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Waste Not
Sarda Helping Equip Dell, Master's Students to Continue to Lead for Sustainability

Bruno SardaBruno Sarda is Director of Sustainability Operations at Dell, where he oversees business integration, information strategy, measurement and reporting, as well as supporting advocacy, policy and objective-setting. He also manages Dell’s groundbreaking partnership with TGEN (Translational Genomics Research Institute) and leads the Global Context thread at Arizona State University’s Executive Master’s for Sustainability Leadership (EMSL) program. We spoke to Sarda about Dell’s commitment to sustainability, building partnerships to shape the entire supply chain from procurement to e-recycling, and the need to empower current sustainability leaders.

Anna Lui: Can you tell me a bit about the Global Context thread at ASU?

Bruno Sarda: When we were first developing the EMSL program, one of the things that came out of those discussions with some 400 sustainability professionals, and one of things I have certainly found to be true at Dell, is this idea that there are all of these things happening externally to an organization that really matter: evolving science; the new IPCC report; shifts in policy and regulation or the lack of shifts in policy and regulation; evolving consumer attitudes across industry sectors and geographic markets; customer demands; RFPs; how the corporate and public sector are changing how they buy and which brands they decide to work with; what you hear from stakeholders, NGOs, activists and investors …Then there are actual planetary changes that are happening right now, like drought, floods, pests, rising sea levels, increased urbanization …this thing is daunting. Nations and international bodies, like the UN, still haven’t really figured it out.

The Global Context thread is really about how to manage the volume and internalize and ultimately operationalize all this information. How do you help your organization make sense of what matters to it and why? How do you address it from a response perspective or an opportunity management perspective? The reality is these global changes are also creating opportunities, and responding to a global threat better than your competitor can actually create a powerful competitive advantage.

Specifically, the Global Context thread is broken into three legs:

  1. How do I separate what is merely interesting and what is actually relevant?
  2. What am I going to do about it? What is within my organizational span of control?
  3. How can I go beyond the organization’s span of control? How can cross-organizational alliances, memberships, and businesses address problems that I can’t as an individual organization?

AL: Speaking of cross-organizational collaboration, can you tell me about Dell’s work with the Electronic Industry Citizenship Collaboration?

BS: We were just 7 or 8 companies at the start and now we’ve grown to 70-80 members. It’s about looking at upstream issues in the supply chain, both environmental and social impacts. We’re addressing things that we couldn’t work on individually and hope to have a big impact, including labor practices, the movement of materials, conflict minerals, human trafficking and working hours — issues that are really sector-relevant and sometimes even cross-sector-relevant.

Even with our biggest supplier, we might represent at most 20 percent of their revenue, because they’re also working with other companies like Lenovo, Samsung, Microsoft and Apple. For most of our suppliers, we represent less than 10 percent of their revenue, so individually we don’t have much leverage. But, if we start working together and you have five, six, or seven of us at the table and collectively we represent more than 60 percent of that supplier’s revenue, we start having a lot more influence and a greater ability to enact positive change.

So, for example, we have the EICC Shared Code of Conduct to dictate the expected behavior of electronic suppliers in respect to labor practices, health and safety; the right to organize; environmental issues; and a variety of other issues. This is really relevant for two reasons. One, if we all say the EICC Shared Code of Conduct is law and write it into our contract, it is much more likely to be adopted by the supplier. Two, it makes compliance easier. It turns out making compliance easier, lo and behold, actually makes it more likely. If you hold all of your suppliers to the same set of standards and all of our sector partners use the same code, suppliers start seeing the same thing. It’s been a hugely successful body that’s often used as a model by others like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

AL: Dell is also a leader in the eCycling Leadership Initiative. What's one of the biggest challenges you've encountered in addressing e-waste and how are you addressing it?

BS: E-waste is a hugely important topic for two reasons. One, if managed improperly, e-waste has huge health hazards, both to planetary health and human health. Two, it can also be a huge resource. It takes about 60 tons of raw ore out of a gold mine to produce one pound of gold. It takes about one ton of e-waste to get a pound of gold. E-waste is 60 times richer in gold than mining out of a gold mine, so the idea that this is “waste” in the first place is pretty ridiculous.

I think there’s really three big challenges in addressing e-waste. The first challenge is getting people to recycle more. Period. Right now, less than 20 percent gets into the recycling stream. We really need to be creating awareness among consumers and organizations to not sit on this resource.

Second, an issue which is often overlooked, is we really need to make recycling and reuse easier and more economically advantageous than extracting virgin material. Dell, for example, has been a leader in designing for recycling. We actually brought recyclers into our design shop to help us design our products to be disassembled without sophisticated tools. It may not always yield the absolutely sleekest, fanciest, and coolest experience for the consumer, but we’re thinking beyond the consumer. We’re balancing shelf appeal and the ability to recycle.

The third big challenge with e-waste, and recycling in general, is making sure it is done in a way that is safe for people and the planet. A lot of e-waste is aggregated and exported to developing countries where it is a key resource. There are 14-year-old kids standing over pits of cables burning the plastic to get to the metals and releasing toxic fumes that are hugely harmful to their health and the environment.

We’re looking at how to make e-recycling safer for the individual and the environment. Dell was the first to voluntarily ban the export of nonworking e-waste to the third world. At the same time, we recognize that this can be a major source of economic development and we want to support e-recycling that is actually done responsibly. We recently announced the launch of Dell-Mukuru in Kenya, a kind of ecycling exchange establishing more control and regulation to ensure that electronics are recycled in a more responsible way, while also creating microfinance and economic empowerment opportunities for women.

AL: Do you work with third-party e-waste certifiers?

BS: Definitely. A few years ago we hosted an event with Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA at the time, and CEOs from Sprint, Sony and others to make a joint call for standards. We work with a lot of recycling partners and we require that they be either R2 or e-Steward certified. We have a rigorous onboarding process and we audit 100 percent of our recyclers yearly, in some cases quarterly. We have detailed records on Chain of Custody.

AL: Dell is participating in a panel discussion at SB '14 San Diego on Sustainable Purchasing. What is Dell’s approach to this?

We recognize the strongest tool to advance sustainable practices is to put our dollars where our mouth is. As suppliers we try to earn procurement dollars from our customers by being more sustainable and meeting the criteria of their sustainable procurement standards. As buyers we shape the procedures and practices of our suppliers by requiring them to make those investments.

Specifically, my colleague from Dell Michael Murphy will be talking at SB ‘14 about the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, which supports and recognizes that procurement is a huge tool in sustainability economy. It’s working to determine best practices and develop standards. Establishing standards is hugely important. Right now, we’re dealing with over 70 unique regulations and policy standards with different ways of defining e-waste, let alone how to handle e-waste.

AL: What project are you currently most excited about?

BS: Well, I’m very fortunate to be working on some very exciting things and immediately three things jump to my mind:

  1. Within Dell’s broader 2020 Legacy of Good plan, there’s the 10x20 goal. We’ve set this goal that by 2020 our products will be net positive by a factor of 10, which is pretty ambitious and expansive. It’s been unleashing people’s imagination and talent. The kind of conversations we’re having at Dell around it are absolutely great.
  2. Obviously the work I’m doing with TGEN is fascinating, in fact life-changing. This is the team who cracked the human genome. Now, we’re putting that knowledge to work. It’s beyond research; it’s taking science and asking how do we operationalize it, make it part of how we do medicine, and make it part of how we treat patients, in near real-time. They’re working with treating incredibly deadly and fast-moving childhood cancers like neuroblastom and through our technology and expertise they’re able to process tests and do what used to take weeks — in hours. Within hours of having a tumor sample and genomic data from a cancer patient we can come to personalized treatments and generate information on what specific combination of cancer treatments for that specific tumor, for that specific patient at that specific stage of cancer. It’s unheard of in cancer treatment, especially pediatric cancer.

This work is also so aligned with Dell’s history. Dell is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year. Dell really democratized access to the PC. Before Dell, a PC was an expensive piece of equipment that not many people could afford. By revolutionizing the IT supply chain, just-in-time manufacturing, and the direct-order model, Michael Dell took the PC world by storm and made it possible for almost every household to own a computer. This idea: How do we take something that is really awesome and exciting and empowering and make it broadly accessible — that’s sort of what TGEN is doing with this highly advanced, personalized medicine. Right now only millionaires and billionaires get their medicine this way, through highly specialized approaches looking at them as individual patients. By leveraging technology, TGEN is making it so that hopefully in the very near future every small and regional hospital will be able to treat their cancer, Alzheimer's, or diabetes patients with treatment protocols unique to them and their unique genetic profile. That’s amazing. 3. Finally, there’s the ASU Masters. You know, we have data to tell us what to do and what not to do. If data alone was enough, no one in the world would smoke and eat fatty cheeseburgers anymore. But unfortunately, data is not enough. We need people to step up and lead change and inspire change that is better than what we have right now. Scare-mongering certainly hasn’t worked, even when people’s personal health and livelihoods were at stake. We need to create a better story for the future; make people see it and want it; and lead them through that change. Some of it is going to be disruptive and uncomfortable.

Through the EMSL, we’re educating leaders of today, not just the leaders of tomorrow. We need to empower them through the power of storytelling, the power of opportunity, the power of collaboration and not just data and fear. Working with the cohort at ESLM has been very exciting. We hear in real time how it’s making them more effective in their jobs today.

Like I said, I’m a pretty fortunate guy to be working on a diverse range of exciting projects.

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