The ‘digital divide', commonly defined as the gap between those who have and do not have access to computers and the Internet, has been a central issue on the scholastic and political agendas of new media development. Several private and public initiatives have been launched since the late 1990s in order to overcome this gap and provide computers to schools in developing countries. In 2000 Colombia initiated a refurbishment program called "Computadores para Educar" (CPE) in order to supply domestically donated computers to schools.
This study aims to assess the sustainability of the refurbishment program CPE and incorporate alternative supply strategies. The results should help to facilitate the decision making process, regarding the implementation of the most appropriate supply strategy for providing computers to schools.
A material flow analysis (MFA) of the program CPE was carried out. Alternative strategies were then identified, incorporated and assessed regarding their economic, environmental and social performance using the method Multi Attribute Utility Theory (MAUT).
The results of the MFA provided new data, regarding the benefits of a combined refurbishment-recycling system as compared to a recycling system. Taking the Eco-indicator'99 as reference this study concludes that a refurbished-recycled personal computer (PC) compared to a directly recycled PC has a 16.8% better environmental performance.
The MAUT assessment shows that the well-established program CPE sets a high standard that will challenge alternative solutions. This study concludes that the refurbishment of computers of Colombian origin is the most sustainable strategy. Furthermore it concludes that the ‘XO laptop', representing a recent development, is the most cost efficient and second best environmental solution. However, the non-use of local human resources leads to a lower overall sustainability as compared to other strategies.