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Dell and Two Behind-the-Scenes Green Innovation Stories--involving Blogs and...Beer?


Dell just announced that it’s launching a new initiative to get really green by reducing packaging materials for its desktops and laptops by 10 percent in the next four years. This would result in saving the company about $8 million, the company says. On the heels of the press release, I’d love to share some intriguing details on Dell’s innovation process in the packaging area that I culled from a behind-the-scenes conversation with Oliver Campbell, Dell’s senior manager of global packaging.

Basically, Campbell gave me two insightful anecdotes about how Dell is continuing to learn from customer feedback to quickly innovate in the areas of environmentally friendly boxes and shipping processes. In February 2008, bloggers complained that Dell shipped tiny memory sticks in large cardboard boxes. “Our first reaction was, how can they say that? Then, we saw that they had a good point. So we sent a team up to our fulfillment provider the next day [after seeing the blog posts],” Campbell said. “We wanted to find out how to prevent wasting packaging materials. Michael Dell takes very personal interest in these things.” And here comes the innovation scoop: Campbell told me that as a result of the blogosphere criticism, the company is now discussing packaging strategies during performance reviews for order- fulfillment employees.

“We want to create institutional concern about wasting packaging. We could give a lecture about it, but then people could walk away and never hear our message,” he said. “Now they know that Dell is serious about packaging. And we can’t improve this without measuring how we do things.”

Another innovation story Campbell shared: he was part of team working with an enterprise customer which had purchased several thousands of Dell servers about a year ago. He noticed that after the installation, the client was faced with a huge pile of packages. “Literally, there was a mountain of server-boxes. I thought, there has to be a better way of doing this,” Campell told me. It was a Friday night, he said, and the server installation was the last job of the week. Campbell and his colleagues were sharing beers with the clients to wind down and celebrate the end of the installation, as people do to keep customer relationships alive and well. And then Campbell started paying attention to the six-packs’ packaging—and inspiration hit.

“I thought, why can’t we do something similar? Why not package servers like the beer bottles? So after this, we worked on a way to get multiple server items in one box. And customers love it, because it reduces setup time. There are far fewer boxes and there’s less to dispose.”

And there you have it—two examples of how one of the 50 corporations on our “Most Innovative Companies” list (Dell was # 46 in 2008) come up with fresh ideas and execute them quickly. These two narratives that Campbell shared tell a deeper story than merely the projected statistics and green goals in the press release distributed today. Campbell offered up valuable real-world case studies of how to improve processes, services, and customer experiences, by listening to clients and paying attention to what they want and need and finding practical inspiration in unusual places.


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