Office workers spend about eight hours a day surrounded by pinging e-mails, whirring photocopiers, and ringing phones; preoccupied with deadlines and meetings, employees might not make sustainability a top priority.
Companies, too, may drag their feet on making their offices more sustainable by investing in energy efficient technologies or switching to cleaner sources of energy, due to worries that these measures are too expensive or time-consuming.
Economic or time constraints are commonly cited reasons for a lack of environmental stewardship in the workplace, but one firm has spent a decade trying to change this.
Japanese electronics multinational firm Ricoh believes the office presents endless opportunities for companies to reduce their environmental impact and change people’s habits to be more sustainable through simple actions such as turning up the air conditioning or using their own cups for takeaway coffee.
This conviction led Ricoh to launch its Global Eco Action programme in 2006 in Japan to encourage its employees, corporate partners and other organisations to cut their energy use. The initiative is observed every June 5, the United Nations’ World Environment Day.
A year later, Ricoh Asia Pacific launched the Eco Action Day campaign in Singapore, in partnership with local non-profit Singapore Environment Council (SEC). The inaugural campaign amassed a small but committed group of 18 supporters, including multinational corporations, a hospital, and a school.
Since then, Eco Action Day has grown to become Singapore’s longest and biggest environmental campaign, bringing on board more than 700 public and private sector organisations to pledge sustainable actions. This has helped avoid about 200 tonnes of carbon emissions, according to the company.
Tetsuya Takano, the managing director of Ricoh Asia Pacific, tells Eco-Business that the campaign is the result of Ricoh’s belief that “communicating environmental messages and conserving resources are the two cornerstones of sustainable environmental management”.
“The campaign means a lot to Ricoh because World Environment Day is an important time for the company and its partners to think about our impact on the environment and take tangible steps to shrink our ecological footprint,” he adds.
Back when Ricoh launched Eco Action Day in Singapore in 2007, “going green was not common,” recalls Takano.
But driven by a conviction that business growth has to be balanced with environmental conservation, Ricoh pushed on, even enhancing the programme with new features over the years.
Its initial focus on reducing office energy use has expanded to a more holistic set of measures targeted at reducing energy and resource use in the workplace and beyond. Today, any organisation or individual can pledge on the campaign website actions such as swearing off disposable takeaway containers or turning off lights at lunchtime.
Last year, the company attracted a record number of pledges from about 205 organisations, including schools and 450 individuals, and for the first time, reached out to the youth by encouraging schools to participate in Eco Action Day.
In 2012, Ricoh Asia Pacific introduced the Eco Action Awards to reward companies which made especially innovative or ambitious pledges. Two years later, it launched a series of high-level panel discussions by top government, corporate, and civil society leaders on sustainability issues in partnership with Eco-Business.
This year’s panel discussion, held on June 5, is themed ‘From Agreement to Action’ and will focus on Singapore’s response to the Paris climate deal by 195 global leaders last December. It will explore how the city-state can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions even as it pursues economic growth.
By developing business solutions to help our customers implement their own environmental measures, we will contribute to the creation of a sustainable society.
Tetsuya Takano, managing director, Ricoh Asia Pacific
Worth the effort
Ricoh’s decade-long commitment to Eco Action day has paid off, as it has received external recognition for this and other sustainability efforts, shares Takano.
These include the Singapore Design Business Chamber’s Creative CSR Awards in March this year; the Global CSR Awards 2016; a merit prize at SEC’s Singapore Environmental Achievement Award in 2014; and the Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Awards 2013.
Ricoh is also proud that government agencies such as the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) have come on board to support Eco Action Day because it is “rare for corporate environmental initiatives to receive such strong support from the government and non-profit sectors”, says Takano.
Sueanne Mocktar, director of NEA’s 3P Network Division, says NEA has supported Eco Action Day because of their shared goals in encouraging corporations to adopt environmentally-friendly practices and become more sustainable.
Yuen Sai Kuan, director of NCCS’ corporate affairs division, adds that following the Paris agreement, Singapore has to fulfil its pledge of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions around 2030.
“The government will be stepping up efforts to encourage businesses, the community, and individuals to manage their carbon footprint, and Eco Action Day can help to raise awareness of how everyone can contribute to the national effort,” he notes.
Walking the eco-talk
Eco Action Day has positioned Ricoh as a leader in galvanising Singapore’s business community to examine and reduce their environmental impact, but the company also walks the talk, and has invested in making its own products and operations as sustainable as possible, says Takano.
As early as 1994 - long before terms like the circular economy and extended producer responsibility were popular - the company introduced a concept called the Comet Circle, which maps out the potential impact of a Ricoh product from the resource extraction stage, through to manufacturing, use by customers, and disposal.
Today, the Comet Circle helps Ricoh develop manufacturing processes which enable resources to be repeatedly recycled and recirculated across the company’s operations, enabling it to reduce reliance on virgin materials.
As part of its recycling efforts, the company also offers take-back services for machines, toner bottles and printer cartridges in all its Asia Pacific offices.
In 2009, Ricoh pledged to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 and 87.5 per cent by 2050 compared to 2000 levels. By March 2015, it had already reduced its footprint by 36 per cent. The company has, since 2014, also supported carbon pricing as a way to curb emissions.
One of the many measures the company took to achieve these reductions was converting some of its iconic billboards in Tokyo, Sydney and New York to be fully powered by solar and wind energy
Just this month, Ricoh also opened the doors to its new Eco Business Development Centre in Gotemba City in Shizuoka, Japan. This state of the art facility will focus entirely on developing new business ideas based on sustainability and reducing the company’s environmental impact.
It will feature three hubs to promote reuse and recycling, test out new energy and resource-saving technologies, and distribute information about Ricoh’s sustainable business activities respectively.
“By developing business solutions to help our customers implement their own environmental measures, we will contribute to the creation of a sustainable society,” notes Takano.
Looking to the future, the company will not let up on efforts to bring more individuals and organisations on board its sustainability agenda, he adds.
Takano shares that Ricoh plans to introduce Eco Action Day to all its 10 other regional sales companies in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, India, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
“Eco Action Day is not just about one person or organisation,” he notes. “It requires everyone’s support to make this happen”.