In 2013, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business watched a pile of electronics get picked up by USC’s approved recycler, destined to be melted down into raw materials and thought, “there must be a better way” than the energy-intensive recycling process.
Situated in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the most economically and ethnically diverse cities in the United States, USC has students from all backgrounds, many of who had to overcome barriers to get into the school. One of these barriers is the lack of access to technology, also known as the Digital Divide. The lack of access to computers, high-speed internet, and the training to use these tools meant that these students had to stay after school, travel to public libraries, or otherwise find a way to apply to college.
Enter human-I-T, then known as Computers for a Cause. Founded just a year earlier, human-I-T is an organization that repurposes the devices that organizations, ranging from local sports teams to Fortune 50 corporations, are no longer using. By repurposing technology, human-I-T steps in to prevent these devices from falling to the last, and least desirable, section of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” model; or worse, into landfills. Reuse creates less waste by using the items as originally intended, in the “highest and best use” of the material since each time it is modified, raw material loses some of its structure and function. The devices from Marshall were wiped and verified according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) guidelines which are HIPAA and Department of Defense compliant, among others. Once the items were refurbished and had all the necessary software re-installed, they were redistributed through partnerships with community organizations, the City of Los Angeles’ council districts, and school districts. In addition to the hardware, human-I-T leverages partnerships with Internet Service Providers such as Frontier, Charter, and Mobile Citizen (a mobile hotspot on the Sprint Network) to provide high-speed internet access at a low cost.
“Whether large or small, working systems or not, one-stop electronic waste disposal is now easy and responsible. Donations are certifiably wiped, re-purposed, or recycled properly. human-I-T even picks up at our shop so it’s a win-win-win. “
-Ken Martin, IT Manager at the University of Southern California
The early success of the program at the Marshall School of Business slowly but surely spread to the storied L.A. Coliseum, home of the Trojan’s football team since 1923, and around the Green Sports Alliance member’s campus. Eventually human-I-T became USC’s primary provider for e-waste services. By donating the items to human-I-T, the university is able to write off their “waste” as an in-kind donation, allowing them to recover value from the technology. Prior to working with human-I-T, it is estimated that USC would have paid just under $200,000 for the same services each year (based on market rate).
Fast Forward to the end of 2019. In that year alone, the University of Southern California donated over 325,000 pounds and approximately 6,000 devices were repurposed. This means that those devices no longer need to be replaced by new items. In the manufacturing process alone, this prevented 3.1 million pounds of fossil fuel emissions, around 20 million pounds of water usage, and the use of nearly 300,000 pounds of toxic chemicals. Since 2013, human-I-T has also outfitted three computer labs for USC, including the Community Computing Center, where community members come and use the computers for programs such as computer classes, resume writing workshops, and courses teaching skills in various jobs. Additionally, community members use the computers for general college preparedness, completing their FAFSA, homework, writing resumes, completing job applications, conducting research for school assignments, researching resources for their families and exploring opportunities.
“human-I-T is a wonderful collaborative partner. The donations of fully functioning computers are a precious gift to the many local community members we serve. Thank you, human-I-T, for being such an outstanding partner, providing families the opportunity to own their first computer and aiding in the empowerment for many to thrive.”
-Brenda Farfan, Program Administrator, USC Community Computing Center