Cisco: Driving Sustainability for Itself & Customers

Cisco: Driving Sustainability for Itself & Customers

Global Head of Sustainability for Industries Sielen Namdar shares how Cisco innovations lead the charge towards supporting a more sustainable future

One of the world’s largest and most successful technology companies, Cisco was founded in 1984 by a group of Stanford University computer scientists. In the nearly 40 years since, it has grown significantly and is now a multinational digital communications technology conglomerate with a net worth of more than US$202bn.

The company has grown from a small startup to a global leader in technology and networking solutions, expanding its presence globally and establishing an international reputation as a market leader, with its products and solutions widely used by businesses, governments and organisations of all sizes worldwide.

But it's not just by being at the forefront of technological innovation that Cisco has soared. Amid the buzz of transformation and progress, Cisco is committed to sustainability, both within its own operations and those of its customers, to support a more sustainable future. 

Sielen Namdar is one of those leading the charge towards this goal. Across her 25-year career and more recently as Global Head of Sustainability for Industries at Cisco, she is a driving force behind the brand’s global sustainability for industries, embodying the fusion of technology and environmental stewardship, benefiting business and the environment simultaneously. 

Sielen Namdar: A force in technological sustainability

Sielen’s vision for sustainable innovation anchors on the pivotal role Cisco plays in shaping a more inclusive and sustainable world.

As the leader of global sustainability for industries, she and her team support customers in 11 industries across the globe in their sustainability journey leveraging Cisco technologies. From utilities to manufacturing, government to healthcare and beyond, their impact is far-reaching. 

“Collaborating across Cisco’s spectrum, my team works alongside the Chief Sustainability Office, Engineering Sustainability Office, business units, global regions, sales enablement, marketing and other Cisco organisations,” Sielen explains. “Together with our key strategic partners, we’re not only developing more innovative sustainability solutions with an integrated approach, but also supporting measurable outcomes for our customers.”

Sielen joined Cisco in 2018 to build and lead Cisco’s very first digital water practice from the ground up. Bringing with her two decades of experience as an industry executive in the water, transportation and energy infrastructure business — she was formerly Co-founder of Jacobs’ Smart Cities initiative — she was then asked to refine her focus on a growing and key priority: sustainability.

“The answer was a resounding yes,” she begins. “I’m a civil and environmental engineer by training and this was a fantastic way to come full circle, while bringing the power of technology to support impactful sustainability outcomes for our customers and communities.”

The work of Sielen and her team is vital to Cisco’s worldwide leadership in technology that powers the internet. Cisco’s products and solutions, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Silicon One and power over ethernet support sustainability by, for example, helping its customers reduce energy consumption. 

“With technologies like generative AI quickly taking shape, we continue to see endless possibilities for technology to change lives and experiences in countless ways,” Sielen says.

“We also recognise the need to harness the power of technology ethically and responsibly as we shape and define the future alongside our customers and partners.”

Cisco’s solutions include software, networking, security, computing, collaboration, wireless and mobility, data centre, IoT, video and analytics, to name a few. The company’s holistic approach to environmental sustainability not only includes business operations but supplier engagement and also how it helps customers and communities to reduce their environmental impact. 

She continues: “An important part of our strategy is helping our customers meet their sustainability goals. Cisco solutions can help improve energy and resource efficiency, enable energy management, and deliver sustainability in lifecycle management.”

“We are leveraging our scale and innovation to help ensure that our increasingly digital future is sustainable, inclusive and resilient,” Sielen says. “We are doing this by reducing emissions across our operations, supply chain and products, as well as continuing to source more renewable energy and helping customers and communities reduce their environmental impacts and adapt to a changing world.”

Cisco has established a Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its entire value chain by 2040

In addition, in 2021, the Cisco Foundation committed US$100 million over 10 years to fund nonprofit grants and impact investing in climate solutions.

And, as if that wasn't enough, as part of Cisco’s significant evolution for the better when it comes to sustainability, innovation and social responsibility, nine years ago it set an ambitious goal to positively impact a billion people by 2025. Not only has Cisco reached this colossal milestone ahead of schedule, but it has surpassed it by 100 million people.

How Cisco helps customers on their sustainability journey

Cisco’s extensive portfolio of digital solutions aids its customers in their sustainability journey thanks to a variety of solutions. It comprises: 

  • Smart buildings: Building systems that are ‘always ready’ vs ‘always on’ with Cisco solutions such as power over ethernet, smart shades and HVAC systems, aligned with occupancy, can help reduce energy loss
  • Industry use cases: Smart grids and distributed energy resources, electric vehicle (EV) charging for large deployments, and sustainable facilities, are examples of Cisco industry sustainability solutions, also shown in Industry Portfolio Explorer 
  • Circular economy: Cisco has embraced circular economy principles and facilitates product returns for end-of-use gear at no cost. And it reuses or recycles more than 99% of returned equipment
  • Modernised data centres: By modernising their data centres, organisations can go a long way towards supporting their sustainability goals. For example, Cisco’s UCS-X Series is 54% more energy efficient at the processing (CPU) level than previous generations
  • Observing the impact: A Cisco network upgrade includes solutions like Nexus Dashboard and Cisco Intersight, which add acute visibility into energy consumption across networks and devices
  • Funding opportunities: Cisco offers several sustainability funding opportunities for customers, such as Cisco Green Pay IT payment solution, Country Digital Acceleration (CDA), and Industry Lighthouse to help accelerate and scale sustainability 
  • Sustainability estimator: This tool demonstrates to customers the sustainability benefits of migrating to the latest generation of Cisco products.

And the proof is in the results. Cisco has showcased successful collaborations with prominent customers like Enel, the global Italian power utility, which partnered with Cisco to innovate on digital solutions, aiding energy decarbonisation, digitisation and decentralisation. The project has enabled visibility into Enel’s grid operations in real time and convergence of IT and Operations Technology (OT) networks designed with circularity in mind. As a result, power was saved and Enel’s renewable energy hosting capacity was increased by several gigawatts.

Scottish Power needed reliable and secure networking communications for offshore wind farm deployments. Cisco was able to create a simplified network deployment with standardised architecture designs or Cisco Validated Design (CVDs) that are modular and repeatable. Thanks to this collaboration, Scottish Power benefitted from enhanced security with end-to-end multilevel security capabilities and flexibility to scale for wind farm sizes, future services and applications.

Cisco has also deployed smart and sustainable buildings solutions for many customers as well as for Cisco’s own offices in New York City, Atlanta and Paris.

With sustainability a tall order, Sielen and the wider company of Cisco is firm in the belief that having a strong ecosystem is pivotal to success. Its host of alliance partners includes Intel, Schneider Electric, Rockwell Automation and Honeywell, among others.

“They innovate with us to drive integrated sustainability solutions, making us stronger together,” Sielen says. “We do this by collectively embedding circularity into the design of our products and making them more energy efficient — and by developing joint solutions that can power smart buildings and more sustainable infrastructure such as for manufacturing plants, smart grids, renewable energy, data centres, stadiums and EV charging stations. 

“We have a strong partnership with Intel across a large portfolio of technologies and many industries including manufacturing, transportation, utilities and more. The collaboration makes us stronger together and allows us to offer integrated and innovative solutions to our customers.”

On sustainability, Intel is enabling Cisco’s product portfolio with energy controls in their processors and chipsets, including built-in accelerators, optimised power mode and telemetry features for monitoring and control of electrical consumption and carbon emissions.

Intel is also bringing AI assets running on Cisco’s edge portfolio to identify inefficiencies and recommend energy savings measures, predicting maintenance — meaning slashing unplanned downtime and extending life of assets — forecasting demand to adjust inventory levels minimising risk of over-production and improving and accelerating yield analysis, resulting in decrease in defects, less waste and improved factory output.

Sielen states: “Partnerships are paramount to Cisco's overarching strategy and success. Our strategy is based on a partner-driven go-to-market model. In fact, about 90% of our revenue comes through partners. They serve as a cornerstone in our mission to deliver comprehensive solutions and drive meaningful impact across industries.

“By fostering strategic alliances with like-minded organisations, Cisco extends its reach, capabilities and expertise, enabling us to address complex challenges and seize emerging opportunities more effectively — and sustainability is no different.”

IT plays a key role in sustainability

Regardless of her position in leadership at one of the world’s most recognisable and trusted IT brands, Sielen believes technology will play a key role in assisting companies through their sustainability transformation. This is also off the back of IDC global research which found 62% of companies believe investments in IT technologies are critical to meeting their sustainability goals. 

“Cross-functional coordination is critical to the successful execution of a corporate sustainability strategy,” she says. “CIOs and IT leaders have a key role in supporting their Chief Sustainability Officers, environmental leaders, C-suites and other stakeholders. They are in a strategic position to reimagine their networks to provide a robust platform, for both IT and for operations, and to enable technology solutions that can help reduce their energy consumption and costs while transforming cross-departmental processes to achieve more sustainable outcomes.”

But there is an acknowledgement that technology can be a double-edged sword. For Sielen, this particularly applies to generative AI, due to its immense demand on electricity and water as well as data centre infrastructure. But she believes AI's sustainability benefits have the potential to outweigh negative impact thanks to the critical data insights it provides.

Plenty are established in or beginning to leverage technology to accelerate their sustainability journey, but, for CIOs who may be intimidated by the prospect, Sielen is quick to urge them to get started, sharing how it’s paramount to get the ball rolling. Cisco has even written a white paper on the topic.

“It’s important to start and get educated,” she declares. “What are the sustainability goals or commitments of your organisation? What are the timelines? You then need to familiarise yourself with rapidly developing stakeholder demands and the regulatory landscape.”

From there she encourages exploring public funding opportunities and learning from peers with more mature sustainability strategies. It is then important to enable visibility as well as aligning and collaborating with internal stakeholders to develop an integrated sustainability roadmap for the organisation.

Finally, Sielen showcases how executing the programme is the most important step of all.

“IT has the opportunity to make itself more sustainable — such as leveraging real-time energy management platforms and modernising data centres — and also support operations and line of business in their sustainability journey.”

This will continue to be a main focus for Sielen, helping Cisco customers — and wider industries, as a result — build speed and scale in their sustainability journey. Continued collaboration with industry and sustainability teams and strategic alliances will accelerate delivering leading-edge technology solutions that support businesses to achieve their sustainability goals. 

She continues: “Our teams will continue to integrate the latest technologies, such as AI, into our sustainability solutions to ensure that our offerings are not only innovative but also help achieve the outcomes that our customers are looking for at a much faster pace.

“Climate change will continue to progress with more extreme weather patterns emerging. And organisations will feel these impacts in their daily operations and supply chains. There would be more pressure from stakeholders and consumers, especially the younger generation, for more sustainable practices and there will be a move towards more ‘regenerative’ approaches compared to ‘do less harm’. 

“The transition towards sustainability is already under way, driven by growing demands from stakeholders and consumers across various sectors. This momentum is unstoppable, regardless of the prevailing political environment.”

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