Tackling Green in the IT Supply Chain

5 steps to supply chain sustainability


  • Document It. Particularly for virtual supply chains such as Cisco's, documenting your goals and then documenting your progress are fundamental. Cisco's Supplier Code of Conduct, while designed to allow suppliers to comply in flexible ways, provides the foundation for what drives our actions. Our goals and expectations will not change. This clarity allows us to then leverage industry alliances, such as the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), and supplier innovation to achieve those goals. It is only after we and our suppliers know where we are going that specific action to address the Big Impactors can be tackled effectively.

4) Collaborate, Collaborate Again and Then Do It Some More: Ask, Listen and Learn

Turn your extended supply chain into an asset. Get your partners or customers involved. Tap their expertise. Listen to their ideas.

Many of our partners have long operated in global locations where environmental impacts are both varied and substantial. Leveraging their experience and keeping business efficiency in mind, we developed a comprehensive global battery specification unifying the best practices in dealing with batteries from around the world. This practical opportunity for change successfully allowed us to collectively alert end-users to recyclability, reduce waste, expand battery take-back and have a positive impact on batteries' hazardous materials content.

Our customers' firsthand experiences with our products can also be important sources of green innovation. For instance, one of our major enterprise customers challenged us to help them meet their goals for reducing waste. Collaborating to understand that particular customer's use of Cisco products, we created a dense-wave packaging model aligned with their needs to access and deploy our products while dramatically reducing packaging waste. The result? A single container for multiple product units made of easily recycled materials with 75 percent less packaging material. A win for both of us.

5) Drive Standards: Accelerate Change

Because many of us in the electronics industry share suppliers and manufacturing partners, by agreeing on commonly held, core principles and methodologies, we can create the standards needed to drive down the costs of going green and shorten the time-to-benefit for all parties — OEMs, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and customers.

For instance, as a member of EPA Climate Leaders, we are utilizing widely adopted methods for calculating carbon emissions. And by working with other members of EICC to set common standards for and optimize supplier audits, Cisco is able to selectively leverage EICC supplier audits to measure supplier success, reducing the burden of time and expense on both Cisco and our suppliers.

Closing Thought

The cost of environmental inertia is rising quickly. As daunting as the complexities are that we face in the IT industry, they also present us with opportunities. Opportunities to leverage supply chain networks as sources of innovation. Opportunities to leverage our own technologies as catalysts for change. Opportunities for the industry to exercise leadership and make a substantial contribution to what may well be the most pressing set of issues of our time.

About the Author: Edna Conway is senior director, Advanced Compliance and Social Responsibility, Global Supply Chain Management at Cisco Systems, Inc. www.cisco.com.

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