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Can Adrian Grenier help Dell's entourage sell sustainability?

The entrepreneur and eco-advocate has signed on to help the tech giant raise consumer awareness for plastics recycling and new closed loop initiatives, among other projects.

How's this for smart casting? Actor and environmental activist Adrian Grenier has been enlisted to help tell Dell’s “social good” story.

The company’s ambitious Legacy of Good plan (PDF) sets forth 21 specific environmental and corporate social responsibility targets that the technology company hopes to reach by 2020.

The move also illustrates how corporations are going beyond their usual networks to forge partnerships with the potential to scale sustainability impacts.

Dell already has been spreading the word about its social responsibility plans through relationships with business groups such as Forum for the Future and BSR. Now, the company wants to speak more directly to consumers with the help of Grenier,best known for lead roles in the HBO series “Entourage” and movies such as "The Devil Wears Prada."

“I’ve been a part of making conspicuous consumption quite sexy,” Grenier told GreenBiz in an exclusive interview about the new partnership. “We have an opportunity to make conscious consumption just as successful.”

While details of the relationship still are being finalized — such as which events and projects Dell and Grenier will support together over the next year — one initial focus will be raising awareness for plastics recycling, said Trisa Thomspon, Dell’s vice president of corporate responsibility.

Dell is studying ways to scale the closed-loop recycling program it adopted last year for one model in its OptiPlex all-in-one desktop computer line. The system uses 10 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.

“In order to fuel more progress, we need collections to increase,” Thompson explained.

Finding alignment

While Grenier might not immediately jump to mind when it comes to corporate sustainability, he’s also an entrepreneur and filmmaker serious about advocating for a “sustainable lifestyle.”

Along with producer Peter Glatzer, Grenier is co-founder of a multimedia company called SHFT, dedicated to supporting projects that raise cultural awareness.

“I’ve been at this for a while," Grenier said. "I’m very honored that Dell has recognized that work and brought me on to fulfill this role.”

Dell first broached the idea of a partnership in January during the Sundance Film Festival, which the company attends annually in support of its many customers across the film-making community.

“We had a long conversation to find the points of intersection," Thompson said. "Our mutual areas of interest were significant.”

One project that definitely will get Dell’s support is Grenier’s proposed documentary about a mysterious whale off the coast of California that communicates in songs apparently no other whale can understand. The goal: raise awareness for ocean noise pollution. (The Kickstarter campaign supporting “The Lonely Whale” quest runs through March 12.)

When I asked Grenier what big brands can do to raise awareness about their company’s sustainable business practices with consumers, he said progress requires a genuine commitment and an honest, two-way dialogue.

“One thing that really excited me about what Dell is doing is that they are measuring progress,” Grenier said.

In July, for example, the company reported that it had reduced the energy intensity of its technology by 23.2 percent — saving $449 million. Its goal by 2020: an 80 percent reduction. It has cut greenhouse gas emissions from its facilities and logistics processes by 8 percent, against a long-term goal of 50 percent.

“I look for those kinds of clues," Grenier said. "There is no absolute answer. We need people to put their heads together, to think, to innovate. If you are looking for some absolute answer, you will always be disappointed.”

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