Green Packaging Innovation with Dell’s Oliver Campbell

June 23, 2014

Play/Pause Download

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good and we’re so honored to have with us today Oliver Campbell. He’s the Director of Procurement for Packaging and Packaging Engineering at the iconic and legendary Dell brand. Welcome to Green is Good, Oliver Campbell.

Oliver: Hey, thanks, John. Appreciate it.

John: Hey, Oliver. You know, this is your first time on Green is Good, and we’re so thankful for you coming on today, but before we get into talking all the great green things you’re doing at Dell, can you share first the Oliver Campbell journey and story leading up to your involvement at Dell and what you’re actually doing over there?

Oliver: You know, I really just grew up as a small town kid in a small farming community in the Finger Lakes of rural upstate New York and like most kids, although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, that farm benefit would later prove to be a huge benefit for me. When we started developing Dell’s first revolutionary and sustainable packaging ideas, I borrowed a lot from agriculture and I went back to that farm experience I had and that really, I think, led in some significant ways to our bamboo and mushroom and wheat straw packaging. After I graduated from high school, I attended Cornell University where I majored in agricultural and biological engineering, had a lot of mechanical engineering thrown in as well and I think that really reflected my background from being from a small rural community and interested in high tech as well and Cornell, I think, provided a really solid engineering and critical thinking foundation that prepared me well for career progression to companies like Ford Motor Company, Heat and Semi Conductor, and then on to Dell and I think the widely different experiences I had in these different industries helped me to see how solutions in one industry could be applied in another and that ability, I think, to link ideas and technologies has really been a large basis for my success in innovation and sustainability and the other overlay on that as well I think would be the ability to relate to customers and team members so I think the combination of that innovation and customer focus has really been a differentiator for me.

John: How long have you been at Dell, Oliver?

Oliver: I’ve been at Dell for about 15 years.

John: Wow. Okay, got it, got it, got it. That is great and we’re so thankful for you coming on today so for our listeners out there that want to follow along as Oliver shares some of the great and green initiatives that Dell and Oliver’s team are doing over at Dell, you can go to I’m on your site now. It is, first of all, visually gorgeous and chock full of information and so for our listeners out there, I encourage you to go on while you’re listening to the show or after the show and learn more about all of Dell’s great initiatives. Oliver, we’re going to be talking about packaging today. Talk a little bit about how the packaging fits in, the initiatives in packaging, into your overall macro-sustainability efforts at Dell.

Oliver: It’s a key component and our macro strategy is our Legacy is Good program and it focuses on three major areas; It focuses on the environment, people and communities and the notion here, and it’s a really simple one, I honor Michael Dell for it, is by 2020, Dell wants to help leave the world a little bit better place than we found it. That’s really the guiding idea and to that end, we have various initiatives in these three segments; environment, people, and community and packaging plays a key role in the environment and our packaging goal for 2020 is called Zero Waste Packaging 2020 and it’s quite simple. By 2020, all packaging will be either recyclable or compostable as well as sustainably forced, that simple, so we’re about almost 60% of the way towards that target. We still have a bit of work to do, but that’s what we’re trying to do.

John: That’s so interesting and like I shared with our listeners, I’m on your website right now and I’ve read something on the website that says your 3 C strategy. Can you share with our listeners your 3 C strategy that you’ve initiated at Dell, Oliver?

Oliver: Sure. We started the 3 Cs program about five years ago, and it stands for cube, content, and curb and the program arose from talking and speaking to our customers about what they deemed important around packaging and they were quite clear what they valued was they wanted smaller packaging so that was the cube so we set out to reduce the size of our packaging over a three year period by 10%, which we did. We wanted sustainable content, not virgin, if you will, and so we increased the amount of sustainable content by about 40% over that same time period and I’d say most importantly was customers wanted to feel connected around recycling. They didn’t want to feel like they were contributing to the environmental problems that we had and so that’s where we really focused on utilizing curbside recyclability so we looked at local solutions for recycling packaging and so those are the three Cs; cube, content, and curb, and that was really a very, very successful program for us and that was the genesis for our next program, for our Zero Waste Packaging 2020.

John: Got it. So, it seems like you’re constantly innovating there and you’re constantly driving strategic innovation, Oliver. Can you share what has been your most strategic innovations with regards to packaging at Dell to date?

Oliver: I’d say it’s probably our mushroom packaging. A very, very close second is the air carbon, which we just announced last week, but the mushroom packaging was very much something that was very different. When I told my team here that we would be working on mushroom-based packaging, they really looked at me like I was crazy.

John: Well, explain this. I want our listeners to understand when you’re talking about bamboo, mushroom, and wheat straw packaging what exactly you mean because this sounds to me truly, not only innovative, but revolutionary really.

Oliver: It is, and we started it off with bamboo and when we put together our 3 Cs Program, we had a section in there that was really from the engineering perspective to look at natural types of fibers, and so we started asking questions and I think this is something for your listeners who are interested in innovation. The most important thing you can do is to ask questions and it doesn’t hurt if they’re a little bit off the wall but we started asking questions around hey, what’s the world’s fastest growing plant? Why can’t we use that as a fiber? It turns out it’s bamboo and as we started to investigate it, you look at the tencel strength, how strong bamboo is. It really turned out to be a perfect material to package many of our high-tech products and so at one point, I think around two years ago, we packaged nearly 70% of our notebook computers in bamboo packaging and so the process was we’d harvest the bamboo. It’s done very sustainably. It was far away from panda habitats. That was actually something we checked out. I didn’t want to be the bad guy.

Subscribe For The Latest Impact Updates

Subscribe to get the latest Impact episodes delivered right to your inbox each week!
Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you or share your information. You can unsubscribe at any time.

John: That makes sense.

Oliver: And, we pulped it. We got it at a lower cost than what our current packaging and that was a win for us but being in high technology, you never can really rest too long and so we were always concerned that there would be new materials come up that would maybe supplant the ones that we had and that’s actually turned out to be the case. I think in bamboo, we’re a bit of a victim of our own success where others in the marketplace like bamboo and it actually drove the cost up but we had other technologies in place that helped us continue to lower cost, such our leek straw packaging and that really arose again from asking the question of, and this was a bit different, of hey, do we really need a tree for the common cardboard box? And that question came about because it takes about 15 years to grow a tree and out cardboard boxes in our supply chain have a life cycle of about eight weeks so that’s like eight weeks to 800 weeks. That’s like a hundred-to-one ratio and that always seemed really strange to us and so leek, in many countries, is a twice-a-year crop. You can interweave that with other straws and now those ratios start, instead of being a hundred to one, now they get to be about two to three to one so we believe that’s more sustainable and it costs less as well and so that’s a bit how these technologies came to be. It was asking some off the wall questions and the mushroom one, maybe because it’s foodie Austin here, we were at lunch one day and somebody was talking about, ‘Hey, I wonder if you could eat your packaging, what would that be like?’

John: My gosh, so were you the first OEM, Oliver, to use this type of revolutionary packaging and the bamboo, mushroom and the wheat straw?

Oliver: We were the first in the high-tech industry for all three of those. I’d say for packaging, definitely, bamboo across a broad range of industries, wheat straw, we were number one and mushroom packaging, I think there were a couple furniture companies ahead of us but that’s definitely the first in high tech.

John: For our listeners out there who just joined us, we’ve got Oliver Campbell on with us today. He’s Dell’s Director of Procurement for Packaging and Packaging Engineering and if you want to see all the great work he and his colleagues are doing at Dell, you can go to Oliver, last week’s announcement about air carbon negative packaging, I would love you to explain what that all means to our listeners today.

Oliver: That was a bit of bio-magic. That might be the best way to describe it but the process works like this: We actually capture carbon. We can take carbon out of the air or you can intercept carbon at farms and landfills, refineries, before it escapes into the atmosphere. That’s probably a little bit more efficient. That’s what our supplier, Nulite, does with it and then we treat it with a specially engineered enzyme and that enzyme starts to react with the carbon and based on how you tweak that enzyme, you can develop certain types of polymer chains, meaning plastics, and so this is really cool because you can take an enzyme as a basic building block in mother nature and so you can take mother nature to help make materials that we need in our modern lifestyles using what were formally or what are, really, pollutants, which are CO2, so that’s why I say it’s a bit of biomagic and it is carbon negative. That’s been validated by our supplier and they have had outside auditors, True Cost and the NSF, validate their process as well so we hope to be doing something to help alleviate all the environmental challenges that we have with it.

John: That is so great; so really, what I’m understanding now from this discussion with you today, Oliver, is that there’s constant imagining and reimagining and constant innovation going on at Dell with regards to, not only your macro-sustainability goals, but with your packaging standards and how you’re constantly innovating and re-innovating your packaging there. Can you share with our listeners how that works, you and your team always going back to the drawing board and sort of pushing the limits of innovation, number one, and also share with our listeners, because we have so many young entrepreneurs that either are creating new brands or working entrepreneurially at their companies and trying to be innovators like you are and your team is, Oliver. Is this more expensive, this constant innovation with regards to sustainability and explain that interrelationship of cost, cost benefits, and how does that work at Dell and how does Dell benefit from what your strategic innovations have been?

Oliver: Okay. I guess I’ll start at the top around the innovation. I think that the one thing we really do well is structure programs such as the 3 Cs and now we have the Zero Waste 2020 so that gives us kind of a technological arc, if you will, and underneath that, we have very specific areas that we focus on. Now, we’re also very good, and I think this is the fun part, and I think you really need to make innovation fun, is around asking questions. I actually shared earlier some of the question. You know, what if you could eat your packaging? What’s the fastest growing plant? We’ll use that. The ability to ask these types of questions is very, very important because without that, I don’t think you get this linking of big ideas and cross technologies and the big kind of aha moments. The second thing we do is we’re not afraid to go out to other people. Traditionally in the fall, we have open innovation sessions, where we have our suppliers and others come in and there’s somewhat of a loose structure but they come in and talk to us about things that they’re working on, what they think we should be working on, and new technologies. To kind of help set the tone for that innovation session, and this may sound a little crazy, but we do require people that come in to show an inspirational video and it’s like two or three minutes in duration. They can pull it off YouTube or the internet. They don’t need to really make it themselves but it’s amazing how that starts to set the tone and we award prizes for Most Innovative, Best Dell Invention, and Most Inspirational but it starts the conversation going around innovation, sustainability, and packaging. The other question I get is does sustainability cost more? When I do conferences, I’ll ask the room, ‘Who thinks sustainability costs more?’ and like half the room raises their hand and, ‘Who thinks it costs less?’ and the other half raises their hand and it’s like a beer commercial almost, you know?

John: Less filling, tastes great.

Oliver: Yeah, and I think sustainability done right, and Dell I think has proven this, it costs less. As we move from technology curve to technology curve, when it’s done correctly, you’ll not only get a better technology. You’ll get it at a lower cost and Michael Dell has been very, very clear on this that he wants cost parity or better yet, less and so nearly every instance, we’ve been at a cost reduction. One or two cases, I think we’ve been a parity.

John: Oliver, we’re down to the last minute, unfortunately. Can you share with our listeners as we sign off here, what’s the best part of your job? Because obviously, you’re doing such amazing things and Dell is doing so many great things with regards to greening and innovation. What’s your favorite part of your job?

Oliver: I think the favorite part of my job is the people I get to meet. People are interested in sustainability. They’re asking questions about how they can contribute and there’s a lot of areas. This is packaging. Sustainable packaging is a great industry to be in. There’s a lot of change, a lot of opportunity, and I’d encourage any younger listeners in middle school, high school, college, if you have dreams about trying to make a difference, check out sustainability and I think you would be surprised with what you can do.

John: Wow, thank you, Oliver. We want to have you back to talk more about everything Dell’s doing in the green space. For our listeners out there to learn more, go to Oliver Campbell, thank you for being an inspirational visionary sustainability leader. You are truly living proof that green is good.