One Person's Trash is Another Person's Treasure

One Siemens employee is reinventing the way we dispose of our tech.

The idea didn’t come from the boardroom. It wasn’t the outcome of endless planning sessions. Instead, it was the result of a conversation between Philip Schaus and two fellow colleagues. And, despite its humble beginnings, it has already changed the lives of 30,000 people across the world.

The idea to turn discarded devices into educational opportunities

Responsible for purchasing IT equipment for Siemens in Canada, Philip was increasingly concerned by the company’s policy to replace state-of-the-art laptops every three years.

“Three of us were closely involved in the life cycle of these devices, and we all shared a common frustration that these very good devices were being sent to landfill,” says Philip.

Thinking of the 43 million tons of electronic waste produced globally every year — the equivalent of 800 laptops per second — Philip and his colleagues wondered: What would happen if they could cut the waste being sent to landfill, while giving people the opportunity to get online?

Half the world’s population is not connected, and research shows that students without home internet access are educationally disadvantaged.

An active member of his community, it was a conversation with a local teacher that spurred on Philip in his bid to direct the used laptops to deserving causes. “They said that children often wouldn’t turn in an assignment because they didn’t want to admit they didn’t have a computer,”says Philip. “Without the ability to fulfil educational requirements, the children were not completing school, never going on to secondary education or exploring a trade.”

Aligned with Siemens’ ambitious sustainability goals, Philip and his colleagues gained approval to test their idea to refurbish 25 laptops.

Refurbishing laptops for future use

The following Sunday afternoon saw them wiping the laptops of all their data, and reinstalling relevant programs so they were as useful as possible for students. Then they gave away the laptops, or asked for a small donation to cover their expenses.

“Selling at fair market value doesn’t help people who are struggling to house and feed their family, and it does nothing to increase the percentage of the world that is connected. CFCC has the opportunity to have a far greater impact on promoting technology and social development,” he says.

Finding the funds to continue their cause was challenging, and forced them to find creative ways to push forward — like using leftover banana boxes to deliver the laptops to their new owners.

A life-changing charity

After several months, the team received a regular flow of laptops to refurbish, and Philip’s contagious enthusiasm for the program saw more and more Siemens staff feel inspired to donate their time to help. They worked together to raise the funds needed to register as a charity — Corporations For Community Connections (CFCC) — which made covering their expenses easier.

Over the past eight years, CFCC has had more than 400 volunteers participate in one-day workshops. In a typical workshop, 30 volunteers can refurbish 250 laptops. They have donated more than 2,500 free computers to schools and charities, and helped 30,000 people in low-income areas in Canada, as well as further afield in Nepal, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, connect to the internet.

Philip — now the charity’s president — has been presented with a global innovation award by Siemens and hopes to expand the project to offices beyond Canada. Meanwhile, the success of the laptop donation program has contributed significantly to the company being named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for the seventh consecutive year.

So what does the future hold for CFCC? “My dream is that there is a revolution,” he says. “My dream is that major corporations begin to widely embrace the idea that they are responsible for more than just profit. Their responsibilities extend to the environment, to education, to the advancement of technology, and to social development.”


Philip Schaus is a Commodity Manager for Information Technology at Siemens, Canada. He has worked with the company since 2005 and lives with his wife in Kingsville, Canada. Philip’s role involves sourcing products and services that are not sold by Siemens but are required by the company’s employees. During his time at the company, he has been responsible for purchasing IT services and hardware, phones, consulting services, and programing services.

He believes negotiation is an essential skill for a successful Commodity Manager to possess. “I always say to people that negotiations don’t actually have a beginning or an end. They’re just constantly going on. You might sign a contract but immediately afterwards you might be having discussions with the same company again, and begin to lay the foundation for a future deal.” The skills learned as a Commodity Manager have been key for Philip’s establishment of CFCC. “It’s the same skill set,” he says, “pulling little bits and pieces together to make a solution.”

Philip is a Future Maker — one of the 377,000 talented people working with us to shape the future.

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