TRENDER: Green Penguin Electronics’ Benjamin George
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
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/).
Related Slideshow: The Brown Alumni Who Run This Country
Let's take a look at the Brown University graduates who currently play vital roles in running this country:
Jack A. Markell
Governor of Delaware (2009 - Current)
Class of 1982
After obtaining his undergraduate degree in economics and graduate studies from Brown in 1982, Governor Markell went on to earn his MBA at the University of Chicago. He left the private sector in 1998 upon his election as State Treasurer of Delaware, a role which he served until becoming his home state's Governor in 2009.
Photo: SenRockefeller, Flickr
Piyush "Bobby" Jindal
Governor of Louisiana (2008 - Current)
Chairman of the Republican Governors Association
Class of 1992
Governor Jindal is one of the more recognizable names to come out of Brown, largely due to his role in dealing with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off of his state's coast in 2010. He earned degrees in biology and public policy from Brown in 1991, and has since held many public offices; including a term in Congress as the Representative of Louisiana's 1st District.
Photo: Derek Bridges, Flickr
Governor of Rhode Island (2011 - Current)
Class of 1975
Governor of New Hampshire (2013 - Current)
Class of 1980
After Graduating from Brown in 1980, Governor Hassan went on to the Northeastern University School of Law. After working as an attorney for several years, Hassan went on to hold a seat in the New Hampshire State Senate for three terms before losing her seat in 2010. She won last year's Gubernatorial election, carrying every county in New Hampshire.
Photo: Roger H. Goun, Wikimedia
U.S. Representative - Rhode Island - 1st District (2011 - Current)
Class of 1983
Along with John F. Kennedy Jr., Cicilline established Brown University's branch of the College Democrats of America. He held several roles in Rhode Island politics, including Mayor of Providence from 2003 to 2011 before representing Rhode Island's 1st District in the U.S. House.
U.S. Representative - New York - 24th District (2013 - Current)
Formerly U.S. Representative - New York - 25th District (2009 - 2011)
Class of 1990
Representative Maffei received his degree from Brown in history before beginning a career in journalism. He worked as a reporter and producer for ABC's Syracuse, NY affiliate for several years, then worked behind the scenes in politics until deciding to run for office himself.
John Hugh "Buddy" Dyer
Mayor of Orlando, FL (2003 - Current)
Class of 1980
Mayor Dyer received a law degree from the University of Florida after earning his Bachelor's Degree from Brown. He went on to serve ten years in Florida's State Senate before becoming Orlando's 32nd Mayor.
Photo: Carol Cox, Flickr
Federal Reserve Board of Governors: Vice Chair (2010 - Current)
Federal Reserve Board of Governors: Chair (Nominated)
Class of 1967
Yellen graduated summa cum laude from Brown University in 1967 with a degree in Economics. She went on to hold many prestigious titles in the field of economics, including serving as Chair of the Council of Economic advisers under President Bill Clinton. She was recently nominated by Barrack Obama to become the Chair of the Federal Reserve, if confirmed, she will become the first woman in U.S. history to hold that title.
Richard G. Olson
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan (2012 - Current)
Class of 1981
Ambassador Olson graduated with honors from Brown with 1991 with a degree in law and society. Before being appointed to his current role, he also served as Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, U.S. Consul General in Dubai, and as Deputy Chief of Mission to the the U.S. Mission to NATO.
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations (2010 - Current)
Class of 1969 (M.A. 1971, Ph.D. 1979)
Ambassador Dicarlo has led a very distinguished career in diplomacy following her graduation from Brown University. She has received multiple honors, including the Department of Sate's Sustained Superior Achievement Award. She also served as acting U.S. Ambassador to the UN in July of 2013.
U.S. Secretary of Labor (2013 - Current)
Class of 1983
Following his 1983 graduation from Brown, Secretary Perez began a long and distinguished career in the public sector. Before the 2013 appointment to his current role, Perez worked for the Department of Justice as Assistant Attorney General in their Civil Rights Division.
Jim Yong Kim
President of the World Bank Group (2012 - Current)
Class of 1982
Before being elected as the 12th President of the World Bank Group, Dr. Jim Yong Kim was a shining star at Brown. He graduated magna cum laude in 1982, and went on to become a physician and anthropologist, serving as an adviser to the World Health Organization. In 2009, he was named President of Dartmouth College, becoming the first Asian-American to head an Ivy League school.
Norman L. Eisen
U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic (2011 - Current)
Class of 1985
After graduating with honors from Brown in 1985, Ambassador Eisen went on to study at Harvard Law and was classmates owith future President, Barack Obama. In the private sector, Eisen made a name for himself, earning the distinction as one of Washington's top lawyers by Washingtonian Magazine.
U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador (2012 - Current)
Class of 1985
Ambassador Namm graduated magna cum laude from Brown in 1985 with a degree in International Relations. He has spent his entire career in foreign service, and was the Acting Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations before being appointed to his current post.
Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry (2013 - Current)
Class of 1997
While at Brown, Mr. Wade was awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman scholarship. He went on to serve some of this Nation's top leaders, first acting as Joseph Biden's National Spokesman and Communications Advisor. He then became Senator John Kerry's Chief of Staff in 2008, transitioning with the same title in Kerry's new role as Secretary of State.
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