Review: Sustainability Talk with Cisco-CEO Chuck Robbins


Chuck Robbins, one of the world's most influential businessmen, took part in the panel discussion „Leading for a Sustainable Future" at WU

Cisco Systems, one of the leading IT companies from Silicon Valley, is known for its network technologies. Under the lead of Chuck Robbins, Cisco has strengthened its commitment to sustainability in the technology sector.In his opening address, WU Rector Rupert Sausgruber said he was thrilled to welcome Robbins to WU for the panel discussion. “As Europe’s largest, leading business and economics university, WU plays an important role in solving sustainability problems. Sustainability is a key part of our values, our educational methods, our research, and our partnerships, and it shapes our dialog with our stakeholders,” Rector Sausgruber said. As he pointed out, the challenges, including issues such as climate change and economic inequality, are enormous, and the hope is that advanced digital technologies will help us to master them.

In his opening statement, Chuck Robbins stressed that the climate crisis is the crisis of our lifetime and that it is imperative for all of us to pull together to overcome this challenge. Sustainability is a matter of crucial importance for our societies, and it raises many difficult social issues. All of the panelists regard the struggle for sustainability as their personal mission. For Kavita Surana, WU professor of Data Ecosystems and Environmental Accountability, sustainability primarily means improving people’s quality of life and working conditions, as well as ensuring general well-being. André Martinuzzi, head of WU’s Institute for Managing Sustainability, also sees his work as a personal mission: “What does sustainability mean? Products, technologies, consumer habits, leisure behavior – whatever it is, as long as it works for 10 billion people for the next 500 years. If it doesn’t work, we have to think of something else – that’s where innovation comes in.” Kavita Surana pointed out that new technologies always require a cost-benefit analysis. With AI, for example, energy consumption is bound to increase, but at the same time, the technology will also make it easier to measure power consumption more accurately.

What are the challenges global technology companies are currently facing? “We have to offer the best solution for our customers, and we need to do that in the most sustainable way possible.” This requires mutual understanding and cooperation between governments, academia, and companies. Universities have an important role to play here: “It’s the responsibility of universities to address responsibility as a core value and to communicate this to their students. Sustainability is more than just a single course or elective you can take,” said Professor Martinuzzi.

Make a wish

“Personally, I think we run the risk of falling back into primitive tribal thinking, where it’s not about working together to get things done but more about a selfish, us-and-them mindset. As a result, research funding is currently being cut and military spending is going up. It’s our responsibility to make people aware of the benefits of sustainability and to take joint action,” Martinuzzi said, pointing to current political developments.

For Kavita Surana, phasing out coal and fossil fuels is currently the most urgent task. She said, “If we solve this problem, we will have made the single most important and biggest step forward. However, we must not forget that people are not only worried about climate change but, above all, about their own quality of life.”

“Bringing logic and rational thinking back into the governments that run this world is a great wish of mine. My second wish is to ensure that everyone in the world has access to water, food, and power. And we can accomplish all of this with the help of technology and artificial intelligence,” Chuck Robbins said.

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