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Donating Surplus PCs Protects Environment – and Closes Digital Divide

The drive for newer, faster, better technology is generating dramatic gains in productivity – but serious environmental impacts as well. Due in large part to high-profile media coverage, most people have seen images of children playing in smoldering, toxic e-waste dumps in developing countries. Since about 80 percent of e-waste collected for recycling ends up in these dumps – much of it from businesses – keeping discarded electronics out of this toxic trade is key issue for ensuring corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability.

Donating surplus PCs – when properly managed – helps reduce the environmental impact of IT by extending the useful life of equipment. At the same time, effective donations of used PCs magnify philanthropic giving by helping people, schools and community organizations that desperately need technology – but can’t afford it.

Taking action to address the “digital divide” is an important CSR priority. In today’s digital society, a home computer plays the role of library, post office, tutor, bank, newspaper, employment agency, medical advisor, match maker and much more. Yet one in four U.S. homes – or 28 million households – lacks a PC. And more than 13 million PCs are needed by U.S. nonprofits to streamline operations and expand services.

Directing even a small portion of surplus IT to this cause could have a dramatic impact. According to Gartner, U.S. businesses replace approximately 40 million computers every year – and about 75 percent of this equipment is four years old or less, meaning it has plenty of useful life remaining. Yet more than half is stowed away in warehouses and closets or discarded. Only 3 percent is donated, and many of these computers are “gifted” to charities without proper testing, repairs and legally-licensed software.

Well-managed donation programs leverage low-value surplus IT to deliver results on the triple bottom line:

  • Environmental. In addition to reducing e-waste, reusing PCs through donation saves energy and cuts greenhouse gas emissions related to manufacturing new computers. Donating 1,000 computers saves enough energy to power 680 houses for a year, and reduces greenhouse gases equivalent to removing 480 cars from the road for a year.
  • Social. Donation of surplus PCs helps companies meet CSR and sustainability goals by helping people to advance in school and careers, access services, maintain social networks, participate in community, the political process and much more.
  • Financial. Every dollar invested in refurbishing yields ROI of $5 to $7 due to tax benefits and enhanced hardware value. Strategic donation can also strengthen or build new customer relationships, providing a commercial benefit to your business.

Changing Attitudes About IT Donation

The conventional wisdom among many IT professionals holds that donating surplus PCs creates more risks than benefits. Concerns include potential data security lapses, environmental liability, illegal software licensing transfers and more.

However, there is growing awareness that well-planned donation programs can be effective. Gartner analysts Rob Schafer and Frances O’Brien commented in a recent research note that their organization “has long advised enterprises to be cautious when donating used IT equipment to charitable organizations, because the process can be labor-intensive and requires careful planning, asset preparation and documentation.” However, the research points out that, with proper precautions, “These relatively low-risk IT asset donations can be attractive to an enterprise’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) area.”

Getting Started with Donation

Four tips for any company considering making an IT donation:

  • Promote teamwork between IT, CSR and Marketing. While IT has the supply of surplus IT to donate, the CSR team can provide insight on the strategic partnerships that best support a company’s corporate goals and commercial opportunities. Marketing helps increase the CSR value of the donation by spreading the word among employees, the news media and other key audiences.
  • Engage employees through donation events. Donation programs offer employees the opportunity to donate their used-but-still-useful computers through on-site collection events that communicate your company’s commitment to CSR goals.
  • Refurbish the hardware to provide a reliable, quality experience. Donated hardware is a cost to the recipient – not a gift – if not in good operating condition. Fully refurbished hardware can be as reliable as new. Consider engaging a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher (MAR) that can inexpensively – and legally – relicense Windows operating system and Office software for secondary use.
  • Donate where the equipment will have the greatest impact. IT donations can fail when companies give the equipment to community organizations that either do not need it or lack the resources to repair, deploy and maintain it. For instance, Redemtech partners with several nonprofits, including Habitat for Humanity International, to channel customers’ donations effectively.

Well-managed PC donations transform low-value, surplus equipment into a strategic investment in community renewal, yielding far more value than other options for IT disposition. For more information, download our free white paper, “Giving: The Most Strategic Disposition Option.”

Redemtech President and Founder Robert Houghton is an expert in the field of technology reuse and recycling, including responsible e-waste management, sustainable computing and off-network security best practices.

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