People Behind CSR at Cisco: Why an Inclusive Future Needs Environmental Sustainability
We have created a new blog series that will focus on the people behind Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cisco. Each blog in this series will highlight a different Cisco employee who works closely with CSR initiatives across the company.
Cisco is working not only for a more inclusive future but a more environmentally sustainable one as well. Environmental issues like climate change, pollution, and waste can disproportionately affect disadvantaged socio-economic groups and future generations, so we must address them if we hope to create a more inclusive world.
Based out of India, Vijayakumar (Vijay) Ettiyagounder is an Energy and Sustainability Manager in the Asia-Pacific Japan and China (APJC) region at Cisco under the Workplace Resources Group (WPR).
Here are a few things you should know about Vijay:
Vijay was an electrical engineer who pivoted to sustainability.
Vijay’s initial interest in the environment started during his childhood. “I am from a farming background,” he shared. “Whatever we were using was from nature. It came from the field, and we were using it and giving it back to the field, so it was all balancing out. If you come from the farming community, you see first-hand how you are taking and giving back to the environment.”
At university, Vijay studied electrical engineering, and afterward worked as an electrical engineer at a paper manufacturing plant. All the used newspapers collected from the city went to that facility to be remade into other paper products.
Seeing how the plant reused already available materials instead of sourcing new paper piqued Vijay’s interested in sustainability. He got an MBA in energy and finance and took a role as an energy and sustainability consultant with a UK-based energy consulting firm before joining Cisco in 2019.
As part of the WPR sustainability team, he is responsible for environmental initiatives across Cisco’s real estate portfolio in Asia, and particularly our operations in India. This team focuses on managing and reducing Cisco’s energy, water, and waste footprint, providing sustainable workplaces, and engaging both internally and externally to amplify Cisco’s impacts. Cisco’s sustainability and CSR efforts have won a number of awards, including the fourth top spot on “World’s Most Sustainable Corporations” on Corporate Knight’s 2020 Global Index, the #7 spot on Barron’s “100 Most Sustainable Companies in 2020,” and Cisco’s 2019 Golden Peacock Global Award for Sustainability (pictured above).
Vijay is helping Cisco find ways to preserve fresh water.
India has only four percent of the world’s freshwater resources, but over 16 percent of the world’s population. Rivers and reservoirs in India dry up during the warm summer months, right before the monsoon season, putting additional strain on this limited resource. In recent years, the water crisis has worsened due to climate change. According to a report by the National Institution for Transforming India, at least 21 major Indian cities, including the capital, New Delhi, could completely run out of groundwater as soon as 2020. Fortunately, average rainfall was much better last year than previous years, providing some relief for these cities. “Water scarcity is one of the major impacts of climate change we see in India. Rainfall is unpredictable and we are seeing an increase in floods, landslides, and other devastating incidents,” Vijay shared. “There is a growing awareness in India of the negative impact of climate change on people and the planet.”
Cisco’s Bangalore campus is a zero-discharge water facility, meaning that no water used on campus is discharged to the environment. To achieve zero discharge, the campus facilities team implemented a comprehensive water management system that includes a rainwater harvesting system, an evaporative cooling system, reverse osmosis plants, and two sewage treatment plants. These systems work together to reduce the amount of water that needs to be trucked in (the main way Cisco purchases water for the campus) and allows us to treat and reuse water onsite in our cooling towers and for gardening. Last year, Vijay led an innovative project to upgrade our campus sewage treatment plant with the latest in water treatment technology, now providing higher-quality recycled water in a shorter time while wasting less water. Vijay shares, “Treated water produced from traditional methods of sewage treatment are unsuitable to be released back to nature. The FPSTAR® technology we are using in our sewer treatment plants is cleaner and faster, allowing us to recover and reuse more water for the campus.”
Vijay works on the team that helps Cisco reach major sustainability goals.
Vijay and his team are working on some high priority renewable energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals for Cisco. With a little less than a year and a half left, the team is hard at work completing energy efficiency projects and sourcing renewable energy to meet these goals by the end of FY 2022.
A few of Vijay’s favorite projects over the years have been upgrading the lighting at our offices in Bangalore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, to brighter, more efficient LEDs; installing solar panels on the rooftops of our buildings in Bangalore and Pune, and negotiating two solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) in Karnataka that reduce our GHG emissions in India by 70,000 metric tonnes per year. Vijay and the team took a road trip to visit both solar farms in April 2018. “It was good bonding time between my colleagues and I,” Vijay said. “I had never met my American coworkers in person before, even though we had worked together for many years. They are welcome to come back to visit anytime!”
The team’s efforts are paying off. Over the last five years, we’ve increased the proportion of renewable energy we use in India from two percent to 60 percent. That’s significant, considering 75 percent of the power in India is generated from carbon-intensive coal-fired power plants.
Vijay emphasizes that environmental sustainability = an inclusive future for all.
Vijay wants everyone to know how sustainability is intrinsically linked to Cisco’s broader Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts. “Conserving resources for the next generation is an essential part of creating a better future for all. Upgrading our water treatment systems and reusing the water in our buildings reduces the amount of water Cisco needs to operate, a big priority in water-stressed locations like Bangalore. Renewable energy projects, like our solar PPAs in Karnataka, create local jobs, reduce air pollution, and add clean, renewable power to the Indian electric grid. Onsite programs like composting food waste and reducing plastic waste help employees take part and feel connected to our overall sustainability and CSR initiatives. Our work helps create a more inclusive future, because building an Inclusive Future starts with a livable planet.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Cisco’s environmental sustainability efforts, please visit our Environmental Sustainability webpage.