By Jon Fortt
November 16, 2007

As founder and CEO Michael Dell seeks to reinvent the company’s public face, he’s shaking more hands and hugging more trees.

It was a speech at a big-business technology conference, but you could have mistaken it for an Arbor Day rally.

On stage earlier this week was Dell (DELL) founder and CEO Michael Dell, giving a speech packed with talk of saving trees and preserving the planet. Sure, there were plenty of references to virtualization, a new partnership with Sun Microsystems (JAVA), and a new all-in-one desktop PC to rival Apple’s (AAPL) iMac – but the biggest applause lines were eco-friendly.

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And there were a lot of eco-friendly lines. Besides a restatement of the company’s pledge to go carbon-neutral next year mostly through buying offsets, Dell also showed a touchy-feely video about how the “Me Generation” is turning into the “Re-Generation.” He even mentioned that its servers come in fewer cardboard boxes than Hewlett-Packard’s.

This wasn’t about Dell going soft; instead, the tech baron’s new green streak is part of the company’s new image. No longer content to be known simply as a low cost leader – bargain-basement technology is out of vogue these days – he is instead positioning the company as an inspirational technology maker that’s conscious of the environment while it’s building cutting-edge gear.

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The growing global Internet economy is putting “an infinite demand on servers,” Dell said. And that is leading to “an infinite demand on energy – and that means we have to be smarter about power consumption.”

Dell isn’t alone; the inconvenient truth of global warming has yielded some convenient technology marketing angles. When Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) last month touted the benefits of its new cooling system for data centers, the company was sure to emphasize the green angle: less heat at a data center in India that used its system meant less time running the diesel-powered air conditioning. Sustainability is big, too. When Apple unveiled its new iMac this summer, CEO Steve Jobs hailed it as the most ecologically responsible Mac yet, made of high-grade glass and aluminum that recyclers covet.

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Thankfully there’s more to the industry’s moves than empty rhetoric. HP’s Dynamic Smart Cooling technology really does cut power use in data centers, and the new recycling-friendly iMac’s design clearly required forethought. Dell’s computers are among the most environmentally friendly in the industry according to the Green Electronics Council, which has developed a federally-backed tool that ranks computer equipment based on its environmental impact.

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