Sustainability has been a buzzword in the tech and computer industry for quite a while now. The need to protect the environment has become an imperative in the tech space, which is why recycling computers is such an important action. Join Ben Baker as he talks to the founder of SellYourMac, Brian Burke. Bryan discusses sustainability and what businesses need to do to help achieve this goal. We also hear about device life cycles and other nifty tips in recycling your Mac computer or other electronic devices.
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Waste Not, Want Not: Sustainability In The Tech Industry With With Brian Burke
You guys are awesome, you comment on my social media on, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. You are sending me emails at YourBrandMarketing.com. I appreciate you guys all for reading, sharing and doing whatever you guys do. Thank you for being such an amazing audience. I have Brian Burke from SellYourMac on the show. We are going to talk about sustainability in the computer industry. We had a phenomenal conversation off air. It’s time to light up the mic and have the conversation. Brian, welcome to the show.
Thanks a lot, Ben, for having me. I’m excited to bring some of my Mac experience here and talk about sustainability with you.
You and I were talking about the good old days, about where Mac came from. I am a PC guy now. I fully admit it. My family had Mac. I remember playing with the first Macintosh computer with a RAM drive in 1984.
Did you see Steve Jobs unveil it?A lot of people can't afford to buy the latest Apple product but they can afford to buy them for half of what they would cost new. Click To Tweet
I didn’t see it on TV but I remember getting a 20-megabyte hard drive and 1 megabyte of RAM.
That was huge back then.
We were in the cat’s pajamas. We were the coolest kids on the block.
Now you couldn’t even store ten seconds of this video.
From the grand opening to where we are now, my drive would be full. I would be getting error codes all over the place.
Something cool I learned about you was that you set up a Mac lab at your college. That was pretty sweet.
I remember in 1987, at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, we set up the first Macintosh lab. We called it the Toaster Lab. I don’t know if everybody remembers the computer in a box and people would turn them on and off without shutting them down. Every once in a while, the power supply would blow on them. They would go, “I can’t handle this anymore.” We used to call them the toasters because they used to be on fire.
They didn’t turn off and on quite as quickly as they do now.
The boot–up sequence was a lot longer at those days. Technology has evolved at a rapid pace. I was on the value–added resellers game and I was on the distributor side for years. I’ve finally got out of it about years ago. The reason I’ve got out of it was that technology, hardware and software were becoming lightning fast in terms of what it was doing and how it was growing that you couldn’t keep up.
You still can’t now.
The conversation I want to have about this is we need to sit there and go, “We have all this outdated, outmoded technology. What do we do with it?”
Do not throw it away.
Before we do that, let’s give people a little hint about who you are, where you came from and where you are now because that is pertinent to the conversation.
My business is called SellYourMac.com and we help buy and sell everything Apple. One of the big goals with that is sustainability. We want to keep these things out of landfills and truly repurpose them. A lot of people have these old Macs in drawers and closets and they are not using them. If they can turn them in, they can get cash, they will help the environment and someone else can benefit from that use. We were talking earlier about some people that couldn’t afford the technology. A lot of people can’t afford to buy the latest and greatest Apple product but they can afford to buy them for 30% to 50% maybe of what they would cost new. That is a big offering that we have.
I truly pride myself on being able to not only repurpose these devices but maintain sustainability in the rest of our operations. We are a zero–landfill company and everything we had that we can’t resell, we recycled through one of these companies that nothing ever hits a landfill. They scrap it down to the smallest piece of metal and everything from there is reused. That’s truly important in this day and age and it’s going to become more important as our world can’t handle all the carbon emissions and stuff that we are putting out there.
Let’s start this conversation with the difference between outmoded and outdated. What is outdated for me maybe is outmoded for you. The fact that I can’t use this computer anymore, whatever software that I’m using, whatever I’m using it for, whether it’s AutoCAD or the latest designer or whatever, they need to have the latest, greatest, most powerful machine out there. The average user doesn’t need the same technology as the leading bleeding edger. How do you get people to understand that I used Mac? It may be 1, 2 or 5 years old but it’s still good to do 95% of what the average person still needs it to do.
Going back to my college years, I was on an iBook G4. I was able to do everything I needed to for college. I was able to write all my papers, access the internet, the black whirl of technology. That would still hold true now. You could use an iBook to type your school papers on it. It would do that on some old version of Word. People have a mindset that they need the latest technology and they are not even thinking about what that 5 or 7-year-old computer could offer them.
Unfortunately, a lot of times, they are concerned about the lifespan of that device that maybe won’t last them long enough so not willing to take that risk. They are worried there might be more corruption or security concerns. You need to make sure that it is at least new enough that you could have the right security staff in place. 95% of tasks can get done on a five-year-old computer unless you are doing a lot of design work or movie production or podcasting like yourself. I encourage people to think about the capabilities of these older machines because they will meet almost everyone’s needs. You can get on LinkedIn and do anything you want on a ten-year-old computer. It works fine.
I use InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop but I’m not a designer. I use it because people send me files and I need to look at them. Every once in a while, I will mock something up and give it to my design team and say, “Make this look pretty.” They know that I’m going to make it rough. I’m going to give them some basic ideas of what I want this thing to be but they are going to make it pretty. They’ve got the latest, greatest, most up-to-date version of whatever software it is. I’m using a version of Illustrator and Photoshop that’s probably 8 or 10 years old. It does exactly what I needed to do.
It does everything.
I don’t need to have 32 gigabytes of RAM. I don’t need to have multiple 2 terabyte hard drives. I don’t need to be running an i7 10400 with DDR4 RAM, all the latest greatest stuff for what I‘m using it for. People would look at my computer who are designers and say, “I can’t use this. It doesn’t have the horsepower.” For me, for what I’m using it for and what I need, my computer might be five years old at the moment and it does everything that I need.
My computer is over six years old. I’m on a 2015, 27–inch iMac. It does have an i7 and it has 24 gigs of RAM. I’m running my business on this computer. I’m doing all my LinkedIn. I do a ton of videos. I do a little bit of Photoshop and stuff like that. Maybe once in a while, it slows down for a second but other than that, it’s good to go. People aren’t considering the capabilities of these older machines.
Now that we sat there and realize this, we don’t need to have the latest and greatest. It’s like paying for a brand–new car. As soon as you buy a brand–new car and you drive it off the block, you lost $3,000 to $5,000. If it’s a Ferrari, you probably lost $60,000. The question is can you drive the Ferrari in downtown traffic optimally? No, you can’t. The average computer that we have does what we needed to do. When do we get to a point when a computer is truly out modeled? We need to look at it and sit there and say, “This no longer does what I needed to do.” What are the things that people should be thinking about and sit there and go, “It might be time for me to get–go, call Brian up and get a new used Mac or a new used computer?” What are the telltale signs that people should be looking at to sit there and say, “Maybe it is time to upgrade at this point?”
A lot of times it could be even a hard drive filling up. If someone is not willing to use an external to offload their photos or videos as an example, they might need to simply upgrade for that reason. These computers coming out now still come with a 256 hard drive, I don’t know about you but I fill it up pretty quickly and I’ve got a 3 terabyte on here. I want to make sure I buy enough storage. I don’t have to upgrade for that reason. I see more people upgrading their laptops lately because of that.
In general, because their computers are slowing down and they don’t want to spend the time to optimize it, it does take a long time to redo your entire file structure on your computer. Most people probably don’t want to spend the time or don’t know enough to do it and it would take a fair bit of research. For those reasons they are like, “I want it to be a little bit faster and a little bit more space.” That’s probably going to drive them to upgrade.
Most people don’t realize that if a hard drive is over 75% or 80% full, it slows down because it’s working too hard. If we take the regular hard drive and we take all of our data files and our program files and we put it on a secondary hard drive or a series of secondary hard drives, we can probably extend the length of our computer. Sometimes it’s a little bit more RAM or sometimes it’s a better video card. We don’t need to get rid of the computer. It may be looking at it and going, “Is there parts of this computer that needs to be updated or helped along to be able to make you more effective?”
Interestingly, you brought up the RAM and the upgrades. I hear more often now that people are frustrated. They cannot upgrade their RAM on a newer Apple laptop, for example. All the RAM is soldered to the motherboard. In older computers, you still could. Now, if you bought 8 gigs and you need the 16 gigs, you do have to buy a new computer. I do encourage people to maybe think a little bit further ahead of what they are going to need three years down the line so they are not forced to upgrade because of that.People aren't considering the capabilities of older machines. Click To Tweet
I hear over and over again if you are going to buy a computer, try to future-proof it. Get more than what you need. If they say that 8 gigabytes are the recommended amount, it might be worth going to 16 gigabytes. If it says sixteen, you might want to go to 32. RAM is cheap enough. It’s a lot easier to buy it at the time that you are buying it here than trying to have the Jerry-rig it later. Especially if you are dealing with your RAM that’s on the motherboard, it’s soldered on and you can’t upgrade. You can’t go buy a sim and stick it onto the motherboard and go, “I added another 16 gigs of RAM.” Where do we go from there? You come into the marketplace when people there are going, “I either don’t have the technology to upgrade my machine. It’s slow. It’s this, that and the other thing.” How do you help people build through that sustainability? Take me through the life cycle because it’s important. I have a couple of questions in mind but I want to hear from you first.
Try to explain the process of how we do it for them?
We try to make it fast, safe and easy. We know everyone that their time is their most precious thing. We want to give people initially the quote on their item fast. If you put your seal number in on our website, it will instantly show you the quote. From there, we will send you a box and a shipping label. You have everything you need at your house to get it back to us. When we receive it, we are going to wipe all your data and make sure it’s physically cleaned as well. After it has been wiped, we will tell you it‘s ready for payment. The next day, you will have money in your PayPal account or we will send you a check. We have taken the device. We have it set to a point where we are guaranteeing that the data is secure. You have done your part making sure that you have sent it in and in a sustainable way, and then we are going to go ahead and find it a new home by selling it on our eCommerce store.
The point that I was thinking about is data because data is a scary thing. I have heard stories of people getting rid of hard drives that have cryptocurrency on them and they can’t find the hard drive anymore.
I have a friend that did that.
People wipe down cryptocurrency accounts because they forgot that it was on a particular hard drive, either formatted the hard drive or whatever and got rid of it. I’m going to explain your opinion on this, when you are getting rid of a computer or any computer, the first thing you want to do is make sure that everything is backed up.
Do that before you are ready to sell it. I have many friends that have told me, “What do I do, my computer crashed and I can’t turn it back on? What happened to my data?” Sometimes you can remove the hard drive from the computer and put it in an external caddy, grab the data that way. Not knowing what that situation might be, if you have an Apple computer, you can use Time Machine backup. I also recommend using a third–party backup service. Backblaze is my go–to. My files are constantly being backed up there. If I ever needed it, they would send me that hard drive with all my files overnight. The third one is a local backup as well. I have three backups in my computer, two in the Cloud, one physical and that gives me the security that I need. You never know what’s going to happen to your data. If I lost the family photos that I have had my whole life, I would be devastated.
People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell him that I have three backup sources.
That’s the minimum in my head.
God forbid, if my house ever got burnt down, I go down to the local store. I find whatever laptop or desktop that I can afford to buy at the time. Within an hour, I’m back up and running. Everything is sitting there. Everything is on the Cloud. As long as it takes me to reinstall some of the software and make sure that it’s optimized, that’s how long it takes me to get back up and running. That is from a total devastation point of view.
It’s also a stress relief to know that your data is backed in multiple places. If you only backed up in one place and your house started burning down, you would be freaking out trying and get that computer out.
First of all, I’m running a raid system inside the computer. The computers are backing each other up.
It’s backing up constantly.
One hard drive to another is good. I have an external hard drive. I have Dropbox. I have another external system that is constantly running in the background.
Zoom is backing up this conversation as we speak.
Think about all the servers that are needed and the server farms that are being created to be able to backup all that information and the power that’s being used to be able to optimize that.
That is not sustainable now that you are talking about that.
That is the point. It’s part of the sustainability cycle that most people miss. Most people don’t realize the size of these server farms.
They are enormous, 500,000 square feet. It’s massive.
Also, the power that is needed both to power these machines and also to cool them is staggering.
Apple uses 100% renewable energy. I don’t know if AWS does.
Apple wins out again. How about we do that?
I will take it. You can do stuff like that. If you are using your solar rays and stuff, you can sustainably run these huge solar farms. I know that we can get there.
That is a matter of looking at it as a company and going where it is. Let’s take this from a corporate point of view. Corporations have rooms that I call either the dungeon where there are 50-year-old computers that are sitting there. They got monitors. They got mice. They have everything sitting there like old network cards and it’s never going to get used again. The IT guys go, “We will keep hold of it just in case.” It never gets used again.
How do you help? How do we convince companies to be able to sit there and say, “We need to find ways to make this sustainable and to be able to recycle?” You talked about recycling things down to the actual plastic itself. What type of incentives are there for companies to be able to find technology recyclers and be able to make sure that, first of all, the stuff is recycled effectively and also the security of that is done securely? That’s terrifying.
That is the biggest thing because companies will shred their whole computers because they want to make sure it’s secure for example.
They will take it somewhere and put it through a huge shredder to make sure that nothing gets lost. All that needs to happen is you need to pull up the hard drives and beat them with a hammer 5 or 6 times and then send them to the recycler. How do we train IT managers, CIOs and those people to realize that there is a better way other than taking up an entire room in the company to house all this old technology to be able to recycle effectively and be able to make sure it’s done securely? It’s the security factor that most companies are terrified of.If you only backed up in one place and your house started burning down, you would be freaking out trying and get that computer out. Click To Tweet
One reason I hear that professionals and companies don’t even sell their stuff because they are worried about that, they would rather keep it locked in that dungeon. It’s a little bit of a split play if they want to maximize the value to secure the data. They are getting the best value if they work with someone direct like us to sell their Apple gear as opposed to sending it all to a recycler that is going to pay by the pound. A five–pound MacBook Pro, if you are only getting paid $5 a pound, you get $25. If it’s a five-year-old computer, we might pay you $400. It’s a lot more value if you split off your assets into different classes.
I would encourage people to resell all their Apple gear to someone like us, resell all their PCs to a PC company, and then work with the recycler that would truly scrap all that random IT equipment that builds up. You need to work with someone that is a zero–landfill recycler to ensure that stuff is getting broken down in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. In terms of reasons why they should do it, I feel like the societal pressures to be a good company and be sustainable would help push them that way. Also, being able to showcase that on a report to your investors or customers that they are being good to the Earth. That’s going to be more and more crucial. I hope that is something that pushes people to act appropriately going forward.
With that, what about having those computers repurposed, being able to donate those computers to a charitable organization? At the difference, they are useless to us but they are good for somebody else. The PR and the goodwill, the conversations, the tax benefits that can come out of it, all of that is there if companies are willing to sit there and say, “Who’s an organization that can’t afford new computers and buys new technology? We can set this up for them in a way that is going to be valuable to them and we are going to get the kudos, the goodwill, the tax benefits, etc.” It’s also teaching them how to do that. If there are ways to make sure that it’s done in a policy and procedure way that when technology leaves the plant and it’s repurposed, all that secure data does not go with it.
One of the biggest things is making sure they do that before they are truly the end of life. I have tried donating computers that are fifteen years old to a nonprofit and they are saying they can’t even use them because they are too old for the students. Another big issue I see is that the support needed on these older devices, there are more issues typically as you get to that type of age. You might be getting a computer for someone that couldn’t afford to buy a new one but they also can’t afford to repair it in the first year when it goes down. Having something that isn’t super old is crucial.
You want to make sure it can run the latest OS at least.
I don’t think it has to but that would be a good sign if they can do that. For instance, a ten-year-old Mac can’t run the latest OS but it could benefit a nonprofit. You then get to that 15-year-old or 20–year–old computer you are dead in the water there.
That one gets scrapped and resold for parts. The gold and the copper get melted out of it and people make money on a per pound basis.
In terms of the data, most companies out there that do buybacks can offer a security solution that proves that they wiped their data. For instance, our system spits out a report that says exactly what the hard drive is and that it has been wiped securely. I wouldn’t work with any company that couldn’t tell me if the computer has been wiped. That’s something that you should look for.
It will do what we call a low–level format. It will sit there and look at all the hidden sectors as well to make sure that there is nothing hidden out there. This is a low–level format of the hard drive and being able to wipe it completely clean so therefore, it’s almost near impossible.
There are different levels, there’s 0–pass, 1–pass, 3–pass and 7–pass or the typical options of how many times it’s rewriting the 0s and 1s on the hard drive. Department of Defense level is a seven-wipe. If someone says they need us to do that, we will go to any length of how many wipes a customer wants. The computer physically has to sit there more times and it degrades the hard drive a little bit. A single–pass wipe might take an hour or two. On a 1 or 2 terabyte hard drive, a 7–past might have to run overnight. It’s per customer’s needs and what their security levels are that we are willing to go to.
If we had to pull the hard drives out to make sure that we could get that computer a new life, we will shred those hard drives and put a new hard drive in. It cost a lot of money to buy a new SSD. That is the only main barrier there.
That is an agreement between you and the company that you are buying it from as to what level they pay for that service.
We wipe it for free.
If they need a seven pass?
It’s still free. No extra charge. We would only charge them if we put a whole new hard drive in it.
There are ways to be able to verify this. There are documented reports. There are ways that companies can have an audit trail to be able to sit there and say, “These computers with this asset code got shipped to Brian. He receives them. They were wiped clean. We have a report that does this. Therefore, we can give this to our auditors or whoever to be able to make sure there is that paper trail there.” There are ways of being able to make sure that mid to large–sized companies have it within them to be able to sit there and say, “This makes sense to be more sustainable and to be proactive and make sure that they don’t have the dungeon that sits there and takes more and more space.”If someone's not willing to use an external to offload their photos or videos, they might need to simply upgrade for that reason. Click To Tweet
In terms of that security concern, we send information out that the customers wipe out ahead of time. It’s the time that it takes to do that with charge machines and firing all on. It’s not technically hard to do it, more just the time constraints. If you had 100 computers, you could set up a pretty big room to wipe them all at the same time. We have done some deals where the customers that concern that they will do it themselves or ask us if we can come on–site. If they want the Mac man to come to their site to wipe their computers, I will do what I have to do.
You guys have bought over $42 million worth of equipment over the lifetime of your business. It’s not like this is a mom-and-pop operation that buys 1 or 2 computers. You have been doing this for years. You have the policies and procedures and the people in place to make sure that this is done right.
You are right and it is several years running now. We are growing organically almost every year. It has been fun.
What are the top things that you would give people advice when they are looking at the life cycle of their computers, either individually or as companies to sit there and say, “How do we build a life cycle system for our technology to make sure that we have the right technology on people’s desktops and as stuff becomes outmoded, it is handled effectively? Also, it’s recycled and repurposed sustainably.”
The first thing is identifying your needs of how new of the computers they have to be going forward. It can be a 3 or 5–year life cycle for example. Schools are a little bit more on that older lifecycle. They don’t have to have quite the newest. If you are a marketing design firm, you might be upgrading it every 2 or 3. Putting that procedure in place, and then making sure you are upgrading them whenever you are hitting that and not sending them to the dungeon right away, would be a good practice. Get into a habit of doing that more often.
The way that we can help facilitate that is that we can do any number of computers at a time. A company might have 1,000 computers to sell in a year but if they want to sell 5 or 10 at any given week, we will send them a box for those 5 or 10. They don’t have to sit and lose money over time. Also, making sure that not only are they changing them out but also sending them in immediately. In any given year, you might lose 25% letting them sit for the next 6 to 12 months. Getting into a good habit and rhythm there would be the most crucial thing.
I have one question I ask people as I let them go out the door. When you leave a meeting and you get in your car and you drive away, what is the one thing you want people to think about you when you are not in the room?
My passion both for life in Apple and my business. My passion identifies me. If you see me on LinkedIn or social media, for example, I exude that passion. I’m always wearing my blue outfits and blue suit. Letting it shine, my love for life and technology. That’s what I want people to remember me for.
Brian, thank you for all your insights. Thank you for your giving us some ideas of things that can be because a lot of people are sitting there with a lot of old computers sitting in their offices going, “What do I do with them?”
They are hiding in the closets.
Get them out of the closet. Don’t put them in the dumpster.
If they email me, I will make it easy for them. We are a truly white–glove service. I have never seen another company of our size truly being as a white–glove as we are. Whatever the client needs, we are going to make it happen.
Thanks for being such an amazing guest. Thanks for being on the show.
You are awesome.
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About Brian Burke
Brian is currently President, and CEO, and Chief Mac Man of SellYourMac.com(SYM), the worldʼs most trusted and highest independently rated Apple trade-in company. SYM has paid out $37M and has helped over 100,000 customers. Brian is a dynamic and ultra personable individual who strives to help his community through business and service. He is always on the cutting edge of technology and loves helping other individuals and organizations stay up to date on their Apple products with his company SellYourMac.com.
Brian is striving to reach new heights and educate himself on topics he finds interesting. Brian has become a Sommelier, an Apple Certified Mac Technician, a Notary Public, an ordained Minister, a Certified Scuba Diver, and has received his Boating license. Brian truly loves learning and sharing his knowledge with others! Brian volunteers his time to Adopt a Class and Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, two local non-profits. hashtags: #SellYourMac #BrianTheMacMan
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