Creating a profitable environment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2007, 12:00am

Most major organisations have woken up to the need for environmental protection and sustainable business practices, but scratch the surface and you often find their corporate policies can be summarised as 'all talk, no action'.

'We want to do something, rather than just be part of a pressure group,' said Aaron Yim Chong-kee, managing director of Ricoh Hong Kong, which deals with office automation products and supplies.

'We understand that there is an impact on the environment for any business. But there has to be a balance between making profits and the other issues. Therefore, our system is designed to minimise our impact and do business in a smarter way.'

This began with the company's 3P philosophy, which stands for profit, planet and people. It recognises that shareholders will always expect a reasonable financial return, but also that expectations in corporate social responsibility are changing fast around the world.

The best way to deal with these changes is by establishing the right principles early on, thereby being in a position to set an example and shape the debate.

In doing this, there are three aspects to consider - the way the company does business, what staff can do in-house, and how employees can be encouraged to do more in the wider community.

Considering the first of these, Mr Yim said Ricoh already put emphasis on long-term sustainability. It had been the first in its industry to obtain ISO 14001 certification for its environmental management systems and had developed a 'zero waste' factory in Japan.

Research and design efforts had focused on devising 'document solutions' which minimised the use of paper. This was done in various ways with duplex (both sides) printing, four-in-one copies, and using electronic data transfer systems that reduced the flow of documents in and between companies.

'These solutions are sold to customers, but we also have clear targets in monitoring our paper consumption, energy use and CO2 emissions,' Mr Yim said. 'We have an environmental team in the R&D department in Japan to work on these.'

A recent invention was a special machine for refilling used toner bottles. It was inspired by the need to improve the rate of recycling and was developed in co-operation with the manufacturing department as a downsized version of the standard production model.

One such machine is now installed in Hong Kong. It is monitored by webcam from Japan and will steadily reduce imports of new plastic toner bottles.

'You need the commitment to do something like this,' Mr Yim said. 'But customers are happy to see it. When they look at their procurement policies, they know they can work with a company that is more environmentally concerned.'

He said although the 900-strong Hong Kong office concentrated primarily on sales and service, there were still many ways for staff to implement greener policies. Even small changes could end up having a significant cumulative effect in recycling, energy saving and cutting CO2 emissions.

For example, since the recent move to new office premises, employees had been reminded to use the reverse side of all the old stationery, switch off lights and put computers in sleep mode at lunchtime. Long-lasting fluorescent light bulbs have been installed, and all delivery vehicles are gradually being replaced to ensure they comply with the latest European standards for emissions and pollutants.

A system is also in place to measure annual energy consumption per head.

'It is more for education purposes,' Mr Yim said. 'Once we know what we are consuming, people can do more to improve.'

He said staff were also expected to be alert to ways in which work processes could be changed to reduce wastage or boost recycling efforts. In this vein, new schemes were being considered to recycle cartridges and expand the bottle refilling operation next year to include different sizes and types of toner.

'As a group, we have very clear guidelines and policies and really want to contribute to society,' Mr Yim said.

He said this was something shareholders and customers had increasingly come to expect. He also noted that Ricoh had been recognised as one of the world's top 100 organisations for sustainability. 'That helps a lot in distinguishing your brand from others at different stages of the business cycle,' he said. 'We also want to create a brand image as an organisation that educates employees and young people to create a high level of awareness.'

The company recently ran a competition for university and secondary school students to shoot a short video on an environmental protection theme. Participants worked with Friends of the Earth, which provided information about the issues, and professionals were on hand to show how to produce a proper video and put together the story they wanted to tell. The winners were invited to visit Japan to look at advanced recycling techniques. 'About 30 teams took part and the quality of production was pretty good,' Mr Yim said.