Andreas Rodin and his team think laptops shouldn’t retire before they’re 10 years old. They will repair any device, no matter what its age. Our contributor went along to meet the Revamp-It team at Wipkingerplatz.
‘Stop early retirement for computers!’ ‘Stay fit in old age with Linux!’ These are the words emblazoned on a sign at the entrance to Revamp-It. Slogans are written all over the sign, taking us back to the days when we used Word Art on massive computers to create funny light bulbs or balloons on invitations. But this 90s-style layout is spot on from a marketing point of view. In the shop window, stuffed penguins are frolicking on toner boxes, inviting you to step inside the former bank and discover a place where you can buy really old hardware or have it repaired.
The time travels continue when you pass through the sliding doors of the former ZKB bank at Wipkingerplatz. With its mishmash of tables, chairs and sofas, the old banking hall now looks like a junk shop. On the floor there are monitors and computers that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum. On the tables, cardboard boxes are brimming with old mice and keyboards, and huge printers block the route to what used to be the counters. After a short wait, a man appears dressed in a wolf-print shirt and sporting a long white beard. It’s Andreas Rudin, the co-founder of Revamp-It. This non-profit, self-governing association has been committed to sustainable IT practices for the last 15 years.
We sit on one of the sofas and Andreas explains what the penguins – the emblem of the Linux open source operating system – have to do with sustainability: ‘We have two things in common: hardware recycling and open source software.’ It’s not only defective parts that have to be repaired or replaced in order to extend the lives of laptops and PCs. It is only possible to keep using them if the software that runs the system is still available in spite of all the necessary updates and new applications. Andreas explains that free software such as Linux is more flexible and can also be more secure because you always have control over who has access to your computer.
The twenty-strong team at Revamp-It bring old computers back to life by installing the Linux operating system, and they regularly offer courses on how to use the open source program. For example, you can pick up an 11-year-old Macbook in Wikingen or in the online shop for 200 francs. But isn’t such an antique computer simply too slow? ‘Sometimes you have to wait a minute for the computer to warm up. But it gives you time to do your breathing exercises,’ says Andreas with a laugh. This attitude to life means he has no need to practise meditation, and he doesn’t bother going to the gym because he transports all the goods by bike.
‘Sometimes you have to wait a minute for the computer to warm up.’
It’s clear that sustainability has always been much more than a marketing strategy. It is part of a holistic approach. As part of this, the organisation also employs people who find it hard to gain a foothold in the normal labour market. It’s also possible to buy a piece of equipment via the Talent Schweiz barter scheme – in return for something like a haircut. The equipment is also loaned out to filmmakers, for example when they want to recreate an office from the 1980s.
The equipment is also loaned out to filmmakers, for example when they want to recreate an office from the 1980s.
Along with repairs, upgrades and software courses, the team offers hosting and cloud services for Swiss SMEs who want to store their data in Switzerland. They have found the perfect recycling solution for housing the servers – the ZKB’s old server racks on the third floor, where the bank used to have its data centre. Revamp-It has already moved several times, and it will have to move out of these temporary premises at some point. But Andreas isn’t worried: ‘We’re making such an important contribution to sustainability that we’re bound to find something,’ he says, and points to the savings on the grey energy consumed by a computer even before it begins to be used.
Revamp-It is also feeling the effects of the public’s growing interest in sustainability. More and more people are coming to have their equipment repaired, says Andreas. And, of course, the Revamp-It staff can also be found at climate protests handing out flyers on green digital alternatives.