Every year around this time, networking giant Cisco Systems drops its annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report. I make a point to cover the release every year (see 2020, 2019 and 2018) because, as I see it, Cisco’s environmental-social-governance (ESG) work is essentially the gold standard in the tech industry. From its long-standing global Networking Academy program (training thousands of students every year for jobs in the digital economy) to its TacOps disaster response team, to its partnerships with many NGOs and nonprofits worldwide, nobody does what Cisco does.
Known in years past as the “CSR Report,” Cisco says this year’s rechristened “Cisco Purpose Report” combines its traditional CSR reporting with the other “purpose work” the company engages in on its mission to Power an Inclusive Future for All. The report showcases what I believe is one of the significant differentiators of Cisco’s CSR efforts—the way it tracks, measures and reports progress towards its goals to ensure complete transparency and accountability. Without further ado, let’s dig into the 2021 Cisco Purpose Report.
The company appears well on track to meet the ambitious goal it announced in 2016—to positively impact one billion people across the globe by 2025. The latest on this effort is that Cisco claims its social impact grants and signature programs have positively impacted approximately 680 million people since 2016, translating to around 68% of the 1 billion target for 2025.
Breaking that number down, Cisco shared that its Networking Academy had the best annual participation of its two-decade-plus history in 2021. The company’s flagship program provided jobs training to roughly three million students worldwide, preparing them for careers in the booming digital economy. 2021’s three million students bring the Networking Academy’s total impact to fifteen million students since 1997.
The company also shared that it (and the Cisco Foundation) invested $477 million in cash and in-kind contributions to community programs globally in the past year. This is not chump change—it’s equal to 3.6% of the company’s entire pre-tax profit for the year. For that matter, the company reported $34 million in employee donations and Cisco Foundation matching gifts in 2021 and an impressive 269,000 employee volunteer hours.
Lastly, in this area, Cisco says it awarded $1 million in cash prizes to social entrepreneurs in this year’s Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge (the fifth annual). Cisco says the contest has distributed approximately $2.25 million across 63 startups in 20 countries since 2016.
Environmental stewardship and emissions reductions
The other big quadrant of Cisco’s purpose work centers around the environment and efforts to combat the looming threat of climate change. To that end, Cisco announced that in 2021 it reached its 60% reduction goal for Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions a full year earlier than its original 2022 target. Additionally, we learned that Cisco derived 85% of its energy from renewable sources in 2021, meeting another of the company’s 2022 targets one year early.
In the report, Cisco also highlighted a new ambitious GHG goal it announced in September—to reach net-zero Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2040. According to the company, Scope 3 emissions (the GHGs originating from the supply chain, the use of Cisco’s products downstream and other indirect sources) comprise the lion’s share of Cisco’s emissions footprint at this point. Less committed companies might have been content to simply reduce the emissions from their operations and call it a day. Leave it to Cisco to go the extra mile upstream and downstream.
Another priority of Cisco’s made clear in the report is the circular economy concept. Traditional manufacturing processes inherited from the Industrial Revolution follow a linear model—use a product, throw it away, repeat infinitely. On the other hand, a circular system seeks to maximize assets by “designing out” waste, limiting resource consumption, and extending product and material lifecycles. By keeping resources cycling through a circular system indefinitely, businesses can significantly reduce their impact on the natural environment.
See the graphic below for a more detailed look at how Cisco incorporates circular principles into its design process.
In 2020, Cisco committed to designing 100% of its new products and packaging following these circular principles by 2025. The 2021 Cisco Purpose Report illuminated some company progress towards that mission. For one, we learned the company has already achieved a 20% reduction in its use of virgin plastic, a target that wasn’t due for completion until 2025.
Additionally, the company claims to have improved its packaging efficiency by 26%. Methods employed include but were not limited to giving customers multipack options for delivery, allowing them to opt-out of power cables and other excess components included in product shipments and delivering licenses, documentation and software electronically instead of on paper. All said and told, Cisco also says its improvements eliminated 336,000 pounds of cardboard corrugate from the total packaging it shipped in 2021.
The 2021 Cisco Purpose Report was nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from Cisco’s annual CSR updates. The company showed measurable progress towards its many crucial social and environmental goals, meeting some ahead of schedule and setting new targets for others. Cisco’s efforts to give back are so broad and thorough that sometimes it’s hard to believe that the company does all this on top of maintaining its leadership in enterprise networking.
I, for one, believe that what Cisco does in the public sphere is a critical part of what helps Cisco stay on top. Cisco leadership and employees alike seem united by the company’s call to a higher purpose, a point further illustrated by Cisco’s #2 ranking on the World’s Best Workplace 2021 list. Happy employees frequently make for a happy bottom line. Another good year, Cisco.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.