Why Printing Giant Ricoh is Telling its Customers to Print Less.

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Date: Wednesday December 14, 2022 05:17:17 pm
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    It’s unusual for a company to encourage its customers to use its products less frequently. But that’s what electronics company Ricoh is doing. The company’s global CEO tells MT why he is embracing sustainability.

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    Company founding principles can often sound rather corporate. That’s not the case for the 86-year old Japanese electronics company Ricoh. Its principles, which are named, “the Spirit of Three Loves” are to “Love your neighbour, love your country, love your work.”

    The modern day interpretation is “love your employees, customers and planet”. So it was little surprise that when Yoshimori “Jake” Yamashita, who had worked at the business since the 1980s, took over as global CEO and president in 2017, he put ESG at the very heart of the business.

    “Print is dead”
    One might be inclined to question how a printing company can become sustainable, when we are told to print less in order to save the planet. But for Yamashita, the pathway to sustainability lies in the digital sphere. In early 2021 he, somewhat controversially, aligned himself with a “print is dead” movement that had accelerated due to Covid.

    “Our approach to the printing business is this; our customers do not use as much physical paper, as a lot of their data and information is digitised. We want to support our customers with end-to-end workflow support,” Yamashita tells Management Today through an interpreter during our interview in London.

    So while printing still remains the heart of the company, Ricoh is now offering a carbon-balanced production printing service, which allows a company to calculate the carbon footprint of each print job, as well as reducing or optimising the existing print process and offsetting the remaining carbon emissions. It also offers a service that analyses a company’s printing usage to see where printing can be reduced.

    Yamashita has ambitious net zero plans; aiming to reduce Ricoh’s greenhouse gas emissions 63% by 2030 and be net zero by 2050. He also hopes to have reduced virgin material usage by 60% or less by 2030 and by 12% or less by 2050.

    To do this, Ricoh is introducing more energy efficient features to its products, including 40% recycled parts for its multi-function printers, an eco night sensor that saves energy at night and an eco mode that you can use on the weekend, which puts a device into sleep mode six minutes after finishing a print job.

    Sustainability is the leader’s responsibility.
    Sustainability often seems to fall on the shoulders of employees to do something about it within their organisations. For Yamashita, not only should a leader take control, they need to be confident in their decision making around sustainability, regardless of what shareholders might think.

    “If shareholders trust a leader, they can then make their own decisions instead of going to them. Being able to make their own decisions will allow them to feel more motivated and fulfilled. This needs to be the corporate culture.”

    An £8.3bn Covid loss.
    Ricoh itself had to change its corporate culture during the many challenges of Covid. The company primarily supplies offices with printing services, which ground to a halt as the workforce was forced to hunker down at home. Yamashita says the printing industry dwindled much faster than expected, with Ricoh losing a total of £8.3bn between March and December 2020. The £11.2bn company has also been affected by the war in Russia, which has resulted in a shortage of materials used to make the chips used in its products.

    So the company consolidated two factories into one in July 2020, which was a plan accelerated by Covid. He claims the move reduced energy consumption by 70% and increased productivity by 30%.

    Yamashita also reduced the number of corporate flights he took to see clients and its global offices now employ a hybrid working structure for its 90,000 worldwide employees. He says: “Even now, in our Japan headquarters there are only 20% of the workforce in the office. In London it’s about 40%.”

    One might be fooled into thinking that, based on negative and possibly harmful stereotypes, that the Japanese workforce would be reluctant to adopt a hybrid working culture. The island nation is notorious for its relentless work ethic, with stories of businessmen falling asleep in the street out of sheer exhaustion.

    Yamashita does not deny that the Japanese mentality produces hard workers, but he recognises the need to move on from the idea that “going to the office is not equal to working hard”. He says: “You work in order to create values and value creation happens anywhere.”
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