Design Thinking Resources

Three Ways To Reduce The Environmental Impact Of Your Products

As the VP | GM of Cisco IoT, Vikas Butaney sets the business strategy and engineering solutions across the Cisco IoT networking portfolio.  

The move to sustainability continues to accelerate in post-pandemic recovery. From corporate boards raising expectations through consumers and businesses flexing their buying power, the world is demanding more responsibility and actions from organizations to combat climate change. One recent survey of 1,000 consumers even indicated that 37% of respondents are seeking out and willing to pay up to 5% more for environmentally friendly products. 51% of the same respondents said that it’s more important for companies to create more eco-friendly processes than government or local regulations.

Beyond these sound business reasons, there’s also the very personal imperative to take positive steps to address our sustainability challenges. I’ve challenged myself and my teams and here are three things we’ve done: 

1. Lower the environmental impact of products. 

Given the accelerated pace of technology adoption across the globe, it’s not surprising that the world’s power consumption is predicted to double by 2050. To help ensure we have a low environmental footprint, we start the design process with the goal of dramatically reducing power consumption. While that’s always a good idea, it’s particularly important in IoT as our devices typically have a long life of five or more years out in our customer’s operational environments. The lives of these devices include connecting manufacturing plant floors, increasing safety with automated roadside traffic controllers and balancing renewables coming into the utility grid. 

In one of our newest products, the design team impressively reduced the idle energy consumption by 45% and the full load consumption by 35%. Assuming that the products are in the field for five years, this adds up to a potential 10.8 gigawatts of energy savings. Plus, our ruggedized IoT equipment can work anywhere – meaning that they don’t need cooling or heating and can work in weather extremes. That helps our customers keep these products around for a long time.  

What business leaders can do today: 

Understand the sustainability goals of your organization and make it part of your daily mindset. 

Meet with the engineering teams and get involved in the planning stages for new products to reduce the environmental impact of new designs. 

Consider a sustainable design contest to increase the profile of your initiative.  

2. Build circular design thinking into products. 

One core principle of our circular design thinking is reuse. Given the long lifespan that I just mentioned, it was important to find ways for our customers to extend the life of their devices. In our new IoT routers, the team decided to move to a modular design to give our customers more flexibility. Connectivity is at the heart of IoT solutions – and it’s a swiftly moving space. Today they may need LTE, but as 5G pricing drops and use cases increase, they want to take advantage. The modular approach allows them to swap in a new connectivity solution without having to replace all their equipment.  

The result? Our customers save the out-of-pocket cost of the new equipment of course. But there’s also a ripple effect of savings. Less equipment means zero materials and energy used that translates into the elimination of the shipping and logistics process. So, by incorporating design thinking at the start, we can save time and resources across the entire value chain.  

What business leaders can do today: 

Encourage teams to take a long-term view of the product lifecycle.

Work with your supply chain counterparts to partner with and buy from like-minded companies. 

Consider repurchase and recycle programs to keep end-of-life products out of landfills.  

3. Convert to sustainable packaging 

One area where businesses can make a huge impact on the environment, customer satisfaction and the bottom line is packaging. According to the EPA, about 30% of municipal solid waste is made of containers and packaging. This amounts to about 82.2 million tons each year. That’s just one area where we focused when we set out to decrease our overall footprint. 

The use of sustainable and recyclable materials is another one of our key circular design principles priorities. Impressively, that durability I mentioned earlier actually allows us to eliminate the foam inserts that typically accompany electronics. With our new all-corrugated design, we’re using more recyclable materials. Plus, we’ve also started bundling ten units into one box with the accessories included. Beyond the environmentally friendly aspect, our customers appreciate that we’ve reduced the time it takes for them to unpack and break down so many individual boxes. 

What business leaders can do today: 

Consider creating a sustainable packaging advisory group and invite high-volume customers to get their feedback on solving the problem together. 

Don’t overlook the importance of the original design. The shape and type of packaging can improve the recyclability of materials as most materials recovery facilities (MRFs) are designed to sort by size and dimension. 

In addition to bulk packaging, consider biodegradable packaging and other engineering alternatives. 

The road to a more sustainable future is an exciting journey that we are watching accelerate in front of our eyes. I’m looking forward to seeing what progress we can all make together. 


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