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Created For and Commissioned By: DELL SMALL BUSINESS
  • Dell Small Business

Innovating out of thin air

Ink derived from soot is just one example of how Dell is embracing eco-friendly solutions to improve its supply chain, one box at a time

Innovating out of thin air
Image via Pexels

Walk through any neighborhood in the sprawling Indian capital of New Delhi and you’re bound to hear the low rumble of a diesel generator. The generators are the main source of electricity for millions of New Delhi residents for whom power failures have become second nature. They power shop lights, keep air conditioners running, even provide a more reliable electricity source for medical devices like dialysis machines. But those ubiquitous generators also cough up a ton of pollution, and the diesel exhaust has set off something of an air-quality crisis in the Indian metropolis that the government is desperate to solve.

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Diesel fumes are made of two different components. The gaseous portion is a miasma of different compounds—carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, sulfur oxide, etc.—but it is the sooty particulate matter that is responsible for the hazy veil that hangs over the city. Those microscopic particulates can damage people’s lungs as well, causing a raft of issues, including aggravated asthma and lung cancer.

Chakr Technologies is trying to save the air around New Delhi by capturing the particulate matter burping out of diesel generators and turning them into useful products. Their signature innovation, the Chakr Shield, captures 90% of the particulate matter emitted from diesel generators and converts it into material that can be used for commercial products, such as paint and ink.

It was that second use that caught the attention of the team at Dell Technologies. The Texas-based tech giant was holding an Innovation Olympics in order to find new partners with cutting-edge ideas that had transformative potential. Dell found that Chakr’s ink was a viable substitute for traditionally sourced products, and they started using the Chakr ink on thousands of boxes starting in 2017. Since then, Dell estimates it produces 125,000 boxes per month using pollution ink, and the partnership between Dell and Chakr has provided cleaner air for more than 110,000 people. It’s an innovation literally conjured out of thin air, and it’s the kind of investment that has Dell written all over it.

A RECYCLING FEEDBACK LOOP

Innovations such as this are part of a tradition of product-lifecycle oversight that has been a company priority ever since Michael Dell was tinkering with computers in his University of Texas dorm room. “From the very beginning, we realized that if we design a product right today, we can recycle those materials back as a sort of closed-loop pipeline for us in the future,” David Lear, vice president of sustainability at Dell, told the audience at a panel during the Fast CompanyInnovation Festival in October. “What we design today, we want back in seven years.”

That focus on a recycling feedback loop has also driven Dell into strategic partnerships with environmental organizations such as Lonely Whale, an incubator dedicated to fostering ideas that improve the health of the world’s oceans. Dell’s alliance with the environmental incubator led to the creation of NextWave, an industry consortium whose members are dedicated to reducing the amount of plastic waste being dumped into the ocean.

For Dell, cleaning up ocean plastics was seen as both a way to undo decades of pollution and harvest a new sustainable material. “Literally millions of tons of plastic waste goes into the ocean every year,” Lear said. “We thought this might be an opportunity. Even though we were getting away from plastics in our package, this might be a good way to help the world clean up the oceans.”

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Lear touted Dell’s flagship laptop, the XPS 13 2-in-1, as a prime example of how the company has integrated recycled plastics into its manufacturing chain, while crediting his colleagues with having the flexibility to put these new ideas swiftly into practice. “Our manufacturing team has this well-oiled machine going around the world, and we came in and said, ‘We want to change a few things midstream; we want to try these untested ocean plastics,’ ” Lear told the panel audience, drawing laughter. “We were able to convince everybody to do it! And since then we’ve been able to scale a lot of the innovations that started with one or two products across our [entire] product line.”

Disrupting supply-chain sustainability might not sound like sexy, cutting-edge tech. But rethinking how to distribute its products responsibly marks another milestone in Dell’s long history of environmental stewardship. Today, the company is recognized as an industry leader in reducing its corporate waste footprint.

“I have 140,000 people worldwide who are tasked with thinking about sustainability,” Lear said. “If you’ve been designing boring brown packaging for years and all of a sudden somebody challenges you and says, ‘Hey, let’s take the most exotic materials from around the world and see if you can build a better package that’s better for the environment.’ How cool is that?”

This article was created for and commissioned by Dell.

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