End-to-End Approach to Sustainability – Six Five On the Road at Dell Technologies World

By Patrick Moorhead - May 21, 2024

On this episode of the Six Five On the Road, hosts Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead are joined by Dell’s Cassandra Garber, VP, Sustainability & ESG, for a conversation on Dell’s comprehensive strategy towards sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives.

Their discussion covers:

  • The latest initiatives in sustainability & ESG at Dell
  • Dell’s end-to-end approach to sustainability
  • Key sustainability goals for this year
  • Feedback and expectations from customers regarding sustainability
  • Practical advice for businesses aiming to incorporate sustainability & ESG into their models

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Patrick Moorhead: The Six Five is on the road at Dell Technologies World 2024, here in my home among homes, Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s been a great show so far. And unsurprisingly, it’s all about AI. There’s a lot of celebrations going on, I mean, not only is it the 40th anniversary of Dell, but I think 10 years ago, you and I may have done the Dell News Desk in Austin, Texas.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, we were the host of Dell World Live a decade ago. And by the way, I had no idea this was home for you, so congratulations on the move.

Patrick Moorhead: Second home.

Daniel Newman: I do, as analysts this does feel a bit like our second home.

Patrick Moorhead: You were here two weeks ago? And I was here six weeks ago.

Daniel Newman: And we’ll be here again soon. But no, it’s been a great day. It’s setting up to make a great week, Pat. I mean the opening keynote, Jensen Huang, Bill McDermott, and of course Chairman, CEO Michael Dell, who has so much to share and be excited about because it’s been just a really strong positive force of a year for Dell technologies and AI. And I’ve said this on some of our other episodes, but it’s become this great reset that has really been a explosive growth engine for Dell and for so many companies in Dell’s ecosystem.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. And there are a lot of conversations that go on at a big event like this and also in the industry. And one of these is how do we get all that goodness and also make it sustainable, right? And I can’t imagine a better person to have this discussion, which a second time Six Five guest here, Cassandra, who runs ESG for Dell. Great to see you.

Cassandra Garber: Thank you. So nice to see you too.

Patrick Moorhead: Yes.

Daniel Newman: Cassandra, one of our very favorites.

Patrick Moorhead: I think I said favoritist. Is that a word? Okay.

Daniel Newman: Favoritist.

Cassandra Garber: Number one, you said favorite.

Daniel Newman: All right.

Cassandra Garber: It happened.

Daniel Newman: So you hear what you want to hear. Let’s talk about what’s new. I mean, look, we’ve had you on what was a year ago. We were through a pretty impressive and period of time where ESG sustainability rose to the top. We’ve also seen AI sort of swoop in, become the cool new thing. And I even saw a report lately, Cassandra, that showed that the number of mentions of ESG on earnings calls has somewhat precipitously fallen. I’m hoping it’s for good reason, but I’d love to get kind of a state of the state what’s going on in your space in the area that you are paying attention to for Dell Tech?

Cassandra Garber: Yeah, so AI is definitely a thing. It’s not boring right now. So from an AI perspective, what we are thinking about right now is the fact that it’s the same issues, the same environment on social issues that we’ve been talking about. Climate change, circular economy, digital inclusion in the digital divide, human rights, trust, ethics, security, privacy, all those kinds of things. It’s the same issues. It’s just AI is bringing risks and opportunities and accelerating them. So we’re not facing new things, but we’re facing faster issues and faster opportunities to address those things. So when it comes to climate action, the energy consumption is huge, associated with the large language models, but at the same time, AI can be used to manage your energy or your emissions and manage it much more effectively.

On the circularity side, the risk is this refresh that’s coming when everyone wants all the new and cool AI stuff is going to mean a whole lot of e-waste. On the opportunity side, circularity is more important than ever, thinking about sustainable materials, thinking about how we create products that can be refurbished, recycled, take back services, all that kind of stuff is what we’re thinking about. On the digital inclusion side, of course, the risk is there that the digital divide is exacerbated because the have-not will further not have because of AI, but the opportunity is there to use it. So we’ve got some cool stuff here with Tomas, who’s a digital assistant, who is helping kids practice interview skills, and we’ve got kids who have flown from across the globe, who are part of these programs that we have in place, and they’re learning to use AI and they’re using it for really cool things. So I know I just said AI like 55 times, but that’s the reality is it is really, really, really bringing both risks and opportunities and becoming really core to our sustainability strategy because it has to.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. So I’ve heard you talk about, and I’ve also seen written the end-to-end approach to sustainability. And I wonder if you could walk us through that. What does that mean? What’s the benefit to companies, society, things like that?

Cassandra Garber: Yeah, so back to what AI is doing right now. So AI in general is causing our customers to ask a lot of questions. How do we get ready for this digital transformation? How do we leverage it? All that kind of stuff. So the customer demand is huge right now for sustainability in general and sustainability offerings. The regulations are wild right now too. So in the EU with the CSRD, there’s all kinds of stuff coming at global companies to get prepared to disclose like never before. So with those two things converging and because of the energy consumption associated with AI, it would be easy for companies to dial back their commitments to net-zero and things like that.

Patrick Moorhead: Sure.

Cassandra Garber: But the regulations are holding them strong because now we are going to be out of compliance if we don’t do so. Those two worlds coming together causing just so much conversation. And so what we have done is we have created what we call our end-to-end approach to sustainability. And what it is, is we have a back end, and our back end is, I know your smile, because we’re trying to be cute. We’re being a little cute.

Patrick Moorhead: I like structure. That’s why I’m smiling.

Cassandra Garber: It’s structured. Yeah, it’s structured and it feels a little techy, so we got our back end. And so for us, that’s the stuff that’s like we do a human rights impact assessment. We work in our supply chain and we have a supply chain program for emissions reduction. We have an operating model for how we run this within our company, stuff like that. That’s kind of the behind the scenes back end, right?

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Cassandra Garber: We have front end, which is here’s what we’re offering customers, here’s the products, here’s sustainable data centers and what we can do to help you there. Offerings might also include how we’re working together in communities. So some of those kinds of things. And then we have what we refer to as the impact bucket as well. So how are we using all of this stuff for a greater good, which beyond.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Cassandra Garber: And what’s really cool about that, talking in these terms like now we talked to customers and they’re like, we might’ve started a conversation that was they wanted to talk with me or my team about sustainable data centers, but when we show them the whole portfolio and they see back end stuff, I can’t tell you how many chief sustainability officers have said to me, “Wait a second, what’s that op model you’ve got there?” Because those regulations are coming my way, and I don’t know how to structure this inside my company. I don’t know how to prepare for this. So things that wouldn’t feel exciting or sexy or anything like that now are things that our customers are finding really valuable when we have a conversation about the back end as much as the front end, as much as what do we do together to address these issues.

Daniel Newman: Yes. We’ve spent a lot of time studying sustainability, actually ran a fairly substantial sustainability index and talked to hundreds of CISOs, security sustainability officers. And I think it was, what about a year ago, Pat, you and I talked about this pivot from kind of the marketecture of ESG and sustainability to really a practical, meaningful approach, data-driven, meeting your governance shareholders where they want you to be doing good for the planet that can be measured and then sent back, not necessarily pushing so many things out 20 and 30 years because there’s a bit of like a great that you’re doing this for 2050, but people can’t appreciate that as much as saying, look, over the next two years, here’s what we’re going to accomplish, and being able to show it in data.

So I think that’s been one of the things. And what we’ve found in these surveys has been that the sustainability is still really high up in terms of importance, but it’s become much more practical. And so when I made that comment about the earnings calls and the mentions, that’s the pivot. So with that in mind though, there’s less sort of, it’s not the glam of sustainability anymore. It’s about what you were just talking about, the end-to-end, the measurable, the practical. So as you kind of are out there in evangelizing within the Dell community, what is top of mind for you right now to make sure you can keep the momentum when it isn’t necessarily as much of a marketing thing anymore?

Cassandra Garber: Yeah. I love that it’s not glamorous. I mean, I still think it’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but probably not cool to say. I think it’s cool, I don’t know. But I love that it’s not glamorous anymore because what that means is it’s actually a business imperative. It’s actually and we talked too about it, it sounds like such corporate speak, but to integrate it, to truly integrate it into how you run your business is what’s happening. And we have all these conversations about, it’s not an add-on, it’s not, hey, at the end of the earnings call, let’s say some nice stuff.

No, actually it’s a part of how we develop our products. It’s a part of how we’re going to market with customers. It’s a part of how we think on the back end as much as the front end and all that kind of stuff. So the fact that it’s not glamorous is great. It’s what people who have been in roles like mine for over a decade have been looking for. We don’t want to be the shiny, we want to be the real. And that’s I think where we’re finally getting, some people forced and some people willingly jumping in, but it’s great.

Patrick Moorhead: So you’ve talked a little bit in this conversation about your conversations with customers and what they’re telling you, and I want to get both sides of the coin, what questions are they asking you, but also what are you recommending that they do better to integrate sustainability into their processes and even the culture?

Cassandra Garber: Yeah. So what customers are asking us is AI and sustainability. “How do you think about it? What does it mean in general?”

Patrick Moorhead: Are they voicing like the, how do I do this? You’ve got this thing that seems to generate a ton of draw a lot of power, amazing amounts of power. And on the other hand, we need to get this done. Our board of directors, our competitors, everything’s coming after us here.

Cassandra Garber: Some of them are at a point of, “How do I do this?” Many of them are at a point of, “Where do I start?” Not-

Patrick Moorhead: Interesting. Okay.

Cassandra Garber: Like, how are you even thinking about this right now?

Patrick Moorhead: Right. So it’s more strategic.

Cassandra Garber: Yes, yes. It’s very much in the strategic, how are you starting to tackle this because we’re a tech company and they’re like, “We know that you’re thinking and living and breathing this right now. So how are you even thinking about these worlds coming together?” That’s where most of them are right now. Some of them are beyond that, and they’re like, “No, seriously how do we start implementing? Where do we go?” So that’s a giant conversation. Some of them have moved so far past that. They’re like, “Hey, sustainable data center, we’re ready. What does that look like? How can you package that up? How can you help us think through what that looks like?” So we get that question a lot. That’s kind of on the AI side of things, but what hasn’t gone away is still product carbon footprint.

Everyone just wants to know the carbon footprint of what they’re buying. Again, back to those regulations, they’re all going to be regulated into it and they want to know. So that hasn’t gone away by any means. And then the other one still too, that is related to AI, if you will, in many ways that we’ve been thinking about it, but it’s just the circular design of all of it. We still get especially in European customers, they’re still saying sustainable material. So when we say recycle cobalt batteries and recycled aluminum, recycled steel, low emission aluminum, things like that, they love it. They love it, because they’re still looking for that kind of circular design, and that’s leadership we’ve got. So we get a lot of questions about circularity.

Daniel Newman: That’s great. Well, Cassandra, I want to say thank you so much for sitting down with us, talking it through. It sounds to me like you’re having a lot of very positive conversations. Seems you’re moving the ball inside of Dell, and it also sounds like you’re kind of community of sustainability leaders are finding the mission and how to proceed in the mission in an era where we’re balancing AI being a really power intensive but also opportunistic trend line and sustainability, which is something that leaders around the world are holding large enterprises like Dell Technologies accountable.

Cassandra Garber: Yes. It’s cool to be in my role right now to be the tech company coming in and talking about this stuff, it really is. It’s fine.

Daniel Newman: It’s just not cool to say it’s cool.

Cassandra Garber: It’s hard, exactly. I don’t say that like, “Hey everyone, I’m cool and I’m here that you can feel it.”

Patrick Moorhead: Well, you know what’s cool, we don’t have to say you’re cool.

Daniel Newman: You do hit that age.

Cassandra Garber: It’s true.

Daniel Newman: All right. Casandra, thank you so much for joining.

Cassandra Garber: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Daniel Newman: All right, everyone, hit that subscribe button. We’re having a lot of fun here at Dell Technologies World 2024. It’s Six Five, we are on the road in Las Vegas at the Palazzo Hotel. What a show, what a week, but we got to say goodbye. We’ll see you all soon.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.