The tech industry contributes to global warming. But it offers solutions, too.
In the past 18 months, many of us have experimented with digital technologies. We’ve led teams and entire companies from the home office, attended weddings, experienced live music and theatre performances virtually. But the promise of digitisation is far greater. It’s a way for society to become more efficient, more inclusive, and more sustainable.
That’s why we believe that moving forward, what can be done digitally, we must enable digitally. But our enthusiasm for technology isn’t blind. We know that, like any industry that relies on energy and resources, the tech industry contributes to global warming.
So as digitization makes other industries more sustainable, the tech sector must address its own carbon footprint. Only then will society be able to complete a twin transition that we believe is essential – toward a green and digital future.
At Cisco, we’ve been reducing our environmental impact for over 15 years now. There’s more work to do, but we’ve made progress because of a three-part strategy: developing more efficient technologies; engaging our people – and the communities we work with – in the fight against climate change; and of course taking action to make our organisation more sustainable.
Cisco started making public commitments to reduce our environmental impact in 2008 – and we’ve added to them ever since. Recently, we made our biggest pledge yet to bring the greenhouse gas emissions from our whole value chain down to net zero by 2040, and to reach net zero for our own emissions by 2025.
You can’t keep commitments like these without making fundamental changes—changes that move you away from traditional business models.
Embedding circular economy principles across our business is an important part of our strategy. We are working to reduce both the resources we consume and the waste we generate. For instance, when Cisco sells something, we expect to see it again when our customer is finished with it. We don’t charge for returns, and we reuse or recycle 99.8% of the products we get back.
Yet, to tackle climate change, we also need to think outside of our own organization, examine our supply chains and our broader impact as an industry. And we’ll need to leverage all the talent we can get.
Engaging employees, customers, partners, communities
Over the years, we’ve worked with people and facilities up and down our supply chain to avoid more than a million metric tonnes of carbon emissions. That involves setting high standards for suppliers and supporting them as they upgrade to become more efficient. And we are proud to have been recognized by Gartner as a leader of the ‘Supply Chain Top 25’ for the second year running.
But engaging others should mean more than fixing problems. It should also mean supporting solutions, wherever they come from.
Thousands of early-stage entrepreneurs have submitted ideas to our Global Problem Solver Challenge. And many more will benefit from the Cisco Foundation, as it uses $100 million USD to fund non-profits and invest in climate solutions.
Closer to home, in the Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia region, hundreds of employees participated in our ‘Green & Blue’ sustainability challenge. They’ve suggested new ways to manufacture products, visualise environmental data, and use design thinking.
Developing more efficient technologies
For example, while designing solutions for the Internet for the Future, we condensed 2,300 elements into a single computer chip. This chip is at the heart of a system that uses 96% less electricity than its predecessor, while supplying 35% more bandwidth. It allowed us to go from sending nearly a ton of heavily packaged equipment to customers to shipping something that’s closer to a pizza box.
Sometimes innovation can make whole systems more efficient. We saw this happen on a grand scale when we worked with Europe’s busiest port.
As part of its commitment to reduce emissions by 95% by 2050, The Port of Rotterdam worked with a group of technology companies, including Cisco, to create a computer model that replicated ship movements, weather and water conditions, and infrastructure around the port. The port authority then used this ‘digital twin’ to better understand how it could improve efficiencies and sustainability across its operations.
This is just one example of how technology is constantly changing our relationship to the physical world. Another is underway now, as digitisation enables many organisations, including Cisco, to experiment with hybrid working. The potential impacts are huge – a recent study in Sweden found that by transitioning from 15 to 30 percent more virtual meetings, the country could reduce its CO2 emissions by 550,000 tons.
Leading the twin transition to a green and digital future
In the tech industry, we have a unique opportunity to lead society’s transition to a digital and green future. There’s no magic button that can fix climate change, but we should be pushing all the real buttons we can – through developing more efficient technologies, taking action and engaging our employees, customers, partners and communities.
At Cisco, we take the long view: our purpose is powering an inclusive future for all – including future generations. The reason we look so far ahead is because we recognise that change won’t happen suddenly. But change won’t happen at all unless we take millions of incremental steps. So, let’s keep going and take them together.