Upcycling for Good: Meet the Digitruck

By Carol Baroudi
May 1, 2015 2:35 PM ET

Arrow | Value Recovery

Here in Arrow’s Value Recovery business, we say that recycling is a last resort. Not that recycling is a bad thing, but in the scheme of things sustainable, reuse is a whole lot better. But there’s a grander notion still – that of upcycling. Recycling is an energy-intensive process that fundamentally breaks things down to reclaim materials for new manufacture. Reuse extends the useful life of a product, getting more use from the original energy and materials used to create the product in the first place. Upcycling is a process where waste materials or products, without breaking them down, are used to create something of greater value or environmental benefit. And Close the Gap’s Digitruck is a fabulous example.

For a decade, in partnership with Arrow’s Value Recovery business, Close the Gap (CTG), an international nonprofit organization working to bridge the digital divide, has been distributing high-quality, pre-owned computers to people in developing and emerging countries. These computers are donated by large and medium-size corporations and public organizations that want to make a difference. Together, over the past 10 years, Close the Gap and Arrow Value Recovery have processed 440,000 donated computers and reached over 1.5 million users.

However, the digital divide isn’t simply due to a lack of available technology. For many, it starts with a lack of electricity. What good is a device if you don’t have the electricity to power it? For many of the 75 percent of Africans who live in rural communities, a lack of infrastructure, including utilities such as electricity, makes the digital divide a veritable chasm. To span this great divide, Close the Gap has partnered with Greenlink to create a solar-powered mobile unit – the Digitruck – which is built with triple insulation to withstand the sub-Saharan African heat. The Digitruck can be used as a classroom or a clinic and can travel from village to village.

The Digitruck is an upcycled used cargo container outfitted with refurbished computer technology, roomy enough to accommodate 18 students at a time or a self-contained clinic. Because it is mobile and solar-powered, it can reach deep into areas that are otherwise difficult to serve. The Digitruck represents the best of innovation – upcycling with purpose – and Arrow Electronics is very, very proud to have been involved in the design of the first Digitruck ever (the prototype) and to sponsor the second Digitruck. “Arrow guides innovators forward to a better tomorrow – not only in electronics, but in collaborations with innovative humanitarian partners like Close the Gap,” said Joe Verrengia, Arrow’s director of Corporate Social Responsibility. “The Digitruck is a compelling example of how together we can provide creative and sustainable solutions in emerging markets where the needs are greatest.”

Longtime advisor to CTG, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, had this to say about the Digitruck: “It’s a fantastic development and a wonderful birthday present for CTG.”

As we reflect on the goodness that has emerged in 2014, and the opportunities for good in 2015, I’d encourage us all to look for ways to upcycle with purpose – to innovate for good using what we’ve already got. There’s a world of need and we need many, many Digitrucks. If your organization would like to sponsor the creation of another Digitruck, please drop me a line at cbaroudi@arrow.com.