How big companies are reducing emissions—and making money

September 29, 2015, 12:12 AM UTC

Siemens, the global energy giant, says it can make a profit by reducing its carbon emissions. Shocking, right?

At Fortune’s Brainstorm E conference on Monday, the CEO of Siemens’ U.S. division, Eric Spiegel, said that his company plans to spend nearly $110 million lowering the company’s emissions. But he insisted that investment would eventually pay off through savings of between $20 million to $30 million annually.

Siemens announced last week that it plans to slash its carbon emissions in half by 2020, and become carbon neutral by 203o. To become carbon neutral companies need to identify their emissions, invest in projects to reduce them, and also invest in external projects that offset any emissions a company can’t eliminate.

To achieve its goals, Siemens, which is No. 63 on Fortune’s Global 500 list, plans to make its company vehicles—it has 45,000 and 50,000 cars and trucks worldwide—greener, and also invest in new energy efficient manufacturing technologies. The company has 300 factories that could benefit from more efficient gear like motors and pumps, said Spiegel.

Siemens, of course, isn’t the only company taking this path. Dell, for example, has focused on making its packing and computers use more recycled materials.

Dell’s vice chairman of operations, Jeff Clarke, showed off on stage some of Dell’s packaging made of wheat straw, a byproduct of wheat harvesting. Clarke said the wheat straw packaging uses 40% less energy to produce, 90% less water, and costs less to make than traditional packaging.

Clarke also said that Dell had recently started a new program to take scraps of carbon fiber and use them in both Dell’s business and gaming computers.

Beyond recycling, Dell has invested in using information technology—like big data and analytics—to reduce energy consumption in its facilities. Clarke called computing technology “an enabler” of sustainability.

He pointed out that reducing carbon emissions, and running environmentally-focused programs at Dell, is a good way to attract new employees. “For millenials entering the workforce, this really matters to them,” said Clarke.

It’s not always easy to meet these types of sustainability goals, said Diane Regas, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund, which works with companies on lowering carbon emissions. But better policies, as well as business leadership, can help make the process less challenging.

Click here for more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm E conference.

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