Cisco is turning the climate crisis into an opportunity. As the reigning champ of our Cool IT Leaderboard, the company has shown that investing in innovative product solutions not only has business potential, but can help to slow emissions and thus address climate change. 

Cisco’s commitment to building and calculating the real-word potential of its solutions to create both energy and cost savings in other sectors is perhaps best exhibited by the company’s own experience using them. Cisco’s remote collaboration and virtual office tools have dramatically cut travel at the company and perhaps also foreshadow the work habits of a low-carbon future. But for these projections to reach the scale necessary to make a dent in global emissions, Cisco must push for regulatory and policy frameworks that hasten the pace of development.

It has taken a while for IT companies to acknowledge their role in solving the climate crisis. Cisco is certainly a leader, but like most, it is compensating for a late start to its political engagement on climate. The company needs to stay in the game, push aggressively to promote IT solutions, and crystallize its policy asks, not only in preparation for the next COP, but in key national and regional policy debates throughout the year.  

I spoke with Monique Meche, Director of Global Environmental Policy at Cisco, about her goals here in Cancun and in the months to come:

Jodie Van Horn:  Why are you at the climate negotiations in Cancun?

Monique Meche:  We were technology sponsors last year and this year we’re meeting with policy makers to talk about ICT and stress the benefits that the ICT sector can bring in reducing overall carbon emissions.

The ICT industry was never that involved in the negotiations until last year in Copenhagen. Sometimes delegates mistook us for the help desk, but we were actually there to show how ICT can enable energy efficiency and savings. This year we are much more present.  Cisco has several announcements going on, including the Planetary Skin initiative ( We are also working with governments through the World Economic Forum to show that business is supportive of a global deal and reducing emissions. That’s why were here.

JVH:  What does the IT sector need to do to have its solutions better understood and be looked to by governments as an essential part of the policy making process?

MM:  We need to be very concrete about what we’re offering, the solutions that are available today, and their benefits to businesses and organizations. Cisco is using many of the technology solutions available today its own business — Webex, Cisco Telepresence and virtual office solutions— we’re using them to reduce our own company emissions and achieve a goal of 25% absolute reduction by 2012 (2007 baseline).

Our business savings have enabled efficiency, productivity and employee satisfaction. We’ve transformed the way we work and we’re transforming other organizations as well.

We need to show [policy makers] how simple it is to use remote working solutions. We could save so much more even in these negotiations. About ninety-five Telepresence sessions are equal to the carbon emissions of a single trip from SF to Tokyo. We need to simplify the message and demonstrate which technologies are available today, how they are reducing our own emissions, and ask governments to try these technologies in their own operations and to promote the use of these technologies to reduce carbon emissions. The UN has used Cisco Telepresence in the lead up to the negotiations. It is installed in several different UN offices, and we have offered our Cisco offices to enable officials to use it for the negotiations.

It has to make business sense as well. For Cisco, using these solutions has resulted in significant business savings and made us much more productive, innovative and efficient.

JVH:  What activities are you doing while you’re here? Are you meeting directly with delegates?

MM: Yes, I’ve been spending time with different delegates from developed and developing countries, and I’ve attended several workshops with the World Economic Forum. It’s encouraging to see ICT in the text for the first time. This is positive and something we have supported as part of GeSI.  I think the mandate of the proposed Technical Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre, whose focus will be to advise and accelerate ICT and broadband adoption globally, remove barriers and stimulate public-private sector cooperation to reduce emissions, is still to be determined.  But we think the additional visibility is an accomplishment, and it’s why we’ve been so engaged with governments here.

The overall message is that ICT can and should be considered as part of GHG reduction and adaptation strategies and to show our support for a global agreement. For smart grid to be deployed, we need a regulatory framework with open interoperable standards that will break down the technology silos that exist in today’s electrical grid systems and to provide real-time, two-way communications. Cost recovery is probably the most significant regulatory barrier that governments must address for smart grid to be deployed. Utilities need to invest in smart grid assets and they need to recover the cost of those investments; however, often utilities make a profit on the amount of electricity they sell, not on the amount they save. So, governments need to make sure the utilities can recover the costs for their smart grid investment in a way that incentivizes utilities to improve their energy efficiency and generate fewer emissions, as well as in a way that incentivizes customers to use less electricity.

We support a reduction in global GHG emissions and hope that we can achieve a legally binding UN agreement soon.  We also support market mechanisms such as cap and trade accompanied by measures such as promotion of energy efficiency initiatives. We support policies that promote adoption of ICT as means of driving energy efficiency throughout more carbon-intensive sectors of the economy via smart grids, smart buildings, smart transportation and travel substitution.

We will continue to show that we have solutions to enable more efficiencies and lower overall emissions. We have calculators to show the savings. We have our own targets and we’re doing a lot of work to reduce our own emissions, showing what’s possible and the benefits of ICT solutions. We’re increasing the functionalities of all of our products, but lowering the power use. 

JVH: What do you see as the biggest hurdle to the adoption of IT solutions?

MM: The politics of reaching a global agreement and acknowledging the business opportunities. China, India and Europe are leading in terms of green tech investments, and I believe the US will become more active in terms of green tech investments. Many countries see green investment as an opportunity to grow their economies with green jobs and to recover from the recession. I think it’s a matter of time, continuous investment and evolving regulatory regimes for there to be incentives to invest.

JVH: The corporate lobby against this process is well funded and set on blocking progress. Is Cisco working with other clean tech partners to drive a bigger, united policy ask that can stand up against dirty energy interests?

MM: We had that discussion at the World Economic Forum gathering here that we need to form a positive lobby group across the ICT, renewables, consumer, energy and financial sectors. John Chambers is a Climate Change Ambassador to the World Economic Forum. We’ve involved with the ICT4EE group in Europe to come together to establish a standardized way of measuring and reporting our own emission reductions (which account for 2-3%)and how we can support the other 98%. In Europe the Commission comes to the meetings, so we have a leadership model where industry is working with policy makers and different industry partners on how we can reduce emissions in other sectors.  We report our own emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project and are supportive of their work.

JVH: Why isn’t Cisco doing more on advocacy in the U.S.?

MM: We have someone in Washington, who is active in different industry groups and focused at the moment on smart grid standards with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Grid Wise alliance. The U.S. environment is tough. We need to continue to raise awareness across industry sectors and in government, and hopefully you’ll see us becoming more engaged. We all have a lot of work to do in terms of raising awareness about climate change generally.

We are active in California, and had a strong message in opposition to Prop 23. We rarely take positions on ballot issues, but this was very important. John Chambers was very supportive. As an organization, this takes commitment from the top, and John Chambers is committed to our sustainability focus.  You’ll likely see more activity in the U.S. at the state level. The Climate Group has been very supportive of state and regional activity on this issue, and Cisco is an active member.

JVH: What is Cisco going to do in the coming year to drive stronger government leadership and enable the low carbon economy, getting solutions out there further?

MM: In the lead up to Durban, policy makers need to engage and work with supportive business, the ones that are asking for a global agreement to fulfill investment needs and create market predictability. The problem we’ve had is that policy makers have not really engaged with our industry, and the “positive lobby” has not been as vocal in the past but that is changing.

We will continue to be actively engaged and ask governments to start working immediately on reaching a deal in Durban. We should set high expectations of what we can achieve at COP17, and the policy leaders seem optimistic. We’ll continue involvement and activities around the world to ensure that ICT is considered as part of the solution, and we will be part of the positive lobby to support reaching a comprehensive global deal at COP 17.


Photo: Monique Meche with Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, Greenpeace International at Cool IT Leaderboard press conference in Cancun, Mexico.