People Behind CSR at Cisco: How Water Stewardship in Our Supply Chain Leads to a More Inclusive Future for All
By Stacey Faucett
Water is one of Earth’s most precious natural resources. Although about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, only 3 percent of it is fresh water, and less than 1 percent of fresh water is available to humans for consumption. Around 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year, and that could increase as much as 40 percent by 2050.
Many people are surprised to learn that some IT suppliers use large amounts of water in their supply chains. Cisco takes its water stewardship seriously. During fiscal 2021, we worked to advance water stewardship within key river basins where our supply chain operates. Through a partnership with the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), we collaborated with industry peers to raise awareness of water impacts within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and drive opportunities through collective actions.
That’s where Cisco’s Supply Chain Sustainability team comes in. Through various activities, they work to enable suppliers to use natural resources efficiently, reduce pollution, and improve climate resilience. Interested in learning more about the team? Meet Supply Chain Social and Environmental Responsibility Manager, Toddy Tu. When Toddy was a child, he observed first-hand the impact of water pollution on the river he would fish in. I recently sat down with Toddy to learn more about his career journey and his involvement with Cisco’s water stewardship efforts in our supply chain.
Can you tell me a bit about your life before joining Cisco?
Toddy: While studying political science as an undergraduate student, I became interested in sustainability and social equality. In my fourth year at university, I had an internship with Walmart’s Responsible Sourcing department and became a full-time employee after graduation. During my nine years with Walmart, I visited many supplier sites in greater China and assessed their social and environmental performance based on regulations, laws, and code of conduct requirements.
At the same time, I was also able to see the development of workers’ quality of life and an improvement of the environmental situation in mainland China, which encouraged me to continue my career in the sustainability industry.
What brought you to Cisco, and what do you enjoy most about your job?
Toddy: I had a roommate at university who had interned at Cisco. He shared how he enjoyed working at Cisco and that Cisco is changing the world through technology. It became one of my dreams to work at Cisco; however, I was not a suitable candidate right after graduation.
I never thought that my dream would come true. In 2015, I found out that Cisco was hiring a sustainability manager in its Shenzhen office. My experience at Walmart in responsible sourcing made me a great candidate, and it also fit perfectly with my career development path.
Working on Cisco’s Supply Chain Sustainability team, I feel like I found the right place and platform to do what I love to do: to protect vulnerable groups, communities, and ecosystems. I am also proud to contribute my expertise in environmental management to promote water stewardship and protect the living environment and ecosystems where we build Cisco products.
Why is it important for Cisco to pay attention to and take action on water preservation and scarcity?
Toddy: No other natural resource is as critical to life as water. Climate change is speeding up the global water crisis. Everyone has a role to play, so does Cisco, and we cannot afford to wait.
Water shortage also impacts Cisco in specific ways, especially our supply chain resilience. One example is the global chip shortage, which was caused in part by a water shortage in Taiwan in 2021.
As some may know, Taiwan is the global chip making center, and water is in high demand for their operations since it is fundamental for the manufacturing of chips. The impact is still felt now as the global electronics supply chain faces material shortages.
Overall, water scarcity and pollution pose significant risks to both businesses and communities. Reducing water consumption and wastewater discharges in supply chains not only mitigates risks but also protects limited resources, protects our ecosystems, and benefits people and the planet.
Cisco’s commitment to water stewardship ties in with our mission to power an Inclusive Future for All.
Cisco conducted a water survey of our suppliers in 2020. Can you share how the results of the survey led to you working with a supplier in China to reduce their water use?
Toddy: In 2020, we sent out a water survey questionnaire to supplier sites across different commodity types, with the intention of understanding general water usage and discharge information.
The survey results led us to engage with printed circuit board (PCB) supplier facilities based in the high-water-stressed Taihu water basin in China. With the help of local environmental consultants, we identified water savings opportunities at a PCB supplier in nearby Suzhou. During the next year, the supplier completed two large water savings projects with our guidance.
One of the projects was installing automatic water feeding systems on copper plating lines. The rinse process uses water only while parts are being washed rather than running continuously. This upgrade allowed the supplier to save approximately 51,000 liters of fresh water per day — enough to meet the needs of a family of four for about six weeks.
Can you share Cisco’s approach to water stewardship in our supply chain?
Toddy: Cisco’s supply chain is all over the world. We try to focus our limited resources on the areas with the highest or most concentrated water risk. We screened our supplier sites based on the water intensity of their manufacturing processes, water risk in their region, and the suppliers’ business relationship with Cisco. We then engaged prioritized supplier sites to strengthen their water stewardship performance. One way is by improving their water reporting and target setting performance through the CDP platform, the other is to advance their progress to the AWS (Alliance for Water Stewardship) standard. We focus the AWS work on those high-water-consuming sites located in high water stressed basins or Cisco site clustering basins.
We seek to reduce risk and consumption in our supply chain and increase supply chain resilience. At the same time, we also promote healthier basins across Cisco‘s manufacturing footprint, which benefits both the people in and around our supply chain sites.
How does building suppliers’ capabilities to conserve water lead to a more inclusive future for all?
Toddy: An inclusive future cannot be met without enough water. Water — including sanitation — is critical for socio-economic development, food security, and healthy ecosystems and is vital for reducing the global burden of disease and improving health, welfare, and productivity. From this point of view, this falls under the United Nations SDG Goal 6 — “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” Better water management also fosters gender equality and social inclusion and supports the creation and maintenance of jobs across all sectors of the economy.
Building suppliers’ capabilities to conserve water is also a way to mitigate the impact of climate change. Building suppliers’ capabilities to conserve water is crucial to protecting the basins and ecosystems in Cisco’s supply chain footprint. This is an important aspect of ensuring Cisco has a positive impact on the environment, thus leading to an inclusive future for all.
If you’re interested in learning more about Cisco’s commitment to building sustainable supply chains, you can visit our Supply Chain Sustainability website.
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