Sustainable Electronics Initiative

Welcome to SEI

The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) is dedicated to the development and implementation of a more sustainable system for designing, producing, using, and managing electronic devices.

About SEI

Illini Gadget Garage Update & Upcoming Consortium Meeting

At the beginning of the fall 2015 semester, the UI Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium met to discuss the Illini Gadget Garage project, which had received funding from the Student Sustainability Committee. The Illini Gadget Garage is a collaboration of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, the UI School of Art and Design, and the UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and is focused on launching a repair center for student and staff owned electronic devices. This venture is meant to extend the useful life of products while providing experiential learning for students (through associated classes, volunteering, and participation in the iFixit Technical Writing Project), and empowering people to see do-it-yourself repair as a viable option for addressing minor damage and performance issues. You can read more about the project on the SEI web site, as well as a summary of the previous consortium meeting on the topic.

Classes are underway

ISTC was granted the use of Storage Building #3 by its sister survey, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and the Prairie Research Institute, to house the Illini Gadget Garage. The space is well suited to the purpose, and two classes taught by project team member Martin Wolske are currently meeting in the space (Intro to Network Systems plus Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogies). A course taught by team member William Bullock this semester has student teams working on various operational aspects of the Illini Gadget Garage, including development of a stand alone web site, development of an identifying mark and signage, design of tool kits and storage, envisioning the layout of the space, and working on a business plan for the future financial self-sustainability of the project. At the end of the semester, student concepts will be compiled into a book for the project team for consideration, further development, and use moving forward. Students in both Professors Bullock’s and Wolske’s classes are creating online repair guides as part of the iFixit Technical Writing Project, continuing UIUC participation, which began in 2014. (iFixit has also donated over $2000 worth of tools for use in the Gadget Garage.)

Tentative Illini Gadget Garage identifying mark

Identifying mark developed by Lu Lawrence, Amanda Henderson, and Ruchita Mandhre, as part of ARTD 591/391 with Professor William Bullock.

Space–the final frontier

Storage Building #3 has proved desirable in many ways, but as the project team worked with INHS staff, Facilities & Services, and other campus units to clear, rearrange, and upgrade the space for its new purpose, we discovered that it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The space had previously been used as an office/lab area, and such spaces are not required to have particular types of entryways, parking, etc., as long as no one working there requires such accommodations. However, in order to open the Gadget Garage to the public, it became clear that several upgrades were necessary, including pouring an accessible parking space, a sidewalk from a nearby curb cut, creation of a new doorway closer to the planned accessible parking, and some other minor interior changes. At first our project team saw this as a minor delay; we would continue to entertain “test pilot” clientele without need for accommodation in the space and plan to renovate before winter for a grand opening for everyone once upgrades were complete. Unfortunately, estimates for all of the work required came in at over $32,000–much more than we had anticipated, and which was available to us in the SSC grant and matching funds for space considerations. By the end of October 2015, it was clear that we needed to regroup.

Plan B: Test pilots needed and ‘pop-up’ clinics planned

Because classes are already meeting in the space, and because we need somewhere to store tools and equipment already obtained, our project team has arranged with INHS to continue using Storage Building #3 as a base of operations. In the meantime, we plan to continue working with “test pilots” in this space, so student volunteers can gain experience with working with the public, checking in patrons, and logging impacts (e.g. number of devices repaired, pounds diverted from the landfill through repair, etc.). So if ADA accommodations are not something you require and you have a device that needs repair, please do visit the Illini Gadget Garage during open hours (see for more information). To ensure that all members of our campus community can benefit from and participate in the Gadget Garage, we’re planning to host “pop-up” repair clinics at various locations around campus which are already accessible. The first clinic of this kind is scheduled for December 1 at the PAR library (more details to come soon; thanks to Bradley Irwin, Graduate Research Assistant, and Residence Hall Library Graduate Assistants Hailley Fargo and Cameron Riesenberger for arranging this!). Our project team will identify other locations for such clinics, and work to raise funds for the renovation of Storage Building #3 through donations and other grants. We’re happy to report that we recently received a donation of $5000 from HOBI International, which is a great start toward making the necessary upgrades!

How you can help

  • Join us at the next UI Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium meeting, at ISTC from 2:00 – 3:00 PM, Tuesday, November 17, 2015.
  • Bring ideas for “pop-up” locations, fundraising, and even alternative spaces (we love SB#3, but if you know of an alternative space that is already accessible, we’d like to hear about it).
  • If you can’t come to the consortium meeting on 11/17, but have ideas as described above, contact Joy Scrogum.
  • If you’d like to volunteer at a “pop-up” clinic or at the Gadget Garage itself, contact Martin Wolske or Brad Irwin.
  • Bring in a device for collaborative repair during open hours at Storage Builidng #3 (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m.), to give our repair crew some practice (and hopefully breathe new life into your gadget!).
  • Donate to the SEI Various Donors Fund, and specify “Illini Gadget Garage” in the “Comments or Other Instructions” field on the online donation form. Small donations add up! You or your organization will be recognized on the SEI web site, the stand alone Gadget Garage site (once it’s up and running), and receive an acknowledgement from both SEI and the UI Foundation. If you prefer to donate by check rather than via the online form, contact Joy Scrogum for instructions.

The tagline being used currently on signage at SB#3 is “Illini Gadget Garage: Repairing & Demystifying Technology for a More Just and Sustainable World.” Our campus community is working together to make this a reality. Join the campus consortium on 11/17 to be a part of it!

Reminder: Manuscripts for Special Edition of Challenges Due 12/31/15

challenges-logoManuscripts are still being accepted for the special issue of the journal Challenges, entitled “Electronic Waste–Impact, Policy and Green Design.” 

From the issue’s rationale:

“Electronics are at the heart of an economic system that has brought many out of poverty and enhanced quality of life. In Western society in particular, our livelihoods, health, safety, and well being are positively impacted by electronics. However, there is growing evidence that our disposal of electronics is causing irreparable damage to the planet and to human health, as well as fueling social conflict and violence.

While global demand for these modern gadgets is increasing, policy to handle the increased volumes of electronic waste has not kept pace. International policy governing safe transfer, disposal, reclamation, and reuse of electronic waste is nonexistent or woefully lacking. Where laws do exist about exporting and importing hazardous waste, they are routinely circumvented and enforcement is spotty at best. While European Union countries lead the way in responsible recycling of electronic and electrical devices under various EU directives, most industrialized nations do not have such policies. In the U.S., for example, most electronic waste is still discarded in landfills or ground up for scrap.

It is imperative that we consider how green design practices can address the growing electronic waste problem. This special issue is meant to do just that and spur discussions on how electronic products can become greener and more sustainable.”

If you are interested in submitting a paper for this special issue, please send a title and short abstract (about 100 words) to the Challenges Editorial Office at, indicating the special issue for which it is to be considered. If the proposal is considered appropriate for the issue, you will be asked to submit a full paper. Complete instructions for authors and an online submission form for the completed manuscripts are available on the Challenges web site at The deadline for manuscript submissions is December 31, 2015. Questions may be addressed to co-guest editor Joy Scrogum.

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