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A lot of PC makers are riding the going green pony pretty hard these days, but the folks at Dell — you've got to give them credit — are making a show out of boiling the poor thing down to eco-friendly glue.

Nary a week goes by without Dell reminding us how they intend to sponge off our ravaged Earth Mother. Don't get the wrong impression — nature is wicked rad and all that. And at least Dell has come a long ways from the days using prison labor to scrap their toxic waste. But give our inbox a break.

Today, Dell is claiming it will become the first computer manufacturer to make its operations "carbon neutral."

CEO Michael Dell heralded a series of programs to shrink the company's carbon footprint and offset its greenhouse gas emissions by 2008.

"Carbon neutral!" you might exclaim. "That sounds fantastically impressive."

Well hold your — er — horses a minute. That particular buzzword deserves a disclaimer.

For every unit of greenhouse gas that goes into computer production and distribution, Dell will find an equal offset through investing in renewable energy sources or energy efficiency. Of course, the carbon still going into the atmosphere isn't actually "neutralized" in any real sense. It's an eco-friendly step, but calling it "carbon neutral" is a little like saying 10 - 5 = 0. But we digress.

"I think it's the right thing to do," said Michael Dell. "These are important issues. When you think about our industry, we produce 260 million computers a year. There's a responsibility that comes with that."

Dell said the company will invest more in technology to reduce its energy consumption and participate in programs such as efforts to plant more trees. In fact, Dell is expanding its "Plant a Tree for Me" program for private consumers to "Plant a Forest for Me," for companies buying in bulk.

The company says its Texas operations already get 10 per cent of its energy from "green sources," but wants to increase that percentage. Their efforts will primarily involve emissions impacts created by electricity use and facility heating and cooling. Lighting fixtures will be replaced with energy efficient florescence, and carbon-spewing machinery will be tuned or replaced. Turning off equipment at night when it's not being used has already saved $1.8m in electricity bills in the past year, Dell said. The company also vows to offset the emissions impact of employee business travel.

Of course, much of Dell's supplies come from contract manufacturers who are not bound by the company's eco-friendly guidelines. Dell is trying to account for this by requiring major suppliers to identify and report their emissions impact. The company says it is the first step in a long-term strategy to minimize emissions from supply-chain operations.

But it considers the practice a last resort. "We would just as soon not do any offsetting," said Mark Newton, Dell environmental policy leader. "We would like to make things green to the point where offsetting is not needed." ®

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