In honor of Earth Week, we spoke with Jack Allen, Cisco’s senior director of global logistics; Rich Bulger, director of reverse logistics, responsible for global RMA stock rotations and intake; and Daren Mallard, senior manager for logistics marketing strategy, responsible for positioning logistics services and solutions available to customers and partners. 

Jen Boynton: To kick things off, why don’t you tell us about the Product Takeback and Reuse program.

Rich Bulger: At the 2018 World Economic Forum, our CEO, Chuck Robbins made a pledge that Cisco would take some bold steps towards sustainability. Part of that pledge was that Cisco would enable customers to return, at no cost, 100 percent of their end-of-life equipment. We’ve had a product returns program at Cisco for many years, but this accelerated the pace of change, giving us the opportunity to either reuse or safely recycle returned equipment. It’s a big, bold statement. If it’s done right, it allows Cisco to benefit our customers and the environment at the same time. So, we’re all engaged in finding ways to make it simple, secure, and sustainable.

Jack Allen: In that same pledge, Chuck talked about how we’re going to work hard to create new business models based on the principals of the circular economy. So, from a business standpoint, providing our customers new ways to consume our products is important. To be able to do that, we need a stream of used products coming back, so that we can expand our markets to customers that potentially couldn’t afford Cisco before.

JB: The pledge is simple and straightforward, but I would imagine it was not quite so easy to implement. I’m curious about what type of complexity is going into implementing a challenge like this on the global scale.

Daren Mallard: Yes, there’s been a significant amount of effort involved, and tremendous collaboration between Cisco’s operations, sales and marketing, and sustainability organizations, in order to make sure it’s easy for our customers to participate. We redesigned and streamlined both our web page and our process. We’ve established a toll-free phone number to schedule returns and/or ask questions to make it as easy as possible to navigate. We’re also leveraging the Send IT Back app, available for iOS devices, and are developing an Android version of the app, which should be available within a few months. And we’ll roll this out as a U.S. pilot program initially, with the goal to offer it globally within the next six months.

RB: Given Cisco’s size, scope, and global footprint, it’s a very complicated process behind the scenes. It’s not just a simple process of submitting a web form and sending a delivery truck. There are environmental regulations, transportation, and processing when the products come back.

But we believe the work we’ve done ensures customers don’t see that complexity. Our toll-free phone number is an easy way for customers and account managers to get help coordinating transportation. We also upgraded the product takeback tools that we have on our website. It’s easy to click and self-serve.

Once we receive the request for product pickup, we have programs that will enable the product to get picked up and sent directly to in-country recycling or a Cisco reverse logistics center, where it is tested, graded, and potentially placed back into recirculation through programs like Cisco Refresh. Our goal is to promote 100 percent reuse.

JB: Tell us more about the Send IT Back app.

RB: Send IT Back was developed to be simple and reliable, with the customer’s ease-of-use in mind. You snap a picture of the pallets of product that you want to return and fill out a little bit of information that helps us arrange for transportation.

JA: The Send It Back app was a transformational idea that first originated with Cisco’s corporate sustainability team. It’s been in pilot. And, part of the goal of this relaunch is to increase awareness and use of the app.

JB: Can customers get non-Cisco equipment recycled or just Cisco equipment?

JA: Yes, with pre-approval, customers can return non-Cisco equipment.

JB: I can see that this program has huge benefits for customers. How does it benefit Cisco?

RB: Reverse logistics can profitably impact the bottom line. If we implement Chuck’s pledge correctly, there are a number of things that match key directives we have to grow the business. The first one is to drive subscription revenue. A customer might upgrade from technology B to new technology A. We can take technology B from one customer and place it into a different market segment where it can provide value. For example, we can redeploy 4G technology to upgrade customers still using existing 2G and 3G networks.

JA: It’s important for the partners to understand that this program can help them differentiate and drive sales. We are so excited to be able to offer secure Product Takeback in a highly competitive environment. We will make sure it is physically secured and wipe the hard drives. We will make sure it’s in the hands of Cisco and we can guarantee that it’s all certified. I mean, everybody wins. The customer gets an easy way to safely and sustainably dispose of their old gear, and the sales team can potentially make an offer that other companies don’t make.

JB: I know some customers have expressed concerns about security related to returning products. Can you talk a little bit about what happens to the equipment when it comes back, to make sure that those customers are protected and many new customers that are using it are protected as well?

RB:  Privacy and security is a top concern that Cisco takes very seriously. Standards apply not only to new products but to used products as well. We follow the NIST standard for data erasure and media sanitation, and our processes detail secure transport and tracking of product, to protect customer data.

DM: For anyone interested in specific details on the data wiping process, we’ve included that information in the program FAQs

JB: Anything else you want our readers to know?

JA: Right now, we understand that many of you are working from home. However, our goal is to ensure that when you do return to workplaces in the coming weeks and months, this process makes it easy for you to clean up and send any old equipment back. I hope that our customers will read this and say, “hey, let’s clean out our IT closets!” I hope it encourages people to do well by doing good. I honestly think that the circular economy could be as transformational to the world as the invention of barter. It’s a whole new way of thinking and we’re very excited by it.

To learn more, please visit the Cisco Takeback and Reuse website.


Jennifer Boynton

Corporate Social Responsibility Content Strategist

Corporate Affairs