The global, collective corporate sustainability journey is well into its second decade. The European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) regulation early this century and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 were early indications that environmental sustainability would be a growing issue. As efforts ramped, a broad spectrum of environmental issues each gained interest groups looking for action by corporations.
Company initiatives included reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their operations — often setting goals to reduce what are formally called Scope 1 and 2 emissions-reducing water use, and increasing the recycling of waste from operations (informally called trash!). A full accounting of environmental impact might also include biodiversity, land use, liquid effluents, gaseous emissions (other than greenhouse gases), and materials. At Cisco, the materials issue grew into a major circular economy program that is creating a backside of the product use cycle that will eventually rival — and be integrated with — the sophisticated manufacturing supply chain developed over several decades.
Cisco’s top environmental issue, as repeatedly confirmed by annual materiality assessments, remains energy and GHG emissions, a topic of many facets. As mentioned previously, companies — including Cisco — often start their journey reducing GHG emissions from their operations. Next came questions about outsourced manufacturing, so the operational focus expanded to include the manufacturing supply chain, which Cisco early on called extended operations to confirm our responsibility for any impact. Then came questions about the indirect supply chain and the energy efficiency of products. Each of these issues spawned programs to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
Employee engagement has a strong intersection with our efforts to reduce GHG emissions and some of the products we sell. The transportation end-use sector is responsible for a little more than a third of U.S. energy-related emissions, so it’s a big part of the GHG emission challenge. For many large organizations, transportation breaks down into product logistics, employee business travel and employee commuting. And yes, we have programs for each of these!
One way to cut down on transportation emissions is to leverage tele- and video-conferencing tools that allow virtual meetings with voice, video and data on desktops and mobile devices. This type of technology has become fairly ubiquitous and allows for high-definition virtual collaboration around the world. Telecommuting not only helps limit transportation-related GHG emissions, but also improves productivity, decreases costs from not traveling, and greatly improves work-life balance. Why fly many hours to meet a single customer when you can have meetings with many customers in the same time, all while going home to friends and family and sleep in your own bed?
These approaches solve both problems because a very efficient way to reduce emissions from commuting is… don’t commute! Not commuting also increases diversity and employee satisfaction by permitting work time to be shifted to allow for child or elder care or doctor’s appointments.
But what if an employee needs to be in the office?
In these cases, organizations can offer several options. Leadership can provide travel passes or shuttle services to help employees take advantage of local mass transit. Another option is to install electric vehicle charging stations at office locations. Additionally, a managed carpool program can help keep reduce the amount of single-occupancy vehicles on the road. We’ve used a program that has taken more than 300 cars out of corporate parking lots daily, and removed 1,400 metric tonne of CO2 emissions. A carpool program can also reduce the stress of commuting and may even improve retention.
Sustainability rightfully became a focus for many corporations, with dedicated staff added to interface with these external stakeholders, identify priorities, manage initiatives and report on progress. Today, technological advancements offer plenty of fairly simple options for enterprises to reduce GHG emissions from their operations.