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Product sustainability

We apply circular design principles and improve the energy efficiency of our products to reduce our environmental footprint.

In fiscal 2023, we launched our next-generation environmental sustainability strategy, The Plan for Possible, which outlines product circularity plans as part of our circular transformation priority. Read more about our strategy.

The use of Cisco’s products represents both the largest impact in terms of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions footprint and an opportunity to accelerate decarbonization and other positive environmental impacts. The process of integrating sustainability across the product lifecycle starts with circular design, which involves carefully selecting the materials we use and choosing recycled and renewable sources where possible. It also includes making our products more energy efficient, reducing environmental impacts during their manufacturing, and better facilitating repair and remanufacturing.

In addition to investing in individual product enhancements with circular design and product energy efficiency improvements, we are also developing technology solutions, including Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and cloud-managed services, that can help accelerate our customers’ progress toward net zero and other environmental goals.

Circular design

Circular design means designing products and systems that enable reuse, minimize environmental impacts, drive innovation, and realize value for our stakeholders. We are designing our new products and packaging with circularity in mind, aligning them to 25 Circular Design Principles organized across five focus areas.

Cisco's circular design focus areas

Infographic detailing our circular design focus areas
Cisco's Circular Design Principles
Focus area Principle
Focus area:Material use Principle:
  • Use recycled instead of virgin materials
  • Use lightweighting techniques to minimize material use
  • Remove cosmetic features that do not serve an engineering purpose
Focus area:Standardize and modularize Principle:
  • Design modular subassemblies to enhance repairability and upgradability
  • Use standard modules (main subassemblies) across products
  • Use standard components across products
  • Use standard materials, finishes, and processes
Focus area:Packaging and accessories Principle:
  • Remove accessory items that are not required for a standard configuration
  • Reduce virgin packaging materials used
  • Design products for efficient packaging and transportation
  • Eliminate foam packaging
  • Optimize packaging efficiency with bulk/multipack packaging
Focus area:Smart energy consumption Principle:
  • Increase energy efficiency and reduce the energy consumption of products
  • Reduce product energy use related to temperature control systems
  • Develop scalable energy usage and low-power modes
  • Optimize the energy efficiency and energy consumption of the front-end power supply
Focus area:Disassembly, reuse, and repair Principle:
  • Optimize the design of components for repair, reuse, and replacement
  • Ensure product structure allows for identification and accessibility of valuable components
  • Use homogeneous materials that are compatible for recycling
  • Design batteries to be easily removable, or eliminate batteries altogether
  • Design products to be disassembled using common tools
  • Simplify fastening and joining methods
  • Apply design practices and joining methods that optimize the recovery of plastics at end of life
  • Design metal parts with disassembly in mind
  • Design products to allow for self-service data wiping

Circular design scoring

We have a goal to incorporate Circular Design Principles into 100 percent of our new products and packaging by fiscal 2025. In fiscal 2021, we developed a circular design evaluation methodology and tool that helps us track progress toward that goal. This tool allows engineers to evaluate their product and packaging designs against the Circular Design Principles by answering questions related to each principle. A score is assigned to the responses based on the extent of incorporation of the principles. Packaging scores are calculated based on principles associated with the Packaging and Accessories focus area. Product scores are calculated by combining scores from the four remaining focus areas (Material Use, Standardize and Modularize, Smart Energy Consumption, Disassembly, Reuse and Repair).

Product and packaging designs scoring 75 percent or higher are considered to substantially incorporate our Circular Design Principles and count toward our public goal. We recognize that despite our best efforts, certain product and packaging designs may not reach the 75 percent score. In these cases, we will work to address any challenges that prevent us from reaching the scoring threshold.

In fiscal 2022, we leveraged the tool for the first time to evaluate 13 percent of new product and packaging designs against the methodology, and 33 percent of those substantially incorporated our circular design criteria. At the end of fiscal 2022, executive leadership announced that scoring would become a mandatory step before the release of a product or packaging design by fiscal 2024. In fiscal 2023, we evaluated 65.5 percent of new products and packaging designs, and 41 percent of them substantially incorporated our circular design criteria. This meant that 27 percent of new products and packaging designs released in fiscal 2023 substantially incorporated Circular Design Principles. We also continue to promote our interactive circular design training to key groups across the business. Over 6900 employees completed the training as of the end of fiscal 2023. In fiscal 2024, we will expand scoring of product and packaging designs and further progress toward our fiscal 2025 goal.

Design teams also have an opportunity to include circular design innovations in the tool. These innovations include novel materials, components, or process changes that can reduce the environmental impact of a product or packaging. These are reviewed by a Circular Design Innovation committee twice a quarter and assigned scores based on the characteristics described above. This catalyzes the sharing of new ideas and increases collaboration across product and packaging teams on how to design for circularity. Innovation submissions are incorporated into internal and external case studies to further highlight circular designs and share ideas across the business.

An example of an innovation focused on modularity can be found in a select model of the Cisco Network Convergence System 2000 Series (NCS2K). In this model, the chassis has been designed with modular housing that can host two different types of power supply units (PSUs). This enables the power supply unit to be replaced on site instead of needing to bring the entire product back to Cisco. It also provides customer flexibility to choose the type of power supply unit used without needing a new housing. When environmental trade-offs are taken into consideration, modular design can decrease the raw materials and emissions needed to manufacture new components and can enable a circular closed loop process for module return, repair, recovery, and reuse.

We also provided additional opportunities for employees to learn more about circular design to implement new ideas and increase the incorporation of Circular Design Principles. In fiscal 2023, we hosted two product tear-downs. During these sessions, we brought together engineers, project managers, and marketers to analyze and take apart the packaging and components of selected products to determine ways to improve their design for circularity.

Additionally, we collaborated with our recycling partners to learn how to better design products for their eventual end of life. In fiscal 2023, a group of supply chain engineers from the Cisco Collaboration team visited one of our recycling partner’s sites to see how their products are disassembled and go through the recycling process.

Reducing plastic use

In addition to the circular design goal, we have set a public goal to reduce plastic used in our products.

In fiscal 2021, Cisco exceeded our fiscal 2025 goal to reduce use of virgin plastics in products by 20 percent compared to a fiscal 2018 base year, and we closed out the goal. Building on the momentum and key learnings from this goal, we set a new goal that by fiscal 2025, 50 percent of the plastic used in our products (by weight) will be made of recycled content (excluding commodity components from suppliers and products designed and manufactured by our Original Design Manufacturers). As part of our journey to minimize the use of virgin plastic, our teams are sourcing more recycled plastic parts and designing plastic out of our products. For example, select models of our 8800 Series IP phones consist of 62 percent recycled plastic, and select models of our Webex collaboration devices, such as the Room Bar and Room Bar Pro, use at least 50 percent recycled plastic. Additionally, some products in our Catalyst series of network switches are designed without bezels, the plastic cosmetic surface on the outside of a device. In fiscal 2023, 24 percent of the total plastic used in our products was made of recycled content.

Eliminating paper

We also continue to eliminate paper documentation included in new product shipments. By eliminating millions of sheets of paper shipped annually alongside the product—in the form of licenses, manuals, and compliance documentation—we reduced our material use, waste, cost, and bottlenecks in the manufacturing process. An additional benefit from reducing paper is that we can optimize the size of packaging, no longer needing to accommodate paper of all sizes along with products. As of fiscal 2023, we have removed 67 percent of paper (by weight) from our products compared to our baseline in fiscal 2020. Now, around 1000 product offerings have implemented pointer card and QR codes for customer digital access to product documentation. Our focus for fiscal 2024 is to create a solution for customers to access their software license information digitally and to launch this new capability for products with software licensing.

Product use and efficiency

A key priority for Cisco is continuing to improve the performance of our products while maintaining, or reducing, their energy use. This allows us to address our most significant source of emissions, make our products more competitive, help customers save on energy costs, and make progress toward our 2040 net-zero goal. More information on emissions from the use of our product can be found in our Scope 3 emissions table.

Improving product energy efficiency

Many of Cisco's hardware products provide an architecture with “energy scalability,” one that can provide energy-efficient service for specific traffic types, traffic demands, customer usage, and installations for the intended industry. When we evaluate product energy efficiency, we typically consider the power performance of the system. We also often measure the efficiency as electricity passes through each component or function. This can include, for example, the external PSUs, intermediate bus converter, point of load, and ASIC, memory, or other chips.

Cisco continues to make significant investment in product energy efficiency, up against the challenges of increased power demands and ASIC speeds across the portfolio. Cisco’s investments can be split into four primary product energy-efficiency engineering initiatives:

  • Power initiative: We aim to improve the efficiency of our products from plug to port. In fiscal 2022, we completed our goal of improving large rack-mounted equipment system power efficiency—as measured from the input power from the facility to the board-mounted ASICs, memory, and other chip devices—from 77 percent to 87 percent. We improved system-level efficiency with a focus on the four product efficiency initiatives listed in this section, increasing utilization and efficiencies of power suppliers, and optimizing the power conversion process from input voltage to the ASIC. In addition, we intend to continue to offer PSUs with 80 PLUS Platinum and Titanium ratings when feasible, which improves the overall system power efficiency for our customers.
  • Thermal initiative: Commonly used forced air-cooling systems have limitations in cooling higher-powered, next-generation products. As such, we are exploring alternative methods of cooling, such as liquid or refrigerant cooling, which can reduce power used by the products dedicated to cooling. Currently, liquid and refrigerant cooling is technically feasible, but implementation is dependent on customers’ upgrading their facilities to integrate properly with these cooling methods. Where appropriate we advocate for the use of liquid or refrigerant cooling, but until these methods are more widely adopted, we continue to develop advanced thermal techniques and we are working to optimize traditional forced air cooling to remove heat from our products.
  • High-speed interconnects and ASIC initiatives: High-speed silicon-to-silicon or optics-to-silicon interconnects are an integral part of routing and switching systems. As throughput (or bandwidth) requirements increase, the interconnects can consume a significant portion of the total system power. Through advancements in optics, we can support increased bandwidth using the same or less power compared with earlier generation interconnects. Previous-generation ASIC packet processing technology designs consumed large amounts of power. The Cisco Silicon One ASIC architecture, a complete redesign, has allowed the ASIC to be twice as efficient as previous ASIC technologies, while enabling a move from Gbps to Tbps capacity with a single ASIC. We continue to innovate in this area with our next-generation serializer/deserializer technology, which provides industry-leading network visibility for optimization and capability to support various optics for optimal in-rack connectivity.
  • Customer facilities initiative: Our customers are constrained by the total amount of electricity that can be delivered to a given data center. Because of this, every watt counts, and efficiently delivering electricity to our products is becoming an even higher priority. We are working with customers to reduce the amount of energy required to operate IT facilities with power solutions that increase the efficiency of overhead power, minimize step-down transformers, and provide integrated cooling strategies. These solutions can reduce hardware requirements and energy consumption while providing a more integrated method for managing IT infrastructures. In addition, Cisco is investing in our energy networking initiative, which pulls together the capabilities of the network and electricity usage for customer insight and optimization.

Environmental footprints of our products

Lifecycle assessment

A lifecycle assessment (LCA) is used to model the environmental impacts of a product across multiple impact categories over the entire product lifecycle, from cradle to grave. When conducting an LCA, we consider the environmental impacts of our products through the stages of their lifecycle. LCAs are used to provide valuable insights to support prioritization of product-related impacts and sustainability initiatives.

We align with ISO 14040’s definition that the primary function of LCAs is “identifying opportunities to improve the environmental performance of products at various points in their lifecycle,” and not just the final number that is produced. Comparing LCA results should be avoided unless “the assumptions and context of each study are equivalent.” Since assumptions are often not published, it is not recommended to compare results of LCAs or Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) estimates of various products.

Our LCAs use the five product lifecycle stages defined by the GHG Protocol in the Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard, which is in accordance with the ISO 14040:44 standards:

  • Material acquisition and pre-processing (included in manufacturing)
  • Manufacturing
  • Transport (distribution and storage)
  • Use
  • End-of-life

An LCA takes multiple impact categories into account, including not only GHG impact, but also land use, water use, ocean acidification, and more. In building our LCA approach, we have used multiple external tools and data sources. We use three LCA tools for our analysis: LCA for Experts (GaBi), SimaPro, and the Product Attributes to Impact Algorithm (PAIA). Our external data sources include the International Energy Agency (IEA); the United Kingdom’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and Department for Business and Trade; the GHG Protocol, Ecoinvent 3.7 (or the most relevant version); and GaBi Support Extension DB XI: Electronics. View Cisco product lifecycle assessments below.

Product carbon footprints

Due to increasing stakeholder interest in GHG impact specifically, and the urgency of addressing climate change, the primary focus of our LCA work is to develop product carbon footprints (PCFs), which analyze the global warming potential (GWP) of our products. Our PCF work has shown that our products generate the most GHG emissions during the product-use lifecycle phase.

We use PAIA to conduct streamlined PCF exercises. PAIA’s methodology involves relating product attributes such as printed wiring board (PWB) area or product weight to its GWP impact to provide an estimated PCF. Full LCAs are resource-intensive, and it is not possible to conduct detailed LCAs of all our products due to the high number of products in our portfolio. PAIA provides a more streamlined approach specific to GWP impact, which allows for quicker analysis, but can only be used for our servers, storage products, and network switches, given what is included in its database. View Cisco PCFs below.

Cisco product lifecycle assessments

Based on our LCA on the Webex Desk Pro (completed in fiscal 2022), a video endpoint device, the pie charts below show the distribution of environmental impacts in the manufacturing phase of the product. The use phase contribution to abiotic depletion (the decreasing availability of nonrenewable resources like minerals and fossil fuels) is found to be negligible, while that of climate change is described below.

Global warming potential1
  • LCD screen 49%
  • Printed wiring board 33%
  • Enclosure 9%
  • Speakers 4%
  • Power adapter 2%
  • Packaging 1%
  • Accessory kit 1%
Abiotic depletion1
  • LCD screen 16%
  • Printed wiring board 55%
  • Enclosure 10%
  • Speakers 0%
  • Power adapter 2%
  • Packaging 0%
  • Accessory kit 16%

1 Some figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding of underlying data.

The LCA was conducted from cradle to grave and mapped the impacts of the Desk Pro on climate change and resource depletion from manufacturing to end of life. With an assumed lifetime of five years, the use phase impacts were calculated based on different use scenarios (home office, meeting room, huddle room), and the end-of-life impacts were calculated based on average recycling rates in the European Union.

The results indicated that the use phase of the product contributes to the highest proportion of energy consumed across the product lifecycle. The associated climate change impacts from the use phase, however, vary significantly in accordance with the location of use and the local grid’s emissions. The LCD screen and PWBs in the Desk Pro have the highest climate change and resource depletion impacts during production, especially due to energy consumption and the use of materials like gold and copper in the PWBs.

Bar chart detailing our full lifecycle climate change impact for production and use in different scenarios of Webex Desk pro

The study also attempted to address the difference in climate change impacts from using the WebEx Desk Pro instead of commuting. This analysis was conducted for a few cities around the world and considered two scenarios: working from home instead of commuting to work, and meeting on video instead of undertaking long-distance travel to go to another office. The product lifecycle of a WebEx Desk Pro, from production through five years of use independent of location, is neutralized by avoiding emissions associated with one person traveling on a single long-haul flight.

We have previously carried out full LCAs (completed in fiscal 2019) on an IP phone, a blade server, and continue to work on more products in our portfolio. The following charts provide more information on the lifecycle impacts of Cisco products:

  • Breakdown of GHG emissions by lifecycle phase
  • Breakdown of GHG emissions by manufacturing phase
  • Blade server impacts by lifecycle phase
  • Blade server manufacturing environmental impacts by component or subassembly

The extraction and processing of precious metals like copper and gold required to make PWBs and integrated circuits (ICs) are the primary drivers of all categories of environmental impact, including abiotic depletion. Hard drive manufacturing processes, including washing and cooling of production chemicals, are the primary drivers of blue water consumption and smog formation, respectively.

IP phone1
  • Use 81.5%
  • Manufacturing 19.4%
  • Transport 0.9%
  • End-of-life -1.8%
Blade server1
  • Use 91.2%
  • Manufacturing 9.0%
  • Transport 0.1%
  • End-of-life -0.3%

1 Some figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding of underlying data.

IP Phone1
  • Printed wiring board 21%
  • Integrated circuits 40%
  • Hard disk drive NA
  • Electronics (other) 14%
  • Packaging 2%
  • Enclosure materials 17%
  • Assembly and test 4%
  • LCD screen 2%
Blade server1
  • Printed wiring board 46%
  • Integrated circuits 24%
  • Hard disk drive 22%
  • Electronics (other) 5%
  • Packaging 2%
  • Enclosure materials <1%
  • Assembly and test <1%
  • LCD screen NA

1 Some figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding of underlying data.

Global warming potential
  • Use 91%
  • Manufacturing 9%
  • Transport 0%
  • End-of-life 0%
Primary energy demand
  • Use 94%
  • Manufacturing 6%
  • Transport 0%
  • End-of-life 0%
Blue water consumption
  • Use 79%
  • Manufacturing 21%
  • Transport 0%
  • End-of-life 0%
Eutrophication potential1
  • Use 77%
  • Manufacturing 21%
  • Transport 1%
  • End-of-life 0%
Acidification potential
  • Use 85%
  • Manufacturing 15%
  • Transport 1%
  • End-of-life 0%
Abiotic depletion
  • Use 3%
  • Manufacturing 98%
  • Transport 0%
  • End-of-life -1%
Smog formation potential
  • Use 66%
  • Manufacturing 34%
  • Transport 0%
  • End-of-life 0%

1 Some figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding of underlying data.

Global warming potential
  • Printed wiring board 46%
  • Integrated circuits 24%
  • Hard disk drive 23%
  • Electronics (other) 5%
  • Packaging 2%
  • Enclosure materials 0%
  • Assembly and test 0%
Primary energy demand1
  • Printed wiring board 52%
  • Integrated circuits 34%
  • Hard disk drive 1%
  • Electronics (other) 7%
  • Packaging 5%
  • Enclosure materials 0%
  • Assembly and test 0%
Blue water consumption
  • Printed wiring board 26%
  • Integrated circuits 8%
  • Hard disk drive 59%
  • Electronics (other) 6%
  • Packaging 1%
  • Enclosure materials 0%
  • Assembly and test 0%
Eutrophication potential
  • Printed wiring board 44%
  • Integrated circuits 20%
  • Hard disk drive 31%
  • Electronics (other) 4%
  • Packaging 1%
  • Enclosure materials 0%
  • Assembly and test 0%
Acidification potential
  • Printed wiring board 38%
  • Integrated circuits 26%
  • Hard disk drive 26%
  • Electronics (other) 9%
  • Packaging 1%
  • Enclosure materials 0%
  • Assembly and test 0%
Abiotic depletion1
  • Printed wiring board 39%
  • Integrated circuits 51%
  • Hard disk drive 0%
  • Electronics (other) 9%
  • Packaging 0%
  • Enclosure materials 0%
  • Assembly and test 0%
Smog formation potential
  • Printed wiring board 17%
  • Integrated circuits 9%
  • Hard disk drive 71%
  • Electronics (other) 3%
  • Packaging 0%
  • Enclosure materials 0%
  • Assembly and test 0%

1 Some figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding of underlying data.

Cisco product carbon footprint results

We have completed multiple streamlined PCFs using the PAIA tool. Results of these PCFs can be found in the charts below. Regardless of methodology or tool, we continue to see a trend related to our products where the use phase is between 75 percent and 95 percent of the PCF, depending on the product type. Transport and end-of-life continue to minimally contribute to our PCF compared to the use and manufacturing phases.

Desktop switch
  • Use 77.1%
  • Manufacturing 17.6%
  • Transport 5.1%
  • End-of-life 0.2%
1 or 2RU switch
  • Use 81.2%
  • Manufacturing 16.8%
  • Transport 1.9%
  • End-of-life 0.1%
>2RU switch1
  • Use 94.4%
  • Manufacturing 4.9%
  • Transport 0.6%
  • End-of-life 0.0%
1 RU rack server
  • Use 79.9%
  • Manufacturing 11.2%
  • Transport 8.5%
  • End-of-life 0.4%
2 RU rack server
  • Use 79.0%
  • Manufacturing 17.6%
  • Transport 3.2%
  • End-of-life 0.2%
Line Card
  • Use 80.5%
  • Manufacturing 18.3%
  • Transport 1.1%
  • End-of-life 0.1%

1 Some figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding of underlying data. These estimates were generated using the PAIA model, Version 1.3.0, copyright by the ICT Benchmarking collaboration including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Materials Systems Laboratory and partners.

Plans for fiscal 2024

In alignment with the trend across the industry, we are working on increasing the number of LCAs completed for our products, following a timeline that reflects Cisco’s vast product portfolio.

In fiscal 2024, we continue to focus our efforts on LCAs by building out a scalable model to conduct LCA studies on additional products. We expect this model to allow us to evaluate products over multiple environmental impact categories, including GWP, nonrenewable primary energy demand, blue water consumption, and abiotic resource depletion potential for elements. And, we intend to use the results to provide more granular environmental impact data to our stakeholders and to better understand opportunities for improvements in product design.

We are also participating in multiple working groups to provide input on the PAIA methodology and tool used to perform PCFs. Details on the tool can be found in the product carbon footprints section above, and details on the PAIA consortium can be found with information on other environmental initiatives and organizations in which Cisco participates.


Ecolabels are markings that are applied to products to support an environmental claim. ISO 14020 classifies Ecolabels as either Type I, Type II, or Type III, which can be defined as the following:

  • Type I: Employs a third-party certification process to verify product or service compliance with a pre-selected set of criteria
  • Type II: Self-declared based on standards, that may cover one or many environmental claims
  • Type III: Self-declared to a set of predetermined categories of parameters based on ISO 14040

When applicable, Cisco’s products are evaluated against the following Type I ecolabels: ENERGY STAR®, Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) and 80 PLUS. ENERGY STAR looks at the energy efficiency of the product, while EPEAT evaluates a larger set of environmental and social criteria related to each product, such as:

  • Reduction of chemicals of concern
  • Climate change mitigation
  • Corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance

Cisco currently has products certified to the ENERGY STAR standard under the Enterprise Server and Telephones category. Cisco also has EPEAT-registered products under the Servers category listed in EPEAT´s online Registry.

80 PLUS is a Type I ecolabel and performance specification for internal specification for AC front end power supply units that offers six levels of certification, from Standard to Titanium. The program looks at power supply energy efficiency and requires a specific performance specification for each category, including 115V Internal desktop, 230V EU Internal desktop, 115V Industrial, 230V Internal AC, and 380V Internal DC data center power supplies. Cisco has PSUs certified to 80 PLUS when applicable, listed on CLEAResults's online database.


In a perfectly circular economy, there is no such thing as waste. But the current reality is that many packaging materials become waste after first use. We are working to remove unnecessary packaging and make what remains reusable and/or easy to recycle. Protection of products is the first priority for packaging, as repairing or replacing products that are damaged in transit creates additional negative business and environmental impacts. Some of the primary guidelines we follow when developing our packaging are:

  • Packaging material optimization: Design packaging that adequately protects the product from transport damage or waste while optimizing the volume of material.
  • Space efficiency optimization: Design packaging that optimizes space/cube efficiency during transport.
  • Multipack evaluation: Design a multipack solution when appropriate for high-volume products to reduce the total amount of packaging material.
  • Sustainable materials: Design packaging with recycled content and for recyclability.

Beyond basic packaging and material requirements, Cisco evaluates additional aspects of environmental packaging design. For Cisco legacy products, including those produced by our acquired companies, we are working to incorporate packaging best practices. The tables below capture our priorities and how Cisco has made progress in implementing them:

Reduce packaging materials
Material type Description of effort Project examples
Material type: Foam Description of effort: Remove foam from packaging where possible. Project examples:
  • Consolidation of NIM module spare shipment packaging into a single foam-free design using corrugated cushion instead. This avoided the use of foam by 11,645 pounds in FY23.
  • Reduction of foam use and replacement with corrugate for uplink ports in optical modules on the Catalyst 9000 Network Module/Switch Series. This avoided the use of foam by 31,409 pounds in FY23.
  • Removed foam cushions from Cisco Catalyst 9300LM Series Mini Switches. This avoided the use of foam by 1159 pounds in FY23.
Material type: Plastic bags Description of effort: Remove plastic bags from packaging where possible. Project examples:
  • Efforts underway to use fiber-based paper envelopes and corrugated cartons that are recyclable instead of plastic bags in accessory kits.
  • Meraki products are shipped in paper-based packaging made of 70 percent recycled content.
  • Power cords in certain product lines are labeled with scannable wraps instead of plastic bags.
Material type: Corrugate Description of effort: Remove corrugate from packaging where possible. Project examples:
  • Elimination of accessory tray insert from use of standard packaging design in Catalyst IE3200/IE3300/IE3400 Rugged Series Modular Switches. This avoided the use of corrugate by 2140 pounds FY23.
  • Elimination of carton use by shipping the rail kit in the main package for the Cisco Nexus Switch N9K. This avoided 24,165 pounds of corrugate in FY23.
Adopt circular packaging materials
Material type Description of effort Project examples
Material type: Recycled plastic thermoform cushions Description of effort: Use thermoform cushions made of recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) instead of foam. Project examples:
  • Use of HDPE thermoform cushion in Catalyst 9300 Series Switches to replace 0.46 pounds of polystyrene foam per unit. Packaging redesign applied across C9300 product portfolio. This avoided the use of foam by 335,922 pounds in FY23.
  • Use of recycled HDPE thermoform cushions in NCS 540 Medium Density Router packaging to remove 1.4 pounds of foam per unit and reduce the overall carton size. This avoided the use of foam by 37,695 pounds in FY23.
Material type: Fiber-flute Description of effort: Use fiber-flute made from 100 percent recycled content instead of foam cushioning Project examples:
  • Recyclable fiber-flute material used instead of foam cushioning in Catalyst IR8140 Heavy Duty Router. This avoided the use of foam by 658 pounds in FY23.
Material type: Molded pulp Description of effort: Use recyclable, fiber-based cushions instead of foam Project examples:
  • Removed polystyrene foam cushions in Cisco Catalyst 9200CX Series Compact Switches and replaced with molded pulp cushions. This reduced the use of foam by 13,030 pounds in FY23.

Packaging materials

Generally, our packaging uses corrugate that includes a minimum of 25 percent recycled content. Most of our packaging for new products is made either of a single material or of multiple materials that are separable for recycling.

In our global market, customer, municipal, and regional recycling practices vary greatly. Customers’ ability to recycle our packaging depends on the recycling facilities in place in their location. The plastic used in Cisco packaging falls into categories identified by Resin Identification Codes 1 to 7. Polyethylene (codes 2 and 4) is the predominant material. Some plastic components carry labels indicating their plastic recycling code number to support end-of-life recycling.

We strive to use recyclable packaging. However, sometimes there are limited options for alternative, sustainable materials. For example, although metallized antistatic bags are not easily recycled, they are essential to the safe transport of products susceptible to damage from electrostatic discharge. We size bags to best fit the product being shipped and minimize the amount of material we use. Our contract manufacturers also reuse antistatic bags.

Product protection remains our highest priority, as damaged shipments result in materials waste and additional emissions impact. Foams and expanded polymers are the common materials used for protective packaging because of their strong cushioning ability; however, these materials are not widely acceptable in scaled recycling facilities.

Foam reduction

Cisco has set a goal to reduce foam used in Cisco product packaging by 75 percent, as measured by weight, by the end of fiscal 2025, using fiscal 2019 as the base year. From fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2022, we measured Cisco’s foam consumption using data reported by our packaging suppliers at an aggregate material level.

In fiscal 2023 we improved our data collection to allow visibility at the packaging part level. This more granular data allowed us to better identify opportunities for foam reduction and update our calculation methodology to more accurately measure foam use and progress toward our goal.

As part of these calculation changes, we updated our fiscal 2019 baseline. Cisco’s Catalyst 9300 Series Switches contributed to the largest foam reduction in fiscal 2023, eliminating 152 metric tonnes of foam packaging by replacing it with thermoformed cushions made from recycled HDPE content.

While we are making progress toward our fiscal 2025 goal, we face several challenges that may require extending our goal timeline. Our foam reduction goal is measured in absolute foam reduction by weight. This could mean a higher volume of products shipped and/or a change in the type of products shipped would contribute to an increase in foam use. To address these challenges, our strategy targets foam-free packaging redesigns for products with the highest foam use per unit and highest ship volumes.

As a replacement for foam used in cushioning, we use thermoformed cushions made from recycled HDPE. By incorporating recycled content into our packaging, we conserve valuable resources and reduce GHG emissions compared to manufacturing with virgin materials. Choosing recycled materials also supports recycling infrastructure by reinforcing the demand for recycled materials. Another benefit of our thermoform cushions is that they can be shipped in a nested stack, unlike foam cushions, which are bulky and irregularly shaped. This allows for increased efficiency in palletization during transport.

Product packaging end-of-life

Cisco product packaging is designed to be separable and recyclable so it can be absorbed by local packaging material recycling programs. Cisco does not collect used packaging, as shipping empty product packaging to Cisco for recycling would create unnecessary environmental impacts. However, we are exploring reusable packaging options for specific scenarios. One example is to employ reusable packaging for customers near our distribution sites. This would allow packaging to move between two locations for reuse, while minimizing the environmental impact of shipping empty material.

Packaging efficiency

Designing for packaging efficiency reduces material use and shrinks the overall carton size, while simultaneously achieving an appropriate level of product protection. A more efficient package avoids packaging waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport. Packaging efficiency is measured by comparing actual weight to dimensional weight. Dimensional weight is an industry-standard calculation applied to determine the amount of space used by a carton or container. It is calculated by multiplying the length, width, and height of the carton and dividing by a dimensional factor. Reducing the gap between dimensional weight and actual weight indicates a reduction in excess space in the package. Cisco measures progress toward packaging efficiency achieved in packaging redesigns.

Here are a few examples of packaging redesigns that led to improved packaging efficiency in fiscal 2023:

  • Cisco’s IoT business unit offers a multipack option for Catalyst IR1101 Rugged Series Router customers with large orders, which reduced our corrugate cardboard use by approximately 14,915 pounds in fiscal 2023.
  • A ten-pack (multipack) option for the Catalyst 9100 Series Access Points is available to customers with large orders, providing an estimated material waste reduction of 370,188 pounds in fiscal 2023.

In fiscal 2023, the packaging efficiency calculation was refined. We reached 65 percent cumulative improvement, surpassing Cisco’s fiscal 2025 packaging efficiency goal of 50 percent. We continue to monitor and report progress.

Packaging innovation through collaboration

Only 9 percent of the world’s plastic is recycled today. Cisco continues to explore alternatives to plastic-based stretch wrap to stabilize and protect palletized products in transit. In fiscal 2019, we piloted reusable pallet wraps in our operations and continued to use reusable wraps through fiscal 2023. This effort allowed us to avoid the use of 232,825 pounds of plastic wrap over five years, which is equivalent to over 18 million plastic shopping bags. We built on this pilot in fiscal 2021 by joining with Microsoft and nine other companies for an Ellen MacArthur Foundation network project that explored three different pathways to eliminate single-use stretch wrap.

Cisco packaging engineers also work closely with our upstream supply chain partners to develop packaging that can be reused throughout the manufacturing process. This practice helps avoid packaging waste from reboxing between supply chain partners. For example, the Cisco Catalyst IR8340 Rugged Router packaging was redesigned in fiscal 2022, allowing inbound packaging to be reused at the direct fulfillment step and cutting 1.78 pounds of corrugate packaging waste per unit. In fiscal 2023, this resulted in 493 pounds of corrugate material savings.

Some items, like external power supplies and main units, require a higher level of protection during shipment, and we work on addressing this as we continue to engage our distributors on new solutions and advance toward our goals. We are also working to improve the data integrity of packaging material composition in order to better quantify our use of recycled materials and to support external stakeholder expectations.

Cisco's circular design focus areas

Material use: Incorporate recycled content into our products, reduce the use of nonrenewable materials, and consider resource scarcity risks as part of material selection.

Standardization and modularization: Standardize and modularize components and enclosures to simplify our supply chain and enable reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling.

Packaging and accessories: Use recycled and renewable packaging materials, reduce foam and plastic use, move toward fiber-based designs, eliminate unused accessories, and increase packaging efficiency.

Smart energy consumption: Improve product energy efficiency through activity-based power and power management features.

Disassembly, repair, and reuse: Design products with easily separable components that use similar materials to facilitate reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling.

Full lifecycle climate change potential for production and use in different scenarios of Webex Desk Pro

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