Cisco's Latest Purpose Report Brings To Life Its "People, Profit And Planet" Focus
The first thing that struck me from reading Cisco's 2022 Purpose Report is how holistically the company looks at the impact it can have on its people, the communities they reach and the environment.
Cisco has been focusing on Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) before it was even called ESG. CEO Chuck Robbins said: "At Cisco, we believe operating sustainably and equitably is the only way to do business." Doing the work goes hand in hand with being held accountable, which is why Cisco has been reporting on its efforts since 2005.
In her remarks for the latest report, Francine Katsoudas, Cisco's Executive Vice President and
Chief People, Policy, and Purpose Officer wrote: "Following this journey means that we must question ourselves and adjust along the way. As our work progresses, so too does our understanding of what drives impact. We don't always have the answers—in fact, we know we'll make mistakes. But we also know that mistakes are part of improving and getting us closer to the metrics that truly matter: the impact we're making and the lives we touch."
Cisco has built its ESG work around three pillars: Power, Inclusive and Future. What do they entail? Power means to "ethically build and deliver technology that securely powers the world's connectivity." Inclusive means to "act boldly and deliberately to accelerate fairness, inclusion, and equitable access to opportunity." Future means to "help ensure a sustainable and regenerative future for our planet."
The effort relies on partnerships and collaborations with customers and partners so that the reach can be as comprehensive as possible and the company's impact can genuinely be "For All."
These are some of the achievements highlighted in this year's report:
Cisco achieved a 60% increase in representation of all employees who self-identify as African American/Black (AA/B) from entry level through manager (FY20 base year)
Cisco and the Cisco Foundation Contributed US$494 million in cash and in-kind contributions to community programs, including US$377 million in in-kind contributions for Cisco Networking Academy
Cisco Networking Academy reached 3.2 million students in FY22, bringing the total number of students to 17.5 million worldwide since the program began in 1997.
Data guides the path to fulfill the company's goals and reporting keeps it accountable. Cisco's latest ESG materiality assessment, conducted in the 2021 fiscal year, identified 18 priority ESG topics. These topics include business ethics, talent, circular design, water, and more. To create this list, Cisco used various methods such as analyzing stakeholder inquiries, comparing itself to its peers and gathering input from investors, experts, and Cisco employees, including its employee resource organizations, executives, and sales professionals. In the 2022 fiscal year, Cisco completed an interim ESG materiality assessment to ensure that its most recent review accurately reflects the priorities of its stakeholders, changes within the company, and global developments.
Sustainability is one of the best examples of how Cisco uses data to inform its work. In an interview with Cisco's first Chief Sustainability Officer, Mary de Wysocki, she told me: "There is no future without a planet. That is a fact. Every company must consider its business, impact, and how it can change the former to limit the latter. For us, it was clear that a carbon-neutral path would not be enough." As a result, Cisco has set a goal to achieve net zero by 2040. Such a goal was validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) under its new Net-Zero Standard, which requires Cisco to reduce its absolute Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions 90% by 2040. The SBTi also requires interim goals and annual updates on the progress that will keep the company accountable. Validation along the way is also necessary as companies are still grappling with calculations and reporting structures that change based on fluent metric requirements, evolving regulations and uncertain frameworks.
"I still think we have a bigger opportunity to help our customers achieve their decarbonization goals. How can we empower them to transition to a low carbon economy?" added de Wysocki. One way Cisco can empower customers to lower their carbon footprint is to enable hybrid work and use smart building technology with its sensors and low-voltage Power over Ethernet to make offices more power efficient. Some of the innovations Cisco uses even in its own buildings, such as the newly revamped Penn One office in New York City, allow facility managers to monitor and control temperature, lighting, and air quality and reduce embodied carbon from steel conduits and copper wiring.
As much as numbers matter, the theme of this year's report is "Purpose Personified," underlining that everything starts with the people of Cisco. It is no coincidence that, back in April 2022, Cisco received the FORTUNE and Great Place to Work's Best Company to Work award for the second year running. One of the success factors comes back to Cisco's "Conscious Culture," the intentional choices made to build a company culture that is built on self-awareness of both the company and its people as well as of the environment they operate in. Cisco wants every employee to "feel accountable and empowered to contribute to a culture where everyone thrives and where we intentionally seek out, learn, understand, and appreciate who - and what - surrounds us."
The way Cisco rallied together to support the people of Ukraine following the Russian attack is possibly the best materialization of Cisco's Conscious Culture. Cisco contributed equipment valued at approximately US$6 million to set up emergency connectivity and networking equipment for use by nonprofit partners, UN agencies, bomb shelters, and the Ukrainian government. Cisco Crisis Response (CCR) teams deployed to Krakow, Poland, where they worked alongside Cisco volunteers to build and deliver emergency communications kits uniquely tailored to the need. As of the end of fiscal 2022, over 15,600 employees donated more than US$1.5 million to 25 nonprofit organizations featured in our Ukraine Humanitarian Assistance Fund. With Cisco Foundation and corporate matching, Cisco raised over US$4.3 million. In addition, Cisco has stopped all business operations in Russia and Belarus and offered support—including temporary relocation, allowances for unexpected expenses, and emergency time off—to Ukraine-based employees.
In a tech world that is yet to prioritize diversity and inclusion and an investment world that still fails to see the intersectionality of sustainability and equity, it is helpful to see Cisco bring together people, profit and the planet, both in its work and its storytelling.