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TRENDER: Green Penguin Electronics’ Benjamin George

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

 

(Photo: Facebook)

Making the planet a little greener, one old computer at a time, Green Penguin Electronics is a start-up company based in Rhode Island that recycles electronic waste, or e-waste. The company takes your old cell phone, laptop screen, or iPod and disassembles it, saving anything useful, recycling the rest. They can destroy data, recover assets, or supply parts for upgrades.

CEO, R. Benjamin George graduated from Brown in 2002 with a degree in Computer Science, and after running a laptop refurbishing business on eBay and IT consulting, he sat down to start what is now Green Penguin.

George sat down with GoLocalProv to talk about Green Pengiuin, what they do, and why they are a Trender in Rhode Island.

What inspired you to create Green Penguin Inc.?

That's kind of a complicated question… I guess it was a sort of perfect storm of a liberal education, experience in the IT field mixed with experience with the recycling industry, some time spent refurbishing laptops, a lot of experience buying and selling online, a desire to do something I could authentically say was a contribution to the world around me, and a gap I saw I could bridge.

I believe that in the world, people want to, and feel good, doing the right thing and when that comes to environmental responsibility, I saw that doing the right thing was often cumbersome and, unfortunately, often costly. I set out to change that and improve outcomes within the industry and for the environment by partnering with the community as well as electronic recycling and metal scrap companies already operating in the region. We set out to cause that, sustainably, the easy thing and the right thing were the same thing in the domain of e-waste management.

How did you go about building the company? What has been your hardest roadblock so far?

In the late 2000's, had a couple of false starts as I figured out how a company like Green Penguin could operate sustainably, and finally, Green Penguin was born.

We built the company piece-by-piece, idea-by-idea. We started primarily hard drives and RAM, often acquiring them by specific part number in bulk at a low price and then reselling them by compatibility at a much higher price (while still offering the consumer a significant price-point advantage over purchasing new or from any of our competitors).

Most of the development process ultimately looked like encoding my knowledge-set into process and away from individual expertise allowing for the company to scale effectively, and that process is rapidly drawing to a close.

What happens once someone gives their broken or old electronic waste to Green Penguin Inc. compared to if they threw it in the garbage?

Well, one thing for sure is that it gets recycled rather than placed in the landfill.

Our first goal is, of course, reuse. Where financially viable, even if a computer or other piece of electronic equipment is broken, we seek to test the individual components and then offer those tested components at a discount to consumers seeking to maintain their own devices. If there is nothing to salvage, we break down devices into their individual recyclable materials (e.g. plastic, steel, aluminum, copper, wiring, circuit boards, transformers, etc.) and provide them to aggregators of those materials for processing and refining.

Besides disposing of electronics responsibly, how do you recommend Rhode Islanders contribute to lowering E-waste? How should we go about this?

At the risk of sounding hippie dippy here… consume less! If you've got a good working LCD TV, DVD player and DVD collection and a 5.1 surround sound system, is the newest LED TV, BlueRay + collection and 7.1 surround sound system really going to improve your quality of life or happiness? Really? If it really is, find someone else who can use that thing you don't need anymore.

The next thing I can say is that most of the stuff you own can be fixed if it breaks and you can probably fix it yourself [...] often at a lower cost and ultimately, less time spent than actually buying new (especially when you consider the time spent shopping including travel, researching your purchase, setup of your new device, etc.

Lastly, there's community awareness and activism. Companies including Green Penguin are often more than willing to coordinate fund-raising e-waste drives with non-profits that include either per-pound payments for products received (occasionally) and, more often, suggested donations collected by the partner group for in exchange for acceptance of the e-waste in question. Drives like this will see everything from batteries to washer/dryer units and everything in between.

Green Penguin Inc. has partnered with several RI community groups and businesses, such as ecoRI Environmental News, to spread the word about E-waste and get people involved in your recycling campaign. How have Rhode Islanders reacted to your company and how much community support have you received for your mission?

We've been really well received by the community and we've found ourselves working increasingly with the community to facilitate proper e-waste disposal. We get somewhat regular calls to schedule both pick-ups and drop-offs of e-waste to our Olneyville facility.

People have generally expressed gratitude and certain measured satisfaction in knowing that the things they're getting rid of will be handled responsibly.

Any future plans for the company or things Rhode Islanders should look out for?

Just growth, really. We continue to take on new projects and new partnerships, continuing to develop and tweak our processes to allow for higher product yield and lower prices. In the realm of the publicly visible, we intend to expand our engagement with local businesses and the community over the coming year. A retail store for used electronics and parts lies also in the not-so-distant future.

I am currently exploring options for expansion to both British Columbia/Northern Washington State as well as Northern NJ or southwestern CT. I expect to be putting together operations in both of those locations within the next two years.

For more information on Green Penguin visit them at their website (http://www.gpenguin.com/).

 

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Adam Namm

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David Wade

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