Cisco focuses on five areas of sustainability in its corporate reporting -- employees, environment, social, value chain and governance. But it dedicated roughly half of its latest CSR report to just one plank: the environment.
That's because Cisco is grappling with sustainability survey fatigue, a condition many GreenBiz readers know all too well.
"We're averaging about one inquiry a day," said Darrel Stickler, who works in Cisco's Sustainable Business Practices group. "In terms of major surveys, (it's) two to three a week."
So the company shifted gears with its 2011 CSR report, which was released yesterday, by lifting the veil on a slew of environmental performance indicators in which it believes its stakeholders are interested.
"We were having a scalability problem because all the surveys are different," Stickler told me. "Even with something like carbon, you would think people would just say, 'Send us your Carbon Disclosure Project survey,' which we'd be happy to do, but they don't. They re-write the questions, they change them slightly, so we struggled with how to handle this because you can't just keep adding people. That's not a productive process."
Stickler and his team took the questions of the top 20 to 24 major surveys it receives and "threw them into various buckets" that were then sent to Cisco's business units. They were asked to "look at it and figure out how you could turn that into an organized writeup that would satisfy most of what these people want to know." Some "buckets" contained as many as 60 questions.
Among the additions:
• Discussion of onsite PV solar arrays at two Cisco data centers
• Electricity emissions factor comparison in response to stakeholder request (many companies build facilities in regions with high EFs, largely due to local use of coal-fired electricity)
• A more detailed examination of life cycle emissions that had been included in its CDP disclosure but not in the CSR report
• Due diligence on biodiversity and land use
• More discussion of the GRI waste category, including controlled substances, product end of life, product packaging end of life and trash from operations
Cisco also organized the report to more closely hue to the GRI guidelines, so instead of just inserting a GRI table somewhere, the outline and content follows the GRI topics more closely, such as materials, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, water use, biodiversity and land use, and so on.
Here are some highlights:
• Cisco is on track to meet its Climate Leaders goal of reducing absolute Scope 1, 2 and business travel emissions by 25 percent below 2007 levels by 2012. Scope 1 and 2 emissions were 4 percent below 2007 levels last year, but business travel emissions are 38 percent below the 2007 baseline, thanks to the company's use of videoconferencing and Telepresence technologies.
• 100 percent of the contract manufacturers it counts as first tier partners report to the Carbon Disclosure Project, in addition to half of its logistics suppliers (tier two) and 69 percent of AVL component suppliers (tier two).
• Amount of operational waste generated was down, while amount recycled was about flat. Water and energy use up.
One nice side effect of the new report format involves setting an example for its suppliers, which are being asked to disclose the same types of information. Putting more detail in the report also encourages individual business units to take "ownership" of the data, Stickler said.
"Just mentally, as they go through their life throughout the year, they're going to understand that they're going to responsible for updating and populating that section of the report," he said.
Ultimately, Stickler said, he views the report as a Cisco product.
"And if you consider this a product, how can we find out what your customers want?" he said. "Well, look at the surveys of what they ask us. They're telling us what they want to know. That's what we did."