SUSTAINABILITY FOCUS 5

Four ways to collectively take action for a sustainable future  By Matthew Houlihan, Senior Director, Government and Corporate Affairs, Cisco

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to human society and the natural world. The question is no longer ‘is it happening?’ but instead, ’how can we move fast enough to decelerate and eventually reverse the impact of global warming?’ There’s no easy answer, but we do know this; it will take all of us working together.

Given that technology will be fundamental to this process, the industry must take a leading role in demonstrating how sustainability goals are driving the future direction of innovation. This requires a mindset shift away from sustainability goals being viewed as secondary to business performance – ensuring that businesses invest the time and resources required to become net zero organisations and eventually reverse their impact on climate change.

The crucial first steps to achieving this involve creating objectives that are ambitious enough to make a genuine impact, but that are achievable given the broader priorities of the business.

Aim high

Establish what becoming ‘sustainable’ looks like for your organisation. For businesses in the energy industry this might be reducing use of fossil fuels by a certain percentage over the next decade and investing in renewable energy. Whereas for retailers it might be moving away from the use of certain materials and using recyclable packaging. Whatever your aim, achieving it requires constant discipline, continuous learning, and ongoing investment.

Once you understand what you’re aiming for and when you aim to achieve it, you can set up a plan of action that details the next steps, key milestones, and measurement indicators. Think about what good progress looks like and how you can check that you’re tracking against it. How will you evaluate whether what you’re doing is having the desired impact or not?

One of the tough parts of this process is knowing what good looks like and whether what you’re aiming to do is enough. Look at the goals organisations you admire or leaders within your own industry have set themselves. You can also take inspiration from international bodies such as the United Nations, whose Race to Zero campaign aims to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a great way for organisations to commit to aiming high in the fight for a sustainable future.

Ecosystem of supply-chain

Once you have defined what being sustainable looks like for your organisation and how you plan to get there, you can start to look at the broader impact you can have to encourage others to join you. No organisation can tackle climate change alone, but the majority of businesses have an interconnected ecosystem of partners, suppliers, and customers.

In one way, this means as a business your carbon footprint is probably often bigger than you think. A recent study of telecoms businesses found that 80%+ of their carbon emissions come from within their global supply chain. Therefore, you must look beyond the four walls of your own organisation and think about your broader network.

This should be viewed as an opportunity rather than an additional challenge. Affecting action from partners and suppliers by having shared goals and missions to reduce emissions can vastly increase the impact of your sustainability initiatives.

Businesses can also utilise these networks to share best practice. For example, the EU Green Digital Coalition, which Cisco is a participant of, provides a good opportunity to pull on advice and implement similar frameworks across other businesses. The Coalition does a deep dive into what it means to be digital plus green, and how organisations can get involved.

Embrace the circular economy 

Looking even further still than your own corporate networks and supply chains, understand how your business can embrace the concept of the circular economy. This idea involves overturning the take-make-toss approach in appreciation that the world’s resources are finite. As a rule of thumb, think about how everything you make could be recycled, used again, or reproduced.

Furthermore, incentivise sustainable actions from your customers. This includes not charging for returns, reusing and recycling products that customers no longer need, and implementing business models centred around sharing and renting products as opposed to producing, selling, and disposing them.

Cisco’s own Refresh Program ensures 99.8% of the products returned are re-used or recycled. The program also ensures Cisco products that are sold are certified remanufactures, offering another opportunity for customers to be a part of the circular economy. Not only is the circular economy better for the planet, it’s better for business: Accenture estimates that the circular economy is a $4.5 trillion opportunity.  

Step up investment 

Ultimately, any impact we can make to save the planet has both commercial and societal benefits, yet only 2% of the world’s philanthropy helps fight climate change. To stop global temperature levels rising, the UN estimates that developed countries must collectively pledge at least $100 billion a year.  Every organisation needs to play its part.

The Cisco Foundation has pledged $100 million over the next ten years to help fight climate change. It is investing in the phenomenal work of organisations working in an inclusive and regenerative future like Solar Sister, which trains local women across Africa to create their own clean energy businesses. Investing in work like this helps address all environmental, social, and governance pillars.

Examples such as this show that there is lots of great work already being done, but the climate crisis we currently face means we cannot rest on our laurels. Every business can do more and only a collective effort with clear strategic direction will significantly move the needle.


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