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Dell, HP vie for spotlight again. This time, on environmental leadership.

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The HP, Dell rivalry on climate issues continues to heat up. We can learn from both.

It being climate week and all -- a fact celebrated by dignitaries creating sparking a ripple effect of traffic gridlock in New York City -- all sorts of companies are falling all over themselves to proclaim their latest environmental goals and achievements.

Yesterday, I reported that Newsweek had nodded at Hewlett-Packard (No. 1) and Dell (No. 2) with their Greenest Big Companies list. Today, we get a closer glimpse at least one dimension of both companies' environmental sustainability programs: their energy consumption and management of greenhouse gas emissions. The companies are rivals in environmental leadership, as well as products. Which is actually beneficial for all of us.

I'll actually start with Dell first, because their team actually called me to talk about this before they release their news this morning. There are several dimensions to its news, but there were two pieces that jumped out for me. First, the company reports that it reduced its total electricity consumption in fiscal year 2009 by close to 3 percent, compared with fiscal year 2008.

Dane Parker, director of global environmental health and safety for Dell, says that this reduction was encouraged by grassroots, volunteer green teams at 25 of the company's office locations. So, for example, a team in India engineered the installation of pull cords on the fluorescent lights, so that employees could turn them off themselves. What's more, the company has saved about $1.8 million by encouraging the use of power management settings on desktop and notebook computers. "Our first preference is not to use energy in the first place," Parker says.

Over the period in question, Dell increased its purchases of renewable energy by 436 percent; the company sources approximately 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources, which Parker says are chosen according to what is appropriate for the local markets where its facilities are based. By 2012, the company is shooting to have 40 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources. It this means direct sourcing, not just some game that involves buying renewable energy credits. Mind you, renewable energy credits are a good thing because they help fund investment, but I find it a bit disingenuous when companies claim carbon neutrality without lifting a finger to reduce actual consumption.

The other work that it is important to mention, especially considering the relatively poor progress made by large companies toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions, is that Dell reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 18 percent in its last fiscal year. This comes from cuts across its entire organization, including heating, cooling, use of company vehicles and a huge reduction in employee air travel.

HP's update about its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions goals sees it setting new goals for its consumption reduction goals, mostly because it has already met the ones it originally set for 2010. Those involved reducing energy usage and related greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 2005 levels. This includes the emissions and energy related to both its own operations AND its products. That is an important distinction, because every tech company contributes to the carbon footprint of the planet not just through its own business operations but through how its products are used by other businesses.

Under its new plan, the company aims to cut consumption for its products to 40 percent below 2005 levels by the end of 2011. It calls for actual cuts of 20 percent under 2005 levels for its facilities around the world by the year 2013. The reason it is splitting up its goal, according to HP, is because of the acquisition of EDS. Which if you call, has a LOT of data centers to its name. The buyout actually increased the company's total operations footprint by almost 50 percent.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure