Schools and universities are increasingly recycling and reusing computers, servers, and other IT equipment to offset rising technology costs as the faltering economy forces officials to slash budgets.
Campuses such as the University of Richmond have reused and recycled IT hardware, making money from the sale of old equipment and ensuring that sensitive school and student data are wiped clean from computer hard drives before the machines are refurbished and sold to another campus or company.
In a case study published this winter by Redemtech–an IT management company that works with the University of Richmond–the environmental and security advantages of IT-asset reuse were reinforced by statistics. The university has diverted about 23 tons of electronic waste that would have ended up in a dump or a landfill, according to the case study. Redemtech also has helped Richmond erase more than 25 terabytes of data, equivalent to approximately 4.3 billion sheets of paper.
Reusing computers and servers also appeals to campuses that are instituting environmentally friendly policies. By recycling and reusing equipment, the University of Richmond reduces its greenhouse gas emissions every year, according to the study.
"We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing," said Wendy Burchard, procurement coordinator in the university’s Information Services Department over the past decade. "We don’t ever want to find a piece of our equipment in a stockpile in China. This is just another part of making sure we’re doing what we should be doing environmentally."
Before Richmond signed on as a Redemtech customer two years ago, Burchard said the university worked with another IT recycler that could not verify computer serial numbers or if the machines had been wiped clean of critical student information, such as grades and Social Security numbers.
"These are things you just cannot let get out," she said. "The whole tracking process was very important to us, and I didn’t feel safe. … Now, I feel much safer."
Agreements between IT departments and companies vary from campus to campus, but typically, schools give their used equipment to a company like Redemtech, which cleans the hard drive and resells the piece. The school then receives a certain percentage of the sale–in Richmond’s case, it’s 75 percent of the profit, Burchard said.
Bob Houghton, CEO of Redemtech, said the current recession is driving many campus decision makers to find ways to offset computer costs by recycling and reusing equipment, therefore extending its lifecycle and saving money in the long run.
"There is no question, using assets longer and refurbishing assets is definitely on the rise because of the down economy," Houghton said. "If you look at [IT equipment] as a true investment, then that’s how you get the kind of financial results the University of Richmond has enjoyed."
Shrinking operating budgets and endowments, Burchard said, could encourage campus IT officials to seek the cheapest IT recycling companies, which usually cannot guarantee that data are erased from used machines or that the information was properly disposed of.
"With the economy the way it is, my fear is that a lot of universities are going with recyclers who don’t charge anything," she said. "And that means you’re not really securing your data. You become vulnerable."
College campuses are not the only institutions seeking ways to recycle IT. An online school that caters to home-schooled children and charter school students bought computers and printers for its 40,000 students several years ago, and Houghton said Redemtech has helped extend the machines’ life and save money for the web-based school.
When a student is finished with the online curriculum, Redemtech takes the student’s computer, refurbishes it, and makes it usable for the next batch of students.
"Everyone should certainly look at that strategically," Houghton said. "If budgets are constrained in the way we see now … then refurbishing is a great way to take advantage and save real money. It just makes sense in this particular economy."