- Category: Sustainable Business Leaders Interviews
- Published: Monday, 28 December 2015 00:46
- Written by TerraInfirma
The Kyoto Ceramic Company Limited was founded in 1959 by Kazuo Inamori and renamed Kyocera in 1982. It has grown into a multinational electronics and ceramics manufacturer with over 71,500 employees worldwide. Here I interview Tracey Rawling Church, Head of CSR at Kyocera Document Services UK and a well respected figure in the wider CSR/corporate sustainability field.
How did you personally get involved in the sustainability agenda?
I was a PR consultant by profession and I found myself being asked to represent clients who did things like selling cigarettes in vending machines. I wasn’t happy about that so I decided to find myself a job where I felt good about what I was doing.
I went to some interviews with charities and NGOs and realised that, coming from a commercial background their culture wasn’t quite crisp enough for me. I realised I needed to be in a business, so I needed to find an ethical business. About the time I was looking, Kyocera was launching its range of Ecosys cartridge free printers and I’d never seen green B2B marketing before. I’d seen green marketing from brands like Ecover and Bodyshop, but green B2B was new.
My experience was B2B so I got myself a job as their PR manager. I worked my way around the whole marketing team in the ensuing seventeen years doing some product management and marketing communications. During all this period, the time I was spending on sustainability strategy was growing in proportion to the amount of time I was spending on marketing until it got to the point where the marketing bit was vanishingly small. So we acknowledged that and changed my job title.
What I decided to do on the back of the launch of these cartridge-free printers was to start embedding sustainability into our marketing. To start with it had its own channel because no-one was going to buy a printer or a copier just because it was sustainable back in 1993. We set up a network we called The Green Card network for sustainability professionals where we talked about green office practice. That was a separate network for 10 years from 2000 to 2010 and then we felt the adoption of sustainability by business had reached a point where we could embed it into our overall communications. So the Green Card network became the Green Light area of our website.
What is the current business case for sustainability from Kyocera's point of view?
When Dr Inamori founded Kyocera in 1959 he wanted to have Buddhist values at its core and they’ve been there ever since. As Inamori and the Kyocera team saw it as business as usual, they had never really maximised its value as a brand asset. So we were doing loads of really good sustainability stuff, but we weren’t telling anybody about it.
I don’t think the business case has really changed, rather the way we express the business case has changed. Our approach has always been driven by resource efficiency. The products were designed to use resources efficiently, both in their manufacture and operation and to enable resources to be easily recovered at the end of their life.
In our product set, that brings cost of ownership benefits – our consumables use less resources they actually cost less to run. We brought these products to market in 1993 with a great big green fanfare and corporate UK said “So what?” we did some research just after that launch and the headline result was ‘corporate UK is too mean to be green’ and are only ever going to but a product that is sustainable if it costs them less to run.
At that time opinion was being shaped by the likes of Ecover where there was a premium to be paid for a sustainable product. We were trying to sell a resource efficient product that costs less to run to a group of people who thought that sustainability was expensive - it was a very difficult message to take to market. We stopped promoting the products one the basis of their sustainability and talked about total cost of ownership for the next 15 years. It was the same resource efficient product, but we didn’t tell anybody that they were green just that they’d cost less to run. That’s where the Green Card network came from. If a customer said “we’re interested in the sustainability attributes of your product” we’d opt them into the Green Card network and talk sustainable office practice with them.
The business case leant towards the total cost of ownership for the first 15 years of this model and only migrated to resource efficiency and contribution to sustainability strategies of the clients in the last 3 years.
At the end of the day we are a business and in business to make a profit and keep our staff employed. There is no point in going to market with a proposition which the market doesn’t believe in.
What are the main challenges you face?
The way people procure office equipment. The larger the customer the bigger the chance that you will receive an invitation to tender written around the specification of a particular product. There is a real dilemma here for us as the bigger the customer the more opportunity there is to reduce their environmental impact and their cost by making their copying and printing less paper based and more resource efficient.
This is partially because procurement people are usually only experts in procurement. One day they will be buying copiers, the next they’ll be buying cars the day after that something else completely different. You need to know more about the product set before you can be creative. Also they are often remunerated on the discounts they can get on capital costs, not on whole life costs, so nobody is really talking about how much energy it uses, how much paper it uses, what the consumables will cost or whether the product should be leased or purchased outright.
We are often invited to tender for a number of devices which we know is excessive for the customer where we can see an enormous opportunity to consider the business processes those devices are required to support and meet that in a more environmentally friendly and cost effective way.
There is quite a lot of sustainable procurement window dressing going on out there. We are often asked to complete a very detailed questionnaire on our sustainability credentials – organisational carbon footprints, product carbon footprints etc. That will get you on the shortlist but when it comes to actual bid, it’s down to price.
Every time we get asked this information, it is in a different format. Everybody’s questionnaires are different.
Eco-labels are a bit of a blunt instrument – most are binary – you either have it or you haven’t. In a couple of years, everybody catches up with the standard and they stop being a differentiator. Not all the standards are comprehensive and some are misplaced – for example in the LOC4 standard, consumables are only addressed in terms of recyclability, not resource efficiency.
We have a product that is designed for disassembly, but because we have to send it through a WEEE Directive compliant scheme, everything just gets shredded and gets contaminated and the resources get loss. The purity of the plastic could be maintained if it went through a different process. The lack of recycling infrastructure is an annoyance and there is no incentive to bring resource efficient/designed for disassembly products to market.
How do you go about employee engagement?
We deal with it as a culture concept. We take every single member of staff for an off-site training session for a day and a half. We break everybody into cross-function groups so you don’t go with the people you work with every day – so there’s a team building element too. We do training and practical exercises around the Kyocera philosophy.
Rather than have a set of rules about how you operate in the workplace, we try to create the culture where the right behaviour comes naturally. We are much more culture-led than rulebook- or instruction-led.
How do you manage impacts in your supply chain?
From a carbon perspective, we can produce a product carbon footprint for every product. From a wider point of view – working conditions, conflict minerals etc – our parent company has policies on all those things.
Carbon is the easiest metric as the systems are the best evolved, but I think the whole resources agenda may be more important. The human rights agenda is becoming more important and we’re increasingly being asked for that kind of information. Sometimes it is not available in English and that can give us problems – we are getting better at it. Numbers are numbers in any language but when it comes to more qualitative measures, it gets more difficult.
Our factories in China are owned and operated by Kyocera and have the same standards as the rest of the group, so we know we’re safe on issues like child labour and workers rights. The traceability of, say, conflict minerals just isn’t there yet to be 100% sure there are none in our products.
Because everything is underpinned by this corporate philosophy of harmonious co-existence and doing the right thing as a human being it is very liberating as you don’t have to think up new systems and processes. “Is it the right thing to do or not” is quite a simple concept and to know that our parent company operates with that core value gives us a lot of confidence when it comes to examining the information they give us about what they know and don’t know.
Do you have any top tips for others?
You have to accept that you only know about half of what you need to know. What I love about my job is that I’m constantly learning from other people who know more about certain things than I do.