Adrian Grenier needs to keep computer maker Dell honest.
The star of HBO’s hit series "Entourage" recently became Dell’s first “Social Good Advocate,” making his debut in the role this week at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Dell, which is based in the Austin area, hopes that Grenier will help draw more attention to the company’s green initiatives, something that has become progressively harder for the company since it went private in 2013.
Grenier has a track record of supporting and working for social causes, especially those focused on the environment. In 2008, Grenier and film-producer Peter Glatzer co-created "Alter Eco," a television show for the Discovery Channel focused on sustainable living. The following year, the two created Shft, a website described as a “lifestyle platform” to convey a more sustainable approach to film, design, art, and food. Grenier's latest eco project is a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to fund a film about whales and raise awareness of ocean noise pollution.
Dell recently published its Dell 2020 Legacy of Good 10x20 Plan, in which the company lays out a number of social and environmental goals that it plans to tackle from now until the end of the decade. Some of the goals can be tracked relatively easily, such as the company’s desire to reduce energy intensity on its product portfolio by 80% from 2013 levels and use only packaging that is 100% recyclable or compostable.
Then there’s it’s “Legacy of Good” goal in which the company is seeking to generate 10 times more benefit through their technology than it takes to make and use it.
The goals outlined in the sustainability plan are admirable and could produce significant cost savings for the company and social good for the planet if executed in the right way. But it won’t be easy. Such changes are hard to make and require real investment and time from Dell. In a couple years or so, the company could very well choose to quietly bury the whole plan and pretend that it never existed.
This is where Grenier could make a real difference. Given the fluidity of his role, he can make it a point to keep track of Dell’s progress and help prevent the company from shirking on its commitments. By standing up to Dell and making sure it sticks to its goals, Grenier could carve out a new legacy for himself and inspire more celebrities to take on similar roles in corporations across the country.
I sat down with Grenier in Austin this week to discuss his new role and what he plans to accomplish. The following interview has been edited and condensed for publication.
Fortune: Why are you here at SXSW? Why did you think it was the appropriate venue to launch this partnership with Dell?
Adrian Grenier: Well it’s awesome, where else would you do it? I mean, is this not the perfect venue? It’s a gathering of great minds, great ideas, and it’s an opportunity to get everyone in the same space. So, besides all the fun we’re gonna have, I think we can come together and make a difference.
Okay, so Dell has named their Social Good Advocate. What exactly does that mean?
It means that I am going to help them not only spread the message of what they’re doing, but also to change and shift their behaviors and their practices and their business to do better for the planet and for people. I also think it involves finding ways that we can bring people together and invite them to share their ideas so that we can double down on that good.
Who approached who regarding a partnership with Dell?
Dell approached me. They said that they got a chance to explore my work with SHFT, Alter Echo, and a few of the other productions I had been a part of in the past. If you look at some of the work that Dell is doing right now around setting goals and trying to incubate ideas, it is really exciting. I thought it was a good blend to put our platforms together.
I know you’ve worked with big corporations in the past, like with Ford over at SHFT, correct?
That was a little bit different. Ford came out with a series of more sustainable vehicles—electric and hybrid vehicles. And, through SHFT, we were able to let people know that this is yet another option consumers had to put their money towards; something that was actually better for the planet.
Do you see yourself advocating for Dell’s products?
Well, I think a lot of things that Dell is doing is behind the scenes, such as with its packaging. Dell is committed to making a significant measurable impact in how they do business so that consumers can feel better about buying products from Dell.
Can you talk a little bit more about the packaging?
I’m learning that this package [holding up a cardboard looking box] is made from wheat-straw, which is pretty cool. It acts just like cardboard, so you know the fibers are the same as tree fibers, except it’s a highly renewable resource. In China, they would actually burn the wheat straw so it would contribute more CO2 to the planet. So it actually reduces that element. It’s also ... creating an industry to actually process and make this new type of material out of the wheat straw. Oh, and it is cheaper too!
So, some might say this is nothing but typical corporate “greenwashing” and that Dell doesn’t really care about the environment. It just wants to sell more products to eco-conscious customers.
Well ... let’s hold them to it. I’m not an employee of Dell. I’m an independent, free-thinking person, and I also have my own reputation to maintain. Believe it or not, I did a lot of research to make sure that this was for real. But you’re right. I don’t think we should take anything for granted, and there is a lot of greenwashing out there. So let’s actually hold Dell to their goals and let’s help them achieve their goals too.