yeah have to agree @phil there is much more to be done at Dell.
    and sorry Michelle, although your copy and paste spiel over the blog-sphere is obviously thought out, you cant hide the fact however much green washing facts and figures you throw in there Dell is lacking behind, time to step up a gear and start acting on some of your promises instead of backtracking on your commitments..
    read more here