IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

A Sustainable Opportunity for MSPs

Managed service providers who aren’t yet helping SMB customers meet environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives are missing an opportunity to grow business and help the planet. By James E. Gaskin
Reader ROI: 
ENVIRONMENTAL AND SUSTAINABILITY goals are not just the domain of large enterprises.
MSPs CAN HELP their SMB customers by working with nonprofits that refurbish computers for underserved communities.
USE SUSTAINABILITY know-how to differentiate your MSP business from the competition.

CALL IT BEING GREEN or environmentally responsible, or call it lifecycle management or an environment, social, and governance (ESG) initiative, but enterprises today believe in sustainability. So do many SMBs. Twenty-three percent strongly agree with the idea that a robust ESG program helps their business, while 36% somewhat agree, according to SMB Group, a market research analyst and consulting firm. When your customers ask for help donating old systems, are you ready for this business opportunity?

According to the United Nations Environment Program, the world produces as much as 50 million tons of e-waste a year, and only 20% is formally recycled. Rather than put equipment in a dumpster, some companies go straight to an electronic recycler, or ecycler, which reclaims usable parts and materials and crushes the rest, but the effort keeps some material out of a landfill. Every major city now has companies advertising “electronics recycling,” but they range from responsible companies with strict privacy and data destruction policies to those that are one step above a junkyard. SMBs will look to their MSP to steer them in the right direction.

Avoiding the Landfill

Retired systems commonly have years of good use left after being donated, experts say. The first question for most companies is how to refurbish and reuse end-of-life hardware, says Laurie McCabe, cofounder and partner at the SMB Group, a market research analyst and consulting firm. “Take the latest and greatest [computers] from the execs down to other [employees who] don’t require that performance, trade in the old for new systems, or donate,” McCabe recommends. Data protection must be maintained, either by the customer, the MSP, or the refurbishing/recycling service, she says.

Susan Krautbauer

If you want to pass along usable equipment from your SMB customers, there are multiple options at Digitunity, a national nonprofit based in North Conway, N.H. Digitunity works with tech companies to donate recycled and refurished computers, laptops, and tablets to 1,500 nonprofits in good standing with the IRS and communities across the country that align with their goals.

Working directly with companies or through MSPs, Digitunity arranges pickup for the donated systems, sends them to partners that wipe hard drives and refurbish reusable systems, and forwards them to nonprofits for distribution, says Susan Krautbauer, senior director of strategy and development. The donating companies can designate recipient groups in the Digitunity network, such as STEM or low-income students, older adults, and veterans’ support groups.

Loren Williams, an account executive/sourcing, at PCs for People, which provides recycled computers for low-income individuals and families and is based in the greater Chicago area, takes a similar but more direct approach. “From Baltimore to Denver, we pick up computers, take them to the nearest of our eight or nine warehouses, reformat or shred hard drives, and update them with Windows 10 since we’re a Microsoft-authorized refurbisher,” Williams explains.

The organization has distributed over 60,000 systems to low-income households—keeping 4 million pounds of electronics out of landfills, according to Williams. PCs for People often works with MSPs helping their own customers dispose of old electronics, and is looking to add more MSP partners.

How to Find a Program

McCabe says her research indicates that people do want to recycle. “Start with your hardware vendors like Dell, HP, Lenovo, since each has a good program,” she advises, adding that all the major tech vendors now have a strong commitment to sustainability, and programs are in place.

Many distributors have programs as well. Adam Rutstein, director of global corporate responsibility at Fremont, Calif.-based TD SYNNEX, calls it the circular economy. Shyft Global Services, a recently formed division of TD SYNNEX, offers safe IT asset disposition services of devices traded in to its Renew program. Customers can also work with the distributor’s Corporate Mobile Recycling company, which processes mobile devices.

“Many companies have ESG or corporate citizenship sections on their websites,” Rutstein adds, “and most large companies produce an annual corporate citizen report or equivalent to update stakeholders on their progress.” TD SYNNEX published its Global Ecosystem Benchmark Report in January 2023, highlighting opportunities for resellers to help their customers with their own sustainability efforts.

About the Author

James E. Gaskin's picture

JAMES E. GASKIN is a ChannelPro contributing editor and former reseller based in Dallas.

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