By Adrian Grenier
I can’t shake the image – in returning to Austin during the South by Southwest Festival – that I have come full-circle. Like the commonly used recycling icon.
When I was initially approached a year ago to partner with Dell as the tech industry’s first Social Good Advocate, I felt a mix of pride and caution. I was interested in the opportunity to collaborate with a global brand to promote sustainable lifestyle choices to more people. And I was impressed by the company’s ambitious “Legacy of Good” plan it already had in place. But I wondered if we could really form an authentic partnership, one that would inspire more people to action and create more social good together than separately.
Looking back at the initial year, I’m thrilled at what we’ve achieved and I’m happy to say we’re looking forward to another year working together. Our ongoing partnership is buoyed by my trust in Michael Dell and his genuine commitment to using technology for good, which was evident from our first meeting and flows through the company.
A key part of our success to date is that we’ve been able to find opportunities where our interests intersect and we can benefit from each other’s strengths. The mutual commitment we have to collaborate on meaningful programs that can make a real mark and change behavior continues to drive us.
Our newest joint project launching this month is a study to determine the feasibility of using recycled plastics from oceans and waterways in Dell product packaging. The team has figured out the chemistry and material characteristics needed and the proposed supply chain process, building on their years of expertise in this space. We are now evaluating suppliers with an eye toward commercial-scale availability of recycled plastics in our product packaging, helping cut down on the plastics making their way into the oceans and contributing to the Pacific Trash Vortex. The study will take about six months and, if all checks out, we will move into a pilot phase.
Dell has been steadily moving away from hydrocarbon-based plastics with packaging innovations for years and was the first to commercially-ship mushroom, wheat straw, bamboo and captured carbon emissions-based packaging. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to build out an ocean plastics supply chain together, which aligns with my broader ocean conservation efforts through the Lonely Whale Foundation.
In our first year, Dell partnered with me on the production of a virtual reality (VR) film, “Cry Out: The Lonely Whale Experience,” to reach more audiences through creative storytelling using innovative filmmaking technology. The 360-degree underwater VR expedition, which was launched during Art Basel Miami Beach in December, transports viewers into the depths of the sea to experience the impact of manmade pollution from a whale’s point-of-view. I was able to show it to Secretary of State John Kerry during the Sustainable Innovation Forum at COP21 in Paris and Al Gore mentioned the Lonely Whale Foundation in his speech there. At the Sundance Film Festival, we were able to entertain Katie Couric. The power of story can help change global points of view.
On the topic of storytelling, please check out our Legacy of Good Short Documentary Film Contest. We are seeking like-minded filmmakers to create more inspiring stories on the circular economy movement and the role of technology in creating a better future (and there’s a $45,000 prize and production support from SHFT.COM to the winner to help create the short film). Entries will be accepted until March 31, 2016 and I’ll work with the winner to develop and promote the film.
Another key area for us is raising awareness around the need to increase recycling of used electronics – and to the concepts of closed-loop recycling supply chains and the circular economy. We had a great time literally driving e-waste tech takebacks in New York City in support of America Recycles Day and look forward to doing it in a new city this year. Why is this so important? Because the current recycling rate for electronics in certain markets, like New York City, is abysmally low hovering around 15 percent with of millions of tons of old electronics destined to wind up in landfills.
While we’ve made the circuit this year bringing our mutual story of creating a “Legacy of Good” through technology to millions of people, Dell’s Vice Chairman Jeff Clarke reminds us that “’sustainability’ and ‘innovation’ are two broad marketing terms used in conjunction so often that they’ve become almost meaningless.” I’m keenly aware of this risk and continue to work with my partners at Dell and in the industry to ensure we jointly deliver real business results and social good that benefits people and our planet.
We must all rise to the challenge to create social good together – or surely the oceans will rise to challenge us all.