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TechSoup's Refurbished Computer Initiative: You've Come A Long Way Baby

TechSoup's Refurbished Computer Initiative: You've Come A Long Way Baby

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TechSoup's Refurbished Computer Initiative (RCI) has provided warrantied refurbished computers and other IT devices to nonprofits and libraries for seven years now.

In taking stock of things this Earth week we thought we'd take a look at how far we've come. Just the environmental benefits alone are surprising, not to mention how well computer refurbishment has caught on in other parts of the world.

How It All Started

In 2004 we published our Islands In The Wastestream study, which measured the demand for low-cost computers among U.S. nonprofits, schools, low-income families, and small microenterprise businesses.

The study also estimated the supply of PCs coming from the noncommercial refurbishment sector and also the potential for corporate donations of PCs. Our survey of large companies found a robust interest for donating PCs. It made us think about ways we could bring good dependable low-cost computers to nonprofits and libraries.

Thinking about things alone is one thing, but being a pretty typical collaborative type of nonprofit we pulled in the New Sector Alliance and some UC Berkeley Haas Graduate School of Business volunteers to really help us think through this.

When all was said and done, we received a 2005 seed-funding grant from Full Circle Fund and launched the Refurbished Computer Initiative program. At the time, we had a very limited selection of offers, comprised only of desktops and laptops, most of which had Pentium III processors (you get the idea).

In the first couple of years we distributed around 100 PCs per month. And then the program really got going with a major grant in 2007 from California Emerging Technology Fund to scale up RCI in California.

Fast Forward to 2012

With a catalog spanning desktops, notebooks, LCD monitors, desktop/monitor bundles, servers, and printers with a variety of performance characteristics, we've now distributed a bit over 30,000 refurbished IT devices through RCI.

We have served more than 10,300 nonprofits and libraries across all 50 U.S. states, and we estimate that we have have saved organizations somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.8 million, based on what they would have paid for retail equivalent products (including the software). Our average monthly distribution of PCs (and other IT devices) is now up to around 700 units per month.

All of our RCI-refurbished PCs come with either a Windows XP or Windows 7 operating system, and all come with Office 2007. Several models also come with Symantec Norton Antivirus 2012 with system restore capabilities. You can check out our entire catalog of refurbished IT equipment.

How Green Is Refurbished IT Equipment?

Using the U.S. EPA's Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator, here are some interesting stats that help to quantify how the TechSoup RCI program – and our participating recipient organizations – have done the Earth some good by extending the life of and reusing RCI equipment:

  • Energy – we've saved enough electricity to power 6,250 households in a year
  • Greenhouse gas reduction – equal to removing 2,731 passenger cars from the road per year
  • Solid waste – equal to removing the solid waste generated by 121 U.S. households in a year
  • Hazardous waste reduction – equal to the weight of 18,239 bricks
  • Toxic material reduction – equal to the weight of 485 bricks

The RCI program also has a free end-of-life takeback program, in which anyone with an RCI computer can call and get free shipping when the PC is ready for recycling. The RCI equipment is then processed according to e-Stewards or R2 (Responsible Recycling Practices) standards by one of our two refurbishers, Redemtech or InterConnection.

Our RCI Refurbishment Partners: Redemtech and InterConnection

Redemtech has been with us since the beginning of the RCI program. One of their most current philanthropic projects is Connect 2 Compete, which in a big new digital inclusion program that aims to provide a PC and broadband Internet in every U.S. low-income household.

Redemtech will be a major supplier of low-cost refurbished PCs for low-income families. The Connect 2 Compete program will also supply free training on how to use computers via Best Buy's Geek Squad, Microsoft, and other providers. Computers For Youth will supply educational resources for low-income students. The program is scheduled to launch in late 2012 or early 2013.

InterConnection is our Seattle based nonprofit refurbisher. One of their newest projects is to be part of the 20 years | 20 ways campaign, a year-long effort by Microsoft to build better careers and better lives for aspiring IT professionals and students around the world. They're urging everyone to donate their discarded laptops to InterConnection as part of this work.

InterConnection is one of Microsoft's primary charity refurbishers. One of the more recent donations of Microsoft surplus equipment went to TechSoup's Czech Republic partner, Charta 77, that supports people with disabilities.

InterConnection received the computers from Microsoft, installed Windows 7 Pro and Office 2007 (Czech language version of course), and shipped 157 computers by sea. There were no costs incurred by Microsoft for the donation.

The computers are now serving more than 9,200 individuals from 13 different nonprofits across the Czech Republic. InterConnection is also doing a big Microsoft Earth Day collection event. They're a busy place.

Refurbished Computers in the TechSoup Global Network

NGOs and libraries all over the world need good dependable low-cost computers and several of our global partners run successful refurbished computer initiatives. To be specific, they are our partners in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Italy, India, Poland, and Romania. Our French and Italian partners run their own in-house refurbishment programs.

We believe that a well-developed computer reuse field could help solve two pressing social issues: toxic waste and the digital divide.

TechSoup Global continues to work in this field to foster a high functioning electronics refurbishing/reuse field that decreases the aggregate of toxic waste from electronics in to the environment and also supplies tested working electronic equipment to NGOs and libraries, as well as schools and low-income families in the U.S. and everywhere else.

  • As IT Administrator for the Siena/Francis House in Omaha, NE (the largest homeless shelter in the state), I am responsible for keeping 35-40 PCs going for our employees so they can effectively do their jobs. We are grateful for your refurbished PC program, it helps me to do my job in the most cost effective way possible. Thank You Tech Soup!! We would also be interested in knowing more about your Connect 2 Compete program as we also have an in house drug and alcohol recovery program, and when graduates leave the program they are starting new lives, most with nothing, and some are enrolled in college and need PC's of their own. Can you direct me to someone who can give me more information on this program? Thank you again for your help for non-profits such as ours!

  • How would i go about donating old technology to this? My department replaces older PC's, battery backups, flat panels monitors and more for more than 250 stores.  Currently, i send this all to a recycler.  A large number of the desktop PC's are just older and can still be used, but would need the end use to supply the hard drives and Operating systems.....

  • On donating 100 or more PCs to RCI, as luck would have it, we have a webpage for that. Find it at:

    Our direct contact person for equipment donations to RCI is Gayle Carpentier <>.


  • Debbie,

    On the Connect 2 Compete program, for nonprofits who have individuals that qualify for the C2C program and want to know where to send them please contact Redemtech via email at:  or call them at 800-378-6897.


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