By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley
Hi-tech companies are competing on a new front - to become the greenest business.
Dell says it's defining what it means to be "green" in technology
A year after pledging to become the greenest company on the planet, computer maker Dell has introduced measures aimed at claiming the "green crown".
But there's no shortage of environmental monitors making sure corporate boasting isn't little more than window dressing.
Dell is the first hi-tech vendor to reach a milestone in energy efficiency by offering goods that use less power under the EPA's Energy Star standard.
It is also boasting a new record in recycling 46,000 tonnes of IT equipment from customers in 2007, a 20% increase on the previous year.
And Dell's so-called green guru, Dr Albert Esser, told BBC News the company was leaving no stone unturned in its bid to reduce the impact it makes on the environment and its balance sheet.
Dell says it is saving roughly $2m a year through operational efficiency improvements.
Dr Esser credits some of this to efforts such as powering its headquarters in Texas on 100% green energy and striving to become carbon neutral by the end of the year.
Dell's new energy-efficient offices in Texas
"What we believe, really in this whole IT green space, is you cannot afford not to be green," says Dr Esser, whose official title is vice-president of power and infrastructure solutions.
One major critic which would agree with that is Greenpeace International.
Every year it produces a survey of just how well the hi-tech industry is performing in this arena.
Dell rated 7.3 out of 10 last time out but fared dismally on the issue of making ecologically friendly products.
"Green is the buzzword of the moment and I think where ecological issues and economic issues cross over is a no-brainer," says Casey Harrell, of Greenpeace International.
He adds: "Dell is talking the right game but when it comes to taking chemicals out of their products they scored zero."
Dell's Albert Esser: "You cannot afford not to be green"
A non-profit organisation that rates corporations on how they address climate change says Dell is not a strong performer and is at an early stage in addressing the issue.
Wood Turner, the project director of Climate Counts, told BBC News: "Dell certainly has strong goals but we need to wait and see how they measure out.
"All these public PR pronouncements are great but what do they mean and do they deflect from what they are not doing in their main facility and their supply chain? Those are questions we have to ask. We need more evidence."
'Do the right thing'
Dr Esser admits that the drive towards becoming more environmentally friendly as a business is also about boosting Dell's bottom line.
"If you look 10 years forward my personal belief is that the companies that embrace aggressively and early green IT practices will have stronger balance sheets."
The facts and figures certainly seem to back up the assertion that the power of green is a great persuader.
A recent report by Forrester shows that 65% of companies surveyed adopted practices to reduce energy-related expenses while 41% said they were motivated by doing the right thing for the environment.
Mr Harrell says he doesn't care why companies embrace being green, just that they do.
"We are not looking for some utopia where everyone is doing it for the right reason, we want them to do the right thing for whatever reason."
Dell is not alone in touting its green credentials.
HP recently announced eco-friendly endeavours focusing on reducing the carbon footprint of data centres by 75%, increasing energy efficiency in its products and developing open tools for measuring the amount of energy used in the manufacturing process.
HP promises its products will be more eco-friendly
HP brags that its data centre programme is "an industry first initiative that will involve examining current data centres to find a way in the next five years to cut power consumption".
But Dell's Dr Esser says zeroing in on these centres is wrong because they are responsible for 23% of emissions compared to 40% for computers and printers.
"A typical business has more power consumption from 'client' computers like desktops than from servers, and that often gets overlooked," he maintains.
Dell states that since 2005 its client desktop systems alone have helped customers save more than $2.5bn and avoid approximately 24 million tonnes of CO2.
In a further effort to live up to its green pledge, Dell says it aims to make its desktops and laptops 25% more energy-efficient by 2010 by tweaking the circuitry, fans, and power management systems.
Mr Harrell, who is a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace, says greening the product should be the number one priority for all hi-tech companies.
Greenpeace is pressing the IT industry to produce greener products
"The biggest environmental footprint is caused by the products themselves. Any company claiming to be the greenest on the planet has to do more than what we call greenwashing by putting some solar panels on their buildings and using recycled products.
"To be truly green they need to be an all-the-way-round leader in energy efficiency, in designing out toxic chemicals in the product and disposing of the product safely with ecologically sound take-back programmes."
Intel, the world's top chipmaker, is another company pitching for green supremacy.
It plans to buy more than 1.3 billion kWh a year of renewable energy certificates, making it the single largest corporate buyer of green power in the US.
A new energy-efficient IBM data centre being dropped at a client's warehouse
Another serious competitor for the green mantle is IBM.
Just this week Big Blue announced a suite of new energy-efficient technologies and services to help businesses make savings and cut energy consumption by half. It is all part of Project Big Green, a $1bn plan to develop energy-saving technologies.
Greenpeace's Mr Harrell says this green race is good for customers and the environment.
"We think it's fabulous that the IT industry is trying to best one another in terms of green practices and initiatives. The planet benefits, but there is a long way to go."