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Earth Day 2014: Time for Hope (and Frustration)

If you’re into sustainability, Earth Day can be a bit like New Year’s Day. A time to reflect. A time of hope. Maybe a bit of frustration with things not yet completed. But impatience can grease the wheels of change…

A time of hope. Today, sustainability isn’t just the province of non-profit advocacy groups. Unlike not too long ago, most large companies now have sustainability staff and are somewhere on a shared road of discovery, learning how to incorporate sustainability into the business model and culture of their own company and those of their customers. We’re making progress but the destination is still over the horizon.

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In Cisco’s case, our vision is pretty simple and builds on a long-standing framework for all business: we’re going to build sustainability into everything we do. We’ll still be selling lots of really cool network gear. And our customers will still be buying based on product features and the time-honored “musts” of cost, quality, delivery, and service. But the market is adding a fifth “must”— sustainability. On our shared road, it will be a given that all products and services will have sustainability baked into every piece and process—which for Cisco means product material selection, global manufacturing, logistics, customer energy use, and product disposal.

This “5-musts” framework is powerful because it’s simple and logical, and builds on paradigms—like quality—that everyone naturally understands. Involving everyone across all business functions is key. These five “musts” apply to everyone at Cisco and our manufacturing, logistics, channel, and other partners.

How about frustration? I think we all could do better listening to and respecting those with different perspectives. Rather than recycling sound bites, let’s use our efforts to educate one another and contribute to our collective mastery of the problem and potential solutions. Sustainability problems—such as energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions—are big and difficult. If it were easy, it’d be done by now. Cross-functional and inter-disciplinary education and experience—and sharing—will promote the needed systems thinking and problem solving. Did I mention how hard the sustainability challenge is?

Let’s all be willing to change. Whether in business, in government or in advocacy, if the pace of change is too slow, perhaps we need to challenge our methods. Each of us.  Not just the others. In life, I’ve learned carrots are better than sticks. Complex problems and long-lasting solutions require carrots and collaboration. It’s slow (and can be frustrating), but the results will be real and will well serve future generations.

I’m really proud of what Cisco has accomplished over the last 5+ years. We’ve built a great team, which is the foundation to solving any tough problem. Years ago, we consciously decided to go slow on promotion and instead build our expertise and a record of accomplishment. We’ve done enough ourselves in our operations, supply chain, solutions, and reporting to begin now helping our customers improve their own sustainability. We’re in this for the long haul and look forward to seeing you out on the road.

Enjoy your Earth Day.


Learn more about Cisco’s environmental sustainability efforts at csr.cisco.com and in our 2013 CSR Report.

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