Cisco Partners Will Help Company Reach Ambitious Sustainability Goals, Execs Say

Along with its updated net zero targets, Cisco is also introducing a brand new Environmental Sustainability Specialization for partners, the company unveiled at Cisco Partner Summit 2021.

Cisco Systems has updated its net zero greenhouse gas emissions pledge and intends to trickle its sustainability efforts down through the channel.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins pledged to either take back and refurbish or recycle 100 percent of its hardware products in the market and set an ambitious goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2040, with its own operations being carbon-neutral by 2025.

With thousands of partners around the globe, many of which are also prioritizing sustainability and corporate social responsibility, the tech giant knows it will only hit its target with the help of the channel, Andrew Sage, vice president of global distribution sales and executive sponsor, Cisco Circular Economy, told CRN.

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In fact, nearly half -- 41 percent -- of partners say they are already engaged in product take-back, recovery and recycling, according to a recent survey from technology analyst firm Canalys. Forty-five percent of partners say that they‘re going to generate some of their revenues from sustainability solutions.

“Sustainability is part of our culture and our customers and partners want us to do this,” Sage said. “We think it‘s time to jump in with them more aggressively.”

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Robbins during Cisco Partner Summit 2021 on Tuesday said that Cisco is “innovating for the planet” and that sustainability is an opportunity for the tech industry and channel partners.

“It’s important to customers, to governments around the world, and to our partners out there,” he said. “We think there’s a real opportunity for all of us to get involved.”

For Charter, a Victoria, British Columbia-based Cisco partner, sustainability is an important part of the firm‘s mission, according to Charter President Kelly Michell.

“The next steps that Cisco‘s taking towards their circular design and the ability to reuse plastic, it really falls in line with our entire sustainability mission inside of our organization,” Michell said. “We’ve always said, we need to be good corporate citizens in the community and wherever we go, we try and leave it better off than it was when we arrived.”

Charter recently built a new headquarters that was the first certified commercial passive house building in North America. The company also has its own internal hardware recycling program for its customers.

“Being aligned with a partner that has this at the forefront of their strategy as we do just helps us align and build more inclusiveness between the between Cisco and our company,” Michell added.

Cisco is launching its first-ever Environmental Sustainability Specialization that will reward partners that build a practice around product take back and re-use. Partners simply will return all hardware to Cisco that they take out of their customers’ environments, without having to handle the refurbishing or recycling, Sage said.

Cisco‘s 100 percent product return pledge will also help cut down on the “gray market” of Cisco solutions that could be misrepresented to customers, Sage said.

Cisco in 2020 had close to one million units returned, or nearly 10,000 metric tons of equipment, through its free take-back program that is in place in all of Cisco’s geographies, the company said.

Cisco‘s Refresh program is focused on refurbishing hardware that still has plenty of life left. The program has been very popular over the last year, and is helping partners combat supply chain backlogs, Sage said. Cisco is shipping hundreds of thousands of refurbished units a quarter through its Refresh program, he added.

The Specialization, like the rest of Cisco's Specializations, will come along with co-branded materials, guides for conversations with customers, and training in Cisco programs, including the popular Product Takeback and Reuse, Cisco Refresh, and the Circular Economy. The Specialization can be achieved in a short time frame -- 15-hours with two exams -- and only one employee is required to reach the Specialization, Sage said.

To motivate partners, Cisco is offering a Migration incentive for Environmental Sustainability-Specialized partners at deal registration, Sage said. “Not only is this the right thing to do, but it‘s also a great way for our partners to make money,” he added.

To move the needle, Cisco at Partner Summit 2021 announced a Digital Sustainability Challenge for partners helping customers meet their sustainability goals. Specifically, solution providers that are using Cisco technology to produce sustainability outcomes, such as smart building solutions, can enter those solutions in Cisco’s Digital Sustainability Challenge. Contest winners will be announced in the Spring and will receive up to $300,000 from Cisco to help push their solutions into the market, Cisco said.