When environmentalists first sought national leverage on national policy for computer recycling, they sought an alternative to a Federal legislative battle. Lincoln Crow helped the Computer Takeback Campaign to craft an ongoing corporate pressure effort, using tactics with broad responses to push companies to devise their own electronics recycling efforts. The results: major action by Dell and other companies, chronicled in a national news article, "Environmentalists bypass Washington to pressure corporations. (See "What Others Are Saying.") Here’s the full lowdown:
In 2002 after a successful legislative effort to begin regulating the disposal of toxics in electronic waste several organizations committed to recycling launched a campaign to further publicize the issue. The Computer TakeBack Campaign looked to Lincoln Crow Strategic Communications to help them develop a communications strategy raising national visibility about the growth of toxic electronics waste.
Working with campaign founders Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Texas Campaign for the Environment and Grass Roots Recycling Network to refine and update that effort, Lincoln Crow crafted a plan to push one of the key sellers of computers -- Dell Computers -- to begin offering consumers expanded recycling opportunities.
After a year there has been substantial progress. Although the company has yet to establish a comprehensive recycling program, they have changed their recycling policies. Dell, Inc. – the new name for the company positioning itself to move further into the consumer electronics business – has responded to the efforts of the TakeBack Campaign with several public relations initiatives:
1. They suddenly stopped the use of prison labor to recycle computers in the United States.
2. They launched a temporary low-priced recycling program for obsolete equipment.
3. At the 2003 shareholder meeting they hired a recycling company to take responsibility for the obsolete equipment that the campaign collected on its way to Austin.
The campaign to change Dell’s recycling practices included a variety of policy actions and communications activities across more than a dozen states. Using available staff resources the campaign organizations were able to clearly publicize some of the problems with electronic waste and begin building a constituency for change at Dell and ultimately other manufacturers.
An interesting but unintended consequence of the efforts at Dell was for Hewlett-Packard to launch an advertising campaign using a Computer TakeBack Campaign report as a way to differentiate itself from its competitor Dell. The July 29, 2003 New York Times column on advertising explains how the campaign report influenced Hewlett-Packard efforts to promote their high-tech recycling program.