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April 14, 2022 |

Cisco Introduces Environmental Sustainability Specialization

The new program provides tools and financial rewards aimed at motivating channel pros to reduce electronic waste—and make money in the process—by returning used hardware for refurbishment and recycling.

Cisco has introduced a specialization aimed at helping partners reduce electronic waste—and make money in the process—by returning used hardware for refurbishment and recycling.

The new Environmental Sustainability Specialization is designed to provide all the tools and financial rewards channel pros need to participate in Cisco’s Takeback and Reuse program, which is in turn part of a larger campaign to replace a “linear” IT economy in which outdated technology gets thrown away with a “circular” one that turns used gear into new products.

“We wanted to try to make the idea of bringing equipment back to Cisco as easy as taking your recycling to the end of the driveway,” said Andrew Sage, the company’s vice president of global distribution, in a conversation with ChannelPro at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

To earn the new specialization, partners must complete a brief training program that teaches them how the Takeback and Reuse process works and how to explain the program and its benefits to their customers. That’s an intentionally low bar to clear, Sage notes.

“Some of our specializations are very deep and complex,” he says. “This is relatively easy. It’s about 15 hours of work, and we want to get thousands of partners into this program around the world.”

To retain their status once they’ve earned it, partners must complete at least one deal that includes exchanged hardware a year. In return, they’re eligible for Cisco’s “takeback incentive,” which grants them up to seven points of incremental discount on replacement products for returned devices. The idea is to give partners and their clients a tangible reason to swap old products for newer, more powerful ones.

“Partners make more money, and they also have an opportunity to provide a better price to the customer,” Sage says.

As an added incentive to enroll in the program, Cisco will plant a tree for everyone who earns the new specialization. 

To participate in the program, environmental sustainability specialists must specify details about devices they’ll be sending back when registering deals. Using a mobile app, web app, or dedicated phone number, they then schedule a retrieval pickup that Cisco performs at no cost. Cisco then refurbishes the hardware, updates the software, attaches a fresh warranty, and resells it through its Cisco Refresh program.

“That gives it a second life,” Sage says. “If it’s had a good life already and lived a long time, then we make sure that it’s sustainably recycled.”

To receive the takeback incentive discount, partners must return at least 80% of what they said they would when registering the deal.

Products from vendors other than Cisco are eligible for takeback, Sage notes with a chuckle. “We’re more than happy to take back someone else’s stuff.”

In addition to augmenting the profitability of hardware sales, incorporating product returns in proposals allows channel pros to compete for deals they might otherwise be ineligible for. 

“A lot of customers really care about this right now,” Sage says. “In fact, a lot of RFPs are specifying that the vendor or whoever wins the RFP take back the equipment that’s already installed.”

Many IT industry leaders have embraced environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives in recent years. TD SYNNEX announced its new ESG program last month, for example, while Intel declared a commitment today to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its global operations by 2040.

Cisco, for its part, pledged to reach net zero emissions on everything it makes and ships by 2040, and to eliminate emissions from its day-to-day operations by 2025 as well, last September.

“Super aggressive goals that the company’s really focused on,” Sage says. “We want our partners into this as well.”

Sage’s duties expanded significantly last week when he assumed responsibility for Cisco’s SMB sales organization in connection with a larger drive to boost revenue in that market.

“SMB has been incredibly successful for us,” Sage says. “It’s not the biggest customer segment in Cisco. It’s roughly 15% of our total business, but it’s a much bigger percentage of our total growth than that.” Sales through the company’s SMB-focused Meraki unit, for example, grew 75% in the first half of the fiscal year that began last August, he notes.

Sage’s plans for expanding results like that are still in flux. “We don’t want to be too specific until we’ve heard from all of our stakeholders,” he says, “but in the next 90 days or so we’re going to be talking a lot more about specifics.”

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