What’s old is new: Why Cisco wants its products back

July 23, 2019 - 21 Comments

This post was written by guest blogger Abbey Burns, Circular Economy Program Manager at Cisco

Cisco’s products power networks and shape the way we live, work, play, and learn. However, they also shape the world in many other ways. We extract natural resources to make and ship our hardware, and our customers rely on this same pool of resources to make their own products and run their own businesses. We can’t keep taking, without giving. It doesn’t last. But as a business, as a society, as a species, that is exactly what we’ve been doing. And it’s not sustainable.

For companies like Cisco, this means that we need to re-think the way our business operates and the way we provide products and services to our customers. We want to reuse more of our equipment, so that we recycle less. We also want to remanufacture and refurbish more of the products we make, so we can give them new life with more customers.

Cisco’s commitment to circularity and environmental sustainability starts at the very top. Our CEO, Chuck Robbins, committed to 100% product return at the World Economic Forum in 2018. This pledge will require not only 100% commitment from Cisco, but also active engagement from our partners, suppliers and customers.

To help inform this process and drive the necessary change, we have been working to break down barriers between the teams at Cisco that are involved in returning and reusing Cisco products. Members of multiple core operational teams are now highly intertwined, working together to make product returns easier, as well as direct used equipment to its highest-value next use. Additionally, we are seeking input from our sales teams, customers and channel partners. The goal is to understand the various pain points in the returns process and ensure that used equipment becomes a reliable source of value for Cisco and our customers.

Internally, we are transforming our business to run a world-class returns program and to enhance customer value through product lifecycle management.

But what does this mean to a customer? It means that when we work with a business, we are considering the entire lifecycle of the service we provide. The hardware that enables that service might be leased or used as-a-service rather than purchased directly. When the hardware is no longer needed, it is easily returned to Cisco. That equipment can then be remanufactured or refurbished to have new life somewhere else — all  while maintaining the security for which Cisco is known.

This secondary life not only saves minerals and resources, but also brings quality technology to those who may not otherwise have access. We are already embarking on this circular economy journey. In May, we announced our plans to launch a Repair Partners Network in Africa. The aim is to work with selected distributors who will repair and restore Cisco hardware and make high-quality, refurbished technology accessible, especially for small and medium-sized organizations. By investing in repair centers in Africa, Cisco intends to contribute to job creation, skills development, brand protection and promoting Cisco’s Authorized Channel.

The road to a circular economy cannot be paved by Cisco alone. We are committed to collaborating across our suppliers and channel partners, and the communities we serve to achieve this vision globally and locally. Between today’s technology and our dreams for tomorrow, there’s a bridge.

In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. Sustainability, I believe extends in a multifaceted manner and function. And can be best utilized in multiple domains of application.

    Cisco's technology is always tapping the source of marvels in IoT's. And Sustainability is one of the best ventures.

    Here are some idea's in the way I think of Sustainability:

    *Network Technologies, Compute, and Storage for Manageability of the Ocean Environment and Ecology along our shores. Sensors and pulses that monitors ecology of the Ocean and Sealife.

    *IoT of Home Economics. Smart Technologies, like someone's refrigerator. Amazon has dominated this market. But what can Cisco do? Build it up more. And better. People at home have, as any business, to weather the best and worst of economic periods. What kind of technology can assist them through weathering those economic intervals? Two things happen. First, if Cisco can create a platform and integrate its' own technology. We can provide a useful and better way for Home Sustainability. Second branding our products and services. For any home owner is probably someone in the Hi-Tech Industry. And may have Cisco as their first thought when it comes to Solutions and Technologies that our market covers.

    *Family Sustainability and Security. As anyone can listen or read the headlines of news, from time-to-time. There are always issues with securities and vulnerabilities, and exploitations. This forefront in technology. Is both the marvel and downfall of technology. Not because technology is bad. But, because there are always bad characters and agents in the world: bad hackers, scammers, and even those who work in the dark world. How can families withstand this? Especially with much of the great technology out there that the parents are outpaced, but their children nonetheless are the herald and users. And generally know how to be resourceful and use these tools greater and ever more. How do we help parents to get more control over these technologies? Parents must be able to encourage the use of technology, but nonetheless be able to guide, and pull their children out of danger. The best and immediate safety is at home. What technology can be used for Sustaining the Family, their security and safety?

    The Home may not be a big market. But, in that small market, you can gain a lot of trust. And in building that trust is a great way to Brand Cisco. Small market makes a big influence in big market.


  2. I'm glad to read is long overdue action is now being implemented. To further sustainability, I would like to see competitors standardize accessories, as well. For example, being able to charge many common products with one standardized cord, rather than having to replace all wall, car … chargers each time we upgrade our cell phones. Given the availability of off-brand products, the impact to profits may not be substantial.

  3. Awesome! Cisco always does the right thing.

  4. Awesome initiative. I am very proud of being part of a company committed to preserving the environment

  5. @Anonymous, absolutely; if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it! We’ve developed a set of internal metrics so we can both improve our product returns and maximize the useful life of products that we get back.

  6. @Sharon Atwood, Cisco has repair centers across the globe, including the US, Brazil, and China (to name a few). You can check out pg 93 of our Corporate Social Responsibility report for a full map! http://bit.ly/Cisco2018CSR

  7. I applaud this commitment to sustainability! I recall the discussions within Cisco many years back about secondary markets and the challenges of managing a refurbished product in the marketplace. It’s not easy but it is the right thing to do!

  8. Are putting in place metrics to measure

    a. How much of equipment was returned by customers per year? For example, X switches, Y servers, etc.
    b. Compare (a) against how much of that was put back into service? This would measure the efficacy of the program

  9. Are the repair centers only in Africa? Why not the US.
    Thanks for paving the road and making the world a better place.
    Return, recycle, reuse!,

  10. Old is Gold! and Gold is coming back.

  11. That's a great thought, John. Cisco is also focused on improving our product packaging sustainability – check out our new sustainable packaging and zero waste goals. https://blogs.cisco.com/csr/cisco-announces-goals-for-sustainable-packaging-and-zero-waste

  12. Brilliant article Abbey.

  13. THis is great! Id also like to see our product packaging contain more Corrugated cardboard materials so that customers can easily recycle the packaging.

  14. Great to see the story Abbey! Great work!

  15. Great Initiative & assuming ownership of our product -right from origin to finish by reuse & recycle. This means establishing strong benchmark for other OEM's around the world.

  16. Great story Abbey! All of us at Refresh are looking forward to driving this with your team for our Customers, Partners, and Cisco in FY20.

  17. Great job Abbey! You articulated the problem statement and solution effectively. I'm happy to see the progress made on this Program at Cisco.

  18. Great Article

  19. RE: Nqobile Mahlangu: We have a variety of programs depending on the customer's needs and location. Contact us at circulareconomy@cisco.com with specific questions

  20. As a member of the Cisco Refresh team, I love seeing this article on CEC! We look forward to continuing to drive value as part of the Cisco product lifecycle!

  21. Nqobile Mahlangu. So how do we get companies that have Cisco gear in their cabinets to enroll?