Cisco points partners at profitable sustainability efforts

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins at Partner Summit 2023

Solution providers have a unique opportunity to help their customers address the sustainability concerns of their customers and to do so in a way where cost savings lead the charge.

That was a consistent and strong message from Cisco at its Partner Summit 2023 last week, urging partners to help customers do the right thing and do it for sustainable reasons from a business point of view.

The push kicked off with CEO Chuck Robbins’ keynote, in which he told partners that “it’s becoming very clear that every customer has some type of sustainability opportunity,” illustrated by his conversations with chief executives across many industries. 

One common path to success is identifying where upgrades to networks and other equipment can drive savings on energy expenditure, often offsetting the cost of financing the capital investment necessary, Robbins said.

“The cost savings can be incredible, and with energy costs up, there’s a lot of opportunity here,” he said.

Given that opportunity, the company announced the debut of a new Sustainability Estimator tool within its Partner Experience Platform partner portal. The tool can show a partner what their customers stand to save by moving from end-of-life gear to a new network, said Katherine Hannah, global sustainability lead for global partner and route to market sales at Cisco.

She stressed the tool is in “phase one, version one” and will be updated in the future with the addition of an API to allow partners to add insights from the tool into their dashboards.

Hannah said membership in its two-year-old Environmental Sustainability Specialization has doubled over the last seven months, with 800 partners worldwide, underscoring a broader interest in sustainability across the channel. 

“It’s the gateway into a partner building a sustainability practice,” she said. “This time next year, it will have matured and evolved and have more capability there.”

Katherine Hannah, global sustainability lead for global partner and route to market sales at Cisco.

For partners new to building solutions with sustainability in mind, the company has added a sustainability practice builder to its Partner Journeys tool that helps partners step through new opportunities.

Hannah said the tools give a “101-level” education on the Cisco sustainability story, teach partners about the specialization and its takeback program, and aim to inform partners about the business benefits of selling on sustainability and why partners should care about it.

One big driver Cisco sees on the horizon is that making the sustainability of an offering front and center is becoming a crucial part of bidding on business, Hannah said. Currently, the company is seeing sustainability being weighted at up to 30 percent of the decision-making by many customers in EMEA, and that’s a trend she said is likely to become pervasive worldwide.

“We need to help them have the right verbiage to help them win the business by being sustainable,” she said.

As well as debuting the new tools, Hannah said her team is focusing on simplifying partner access to the many sustainability-focused programs, assets and tools Cisco has available.

“It’s important to join up all of these amazing resources and initiatives we have rather than them existing in isolation,” she said. “We ask our partners to do a heck of a lot, and we need to make sure they can easily access a lot of the resources we have available across the company.”

Bob Bailkoski, CEO of Cisco partner Logicalis, stressed that companies can only make a meaningful change in sustainability by working together, saying that his organization is committed to helping “vendors, partners, customers and competitors in their de-carbonization efforts.”

Bob Bailkoski, CEO of Logicalis

“There are no competitors when it comes to de-carbonization,” Bailkoski said in a discussion with press and analysts.

The UK-based solution provider has invested significantly in solutions built around sustainability or with sustainability in mind, Bailkoski said. As well as being the right thing to do, it’s made this move because “it’s a huge priority” for the CEOs of customer companies, and those executives aren’t sure what to do but are incentivized to figure it out. It’s making sustainability bona fides table stakes.

“They’ll only work with organizations that are credible in this space,” Bailkoski said.

Echoing Cisco’s message on pitching sustainability as a cost-reduction effort, Bailkoski said Logicalis focuses on “a very clear link between sustainability and energy consumption savings,” highlighting a smart building managed service that helped an energy company client reduce the carbon output of their offices by 50 percent.

Such managed services represent a significant opportunity with many different types of customers, but making sustainability part of a solution offering can start as simple as offering to re-home old equipment being replaced. Cisco highlights its Refresh program, a 21-year-old promise to take back 100 percent of Cisco gear no longer wanted for resale, reuse, or recycling. 

Hannah said the program represents a “billion-dollar pipeline” for Cisco and its partners. And while most of the attention is on helping customers get rid of end-of-life equipment as sustainably as possible, she said there are also opportunities for partners to help customers optimize their spending between new gear and appropriate older equipment.

“We’re seeing more partners blending refresh with new,” she said.

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997.