An Innovative Approach to the Effective Reuse of Electronic Waste

Sustainability in Action

The best part of the work that I do is meeting awesome business owners and professionals who are doing really great work. In this ongoing series, I share some of these stories to provide real-life examples of sustainability in action.

Lou Ramondetta is the President of Surplus Service, a Green Certified, woman-owned small business with the goal to Lou RamondettaUpcyclIT®, or reuse, electronics rather than simply recycling them.

They repair, refurbish and reuse 85% of products they receive, reselling them on the secondary market and saving millions of pounds of hazardous and toxic substances from landfills and the environment. This policy targets zero waste and provides sustainability and reverse logistics solutions for IT, Medical and Facilities executives to manage their surplus inventory and depleted assets. 

Lou has been an industrial, electronics, marketing, medical and sustainability industry expert for over 20 years. His prior executive experience includes managing businesses with global P&L’s from $50 million to $1 billion in revenue and over 100 people for electronics, technology, plastics, medical and contract manufacturing. He has held executive level positions with Xerox, General Electric, Philips and Sanmina, serving in various positions for strategy, sales, marketing, and service.

His company won a Cool California “Business of the Year” award and was a Finalist for Acterra’s Business Sustainability Award. Lou has been recognized in recent articles, interviews, videos and case studies by Sustainable Silicon Valley, The City of San Jose, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, StopWaste, The City of Fremont and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for his company’s exceptional UpcyclIT® practices.

What are some of the ways in which you incorporated environmental considerations into the building of your facility? Why did you choose to implement these features and/or practices?

We are in an older building, probably built in 1986. When we moved into the building, we became a Green Certified Business and through that process made improvements such as adding UV window film and window blinds, adding insulation to the ceiling, as well as caulking for the windows and doors to seal leaks. We’ve upgraded and checked our HVAC units, but don’t use much AC because of the changes we’ve made to our windows.

We also replaced the T12 fluorescent lights with T8s, installed light sensors and made sure all of our equipment was Energy Star certified. We use very little lighting, and we try to utilize natural lighting from the skylights in our warehouse as much as possible. We changed to a lower energy cost plan with PG&E, and our forklift, which is the item that is used the most, is set on a program where we only charge it at night when energy costs are the lowest. To save water, we added faucet aerators, changed to low flush toilets, and we’re letting our front lawn die so we can create an environmentally friendly landscape with wood chips and rocks instead.

We try to practice what we preach and everything in the building consists of used items. From the couch to my desk, we have things that would have been thrown out, but we were able to save and reuse them. We purposely bought this building because of its proximity to the new Milpitas BART Station that’s opening next year. We’ve had employees who commute all the way from Richmond using BART.

What has been your biggest challenge in making your business sustainable?

Since it is the way we do business, becoming a Green Certified Business was relatively easy for us. We try to incorporate sustainability into everything we do. Introducing and giving new employees training on our culture of sustainability has been the biggest challenge.

ewaste computer monitors
Surplus Service repairs, refurbishes, and reuses 85% of the ewaste that they receive.
ewaste old computer equipment
Although e-waste only accounts for 1-3% of total landfill materials, it accounts for nearly 80% of toxins.

How have you engaged your employees in your sustainability work?

Our Environmental Green Committee regularly meets and discusses how we can be more sustainable and efficient – for example, what vendors can we work with? How can we grow our business while reducing our carbon footprint? We encourage green practices and post signage such as printing on both sides to remind our employees.

Are you involved in community activities or giving back to the community? How do you see this as being part of your overall sustainability efforts?

We’re involved with many community organizations and we strongly believe in giving back to the community. We want to pass our sustainability values and culture on to the next generation by leading by example.

We’ve been involved with Achieve Kids for 12 years where we invite mentally handicapped kids to come to the facility a few times a week to do certain tasks such as sorting. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to work, and we’ve utilized the Workforce Investment Board programs to hire hard-to-hire folks including veterans and those previously incarcerated.

I sit on the Board of Directors for Boy Scouts of America where we’ve sponsored their Sustainability Badge and helped create their sustainability certification. This past year, 60 Eagle Scouts received their Sustainability Badge after participating in a 3-day certification program where students worked with parents on developing a sustainability plan focused on water and energy efficiency. Some kids even charted their home energy usage and tracked their landfill waste.

I also sit on the Sustainability Committee at Peralta University where we help students work on different sustainability projects. We’ve also worked with a local elementary school where we were Shark Tank judges for student sustainability projects, and we donated money to buy these projects. We believe that these efforts are a good way for students to begin thinking about sustainability in education.

I’m also active with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which is a business advocacy group. I sit on the healthcare, government relations, and education committees where we meet with legislators in Sacramento to advocate for our business and environmental needs. We’ve also worked with and were recognized by Sustainable Silicon Valley on packaging items by providing solutions to reduce waste generated by palletizing items.

Why did you choose to become a Certified Green Business? What did you learn from going through the process?

Living in a global world and being sustainable requires everyone’s coordinated effort, from suppliers to customers. In order to be truly sustainable, you need to be able to effectively communicate sustainability and the value of this business culture to everyone you interact with.

What advice would you give to others who are also working to make their businesses more sustainable?

Just do it. There’s only positive returns for your business. Go through the Green Business Certification Program because it’s not that difficult and it’s what any business should be doing on a regular basis.