BEING GREEN :PRACTICAL & PROFITABLE !

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BEING GREEN :PRACTICAL & PROFITABLE !

 user 2006-03-24 at 11:21:00 am Views: 44
  • #15162

    Being ‘green’:Practical, possible… and profitable !
    How environmentalism can be a part of the business
    In
    recent years, as environmentalism has become a watchword for the
    socially responsible, politically aware and regulation wary, many
    vendors have made bold claims about what they are doing to operate in a
    ‘green’ manner. silicon.com visited Ricoh’s Midlands Green Centre to
    find out what the Japanese giant is doing to meet its own eco-agenda.
    The
    easiest criticism of companies which claim to be doing ‘a lot for the
    environment’ is that they don’t really care much for what they’re
    actually doing.
    Somewhere between ‘being seen to care’ and ‘the law
    says we have to do it’ the suspicious would wager there isn’t really
    much room for actually caring.
    And if things improve, if landfill
    levels of toxins, hazardous substances, heavy metals and plastics
    decrease, and boxes on environmental and corporate and social
    responsibility charters are ticked then who really cares?
    Talking of
    the required move towards greater ‘green thinking’ in the tech
    industry, Paul Kennard, assistant general manager at Ricoh’s Green
    Centre, near Northampton, says: “There are certainly a lot of people
    out there who are doing this because they have to. And if that means
    things get better then of course it’s a good thing.”
    It’s a case of the ends justifying the means.
    However,
    as you might expect, Ricoh claims it isn’t just ticking boxes. The
    company has been operating on an environmental agenda since the mid
    70s, long before EU politicians conceived of a Waste Electronic and
    Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive.
    In fact even in the UK, where
    the Directive continues to stall at each turn, the company is operating
    far in excess of WEEE guidelines.
    Tom Wagland, environmental manager
    at Ricoh UK, says: “The WEEE Directive is just a hell of a mess now and
    I don’t know whether the government will ever get it right.”
    However,
    he admits the appearance on the horizon of proposed European
    legislation was one factor in opening the Green Centre back in January
    2004 but while those laws have hit hurdle after hurdle, the centre has
    gone from strength to strength.
    Principally the Green Centre is
    there to process returned kit (to read more about this process read our
    detailed photo story) but it also serves as a focus for the company’s
    UK efforts to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
    An education centre for teaching school trips about green issues even includes a wormery for staff to recycle their food waste.
    But
    such novelty shouldn’t detract from a serious business matter. Wagland
    believes delays in the WEEE Directive may mean some companies are slow
    to see any value in compliance but he argues the value of being
    environmentally friendly goes well beyond a stamp on a piece of paper.
    Wagland
    says it has been a major factor in Ricoh’s success: “We used to see
    maybe one question in 100 returned tenders about whether we have an
    environmental policy in place. Now we perhaps see 99.”
    Kennard adds: “There is a good economic argument for it. It’s a real differentiator.”
    The
    most notable UK example to date is that of Derbyshire County Council,
    which awarded Ricoh a contract to provide 1,300 copiers and
    multifunction devices in large part due to its environmentalism.
    The
    deal is evidence that customers are also looking to demonstrate ‘green
    thinking’ in an age of corporate and social responsibility where the
    environment tops the agenda.
    Derbyshire County Council accounts for
    around 16 million copies and printouts per year and Ricoh will plant
    1,600 saplings per year in an attempt to offset carbon emissions.
    And that’s just one way the printer/copier industry is trying to distance itself from a close association with deforestation.
    Wagland
    argues that with paper “a necessary evil” it is actually the vendors
    who are working to cut down on paper wastage – again something which
    presses the cost and social responsibility buttons of their customers.
    He
    says: “Paper waste is probably the biggest item in any company’s
    landfill and waste costs. And copiers and printers are the fastest
    growing area of energy consumption.”
    Kennard adds that it may
    actually be the recently well-publicised hikes in energy bills which
    force companies to recognise the savings which can be made.
    As such
    engineers are increasingly focusing on energy saving measures such as
    faster reactivation from standby to prevent customers switching off the
    powered-down idle mode, and multifunction devices – which require one
    plug, rather than a plug on each of several machines (copiers, faxes,
    printers) – are being promoted to customers.
    Software and networking
    capabilities are also helping. Smarter systems that can reroute and
    manage print jobs to make best use of resources cut down on wastage.
    Such
    measures also represent major long-term cost savings. And that is an
    important factor given that being ‘green’ has long been seen as
    synonymous with increasing operating costs.
    In common with other
    vendors, Ricoh admits costs will be borne to a degree by consumers as
    recycling becomes an essential aspect of lifecycle management. However,
    unlike Dell, for example, the company doesn’t insist this must be the
    case.
    Ricoh’s ambitions for the Green Centre include making it as close to ‘break-even’ as possible.
    Kennard
    told silicon.com: “We can’t really know how much money this makes us
    but asset recovery and parts recovery, as well as reusing expensive
    components such as circuit boards, can counter some of the less
    profitable areas.”
    The company recovers a great deal of cost in the
    Green Centre – where recycling is actually a last measure. If possible
    components are reused and machines are often reconditioned and sold to
    trade for sale outside the EU.
    A lot of components that cannot be
    reused cost-effectively and which pose something of an environmental
    dilemma – such as plastics and metals – are also sent offshore;
    predominantly to China.
    Kennard insists this isn’t simply a case of
    out of sight out of mind (and EU remit). The components sold to China
    are of higher value over there, he claims, and as such they are
    guaranteed to be reused rather than put into landfill.
    Last year Ricoh sent 6,600kg of plastics and 1,000kg of polythene to partner Zen International in China.
    Kennard
    says: “China is a very hungry market for this stuff. I see nothing
    wrong if you see countries who are hungry for these raw materials.”
    Some
    materials remain closer to home, however. Metal from power leads,
    motors and fans goes to European Metal Recycling down the road in
    Northampton.
    Even toner which comes in with machines, often with
    half-full bottles, is reused, saving around £5,000 to £10,000 per
    month. Customers pay for their toner as part of the standard contract,
    so such savings all go towards the profit and loss of the Green Centre.
    And
    Ricoh is aware that regulation tends to breed regulation. Hot on the
    heels of the WEEE Directive will be a further tightening of the RoHs
    (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Directive.
    Among those
    substances already banned or regulated in terms of exposure and
    quantity in use are asbestos, cadmium, chlorinated hydrocarbons,
    mercury, nickel and polyvinyl chloride.
    Wagland says one of the
    issues constantly under review at Ricoh is predicting future shifts in
    regulation to create manufacturing processes which eliminate
    potentially harmful substances ahead of legal barring of their use. The
    company is also looking to standardise on plastic use in order to build
    machines which are easier to recycle – the extension of a practice it
    has been involved in for some years now.
    Ricoh is far from the only
    vendor involved in working in a green manner. Wagland was a founder of
    the Beige Group (Business Equipment Industry Group for the Environment)
    for manufacturers in his industry and says a number of his peers are
    getting up to speed on such issues now – though he also names some who
    are dragging their heels or otherwise failing to realise it need not be
    a costly ‘extra’ entirely detached from the core business.
    Ricoh
    believes by making its environmental policy so inextricably linked with
    everything it does it is limiting the cost to business and customer
    while ensuring it constantly performs above and beyond the call of
    regulation.