Dell has stepped up the ante in the computer industries competition to show how they are becoming greener by announcing this week plans to become carbon neutral by 2008. It's certainly had the intended effect to generate a good amount of positive media.

Leaving aside the dubious nature of 'carbon neutral' marketing speak and the definitely less than perfect option of carbon offsetting (especially by planting trees) it is good that they are looking to increase the use of renewable energy in their operations and making their products more efficient.

Yes of course all big companies should already be doing this (rather than shouting about it now) but even now many aren't. In the real world being greener or trying to appear to be green is a new marketing reality. So it's no surprise that Dell is pushing out new green initiatives.

Dell hasn't always been so green, being criticised in the past for their recycling practice. However in 2006, while we where starting to push major computer makers, especially HP, to remove toxic chemicals and improve recycling, Dell actually took a big step forward. It committed to remove the worst toxic chemical and launched a global recycling scheme. Since then Dell has had a relatively good ranking in our Guide to Greener Electronics.

Ranking such as ours on company policies/practice and others like EPEAT's ranking of computer products has definitely helped focus attention on the tech industry's environmental impact. Recently it's seemed that several big tech CEO's have vying with each other over environmental issues.

Most of the companies seem to be focusing on climate and reducing their emissions but at least Dell seems to be taking a more complete approach to saving energy. Every tech company should be striving to reuse and recycle as much of their equipment as possible to save energy and reduce waste.

Looking at the varying initiatives it can be confusing with many companies seemingly picking a choosing their initiatives or measure than make them look good. IBM and HP have focussed on energy efficiency. But HP gets a low score in our ranking for falling behind other companies on toxic clean up and recycling. Apple has made vague mention of publishing the carbon footprint of its products.

The first stage of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases should own up to how much your company produces. Then there's something public to measure progress against or help determine its just climatewash. Now I haven't looked at depth at what companies are doing what, but I did notice this from this morning buried in this story from the Financial Times, according to the Carbon Disclosure project there's two big tech names who aren't even reporting emissions yet - Apple and Phillips.

To sort the PR speak from the real intent on all this corporate climate speak from the electronics industry we're following it closely to see what's really best corporate practice. Look out for more in the not so distant future.

Update - my colleague Iza has just pointed out that Dell mostly only assembles and ships products made by other suppliers. That probably gives companies like Dell an advantage when looking at their carbon footprint. In contrast Sony and Samsung for example make parts for companies like Dell, HP and Apple. If Sony makes a batteries for Dell products does should the emissions generated during manufacture count for Sony or Dell?