Sustainability, responsibility, and accessibility (in service of student success)

ERA’s environmental and social mandate

ERA, the Electronic Recycling Association, is a non-profit organization founded in 2004. Its mission is clear and important: to promote the sustainable use of electronics, to reduce electronic waste, and to help supply electronic devices to those in need. And it does an admirable job of carrying out this mission.

How ERA works 

ERA promotes sustainability, responsible use, and the reduction of waste when it comes to electronics. It does so through a community-minded outreach program that involves recovering, repairing, and reusing equipment such as computers, tablets, and laptops.

How exactly does this work? “We look for electronics that people may not be using that still have some product life,” says Dona Gojan, community manager of ERA. “We might find, for instance, a company that’s getting new computers. We might then pick up their old ones and clean the data, then repair or refurbish them. We then provide them to people who can use them.” 

This has enormous benefits. It reduces electronic waste by increasing the shelf life of computers. It also eliminates the need to produce a new computer every time someone needs one. And as you can imagine, the fewer computers that are manufactured, the better it is for the environment.

In addition to helping the environment, ERA also has a social mandate. While the use of computers and other electronic devices has become pervasive, not everybody can afford them. ERA recognizes this social inequity and aims to reduce it. “Computers are no longer a luxury,” says Gojan. “They’re a necessity, and everyone should have access to one. We want to help promote accessibility by putting computers in the hands of as many people as possible, especially those who may not be able to pay for them.”

How does ERA accomplish this? “Some of the products we receive we give at a reduced cost to charities or organizations that work with underserved communities,” says Gojan. “This helps ensure that families have enough devices, that kids, for instance, have computers to do their school work.” In fact, ERA has a donation arm that gives electronic devices to charities for free. This gets more computers, tablets, and other devices in the hands of people in need such as inner-city youth.  

ERA’s scholarship competition

ERA also has a scholarship program. It gives out five financial awards to students, with the top award being $10,000 and the other four being between $5,000 and $1, 000.

Students enter a competition. “For instance, last year we had a challenge where students can compete individually or in groups,” says Gojan. “We asked them to collect discarded phones and other devices. They then sent us a report on how they propose to recycle, reuse, or refurbish these devices. Students earned scholarships based on the quantity and quality of the devices they collect, and, more importantly, the strength of their proposal for what they want to do with them.”

This gives kids the opportunity to gain critical skills: how to work with communities, how to promote sustainability, and how to become responsible users of IT equipment. The scholarship competition is also a great awareness raiser, and it’s a fantastic way for kids to get involved in the community. And it teaches them the importance of preserving the environment and lending a helping hand to those in need, two key values that should concern everyone on the planet.

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