Last year Ricoh chief executive Mike Pollock was bit concerned that economic turmoil might take some wind out of the company’s sustainability sails.
“I was thinking we’ve invested millions in this and it could all turn to custard…”
He needn’t have worried. The past quarter has been the company’s best yet in terms of market share. Now maybe that has nothing to do with the company’s sustainability position, says Pollock, but deep down he suspects such policies are now reaching an increasingly receptive audience.
“I think there is growing awareness that we’ve got problem that needs fixing. And we’re helping our customers do something about that.”
Last year Ricoh became the first document solutions company in New Zealand to become carbon neutral. But after achieving carboNZero certification through Landcare for its own operations – it went step further.
“We decided to offset the emissions that were associated with customers’ use of the products as well. That’s pretty big commitment with the thousands of installations we have up and down the country – but we believe in the value it creates for the business, the community and the planet. Buy from us – and we take care of the carbon credits for you,” Pollock says.
Sustainability is not new concept for the company which has notched up string of firsts on that particular front. It was first in the local industry to be certified to the environmental management standard ISO 14001 and first in its sector to have its
products accredited with the Environmental Choice NZ Tick of Approval.
Globally, Ricoh has been working on energy efficiency ratings since 1995 and the entire range of Ricoh office products in New Zealand meet the Energy Star guidelines for energy efficiency.
The company is part of group working with the Ministry for the Environment to develop product stewardship scheme for the IT industry in New Zealand and has been on its own recycling journey since the mid-1990s.
It wasn’t always an easy path – when the company started gathering up its plastic and polystyrene, it couldn’t initially find anything to do with it. Some went into concrete pavers – but that outlet dried up when the local manufacturer (Plascrete) went into receivership. The remaining legacy from that experience is that Victoria Park Market (in Auckland) still boasts paver with “Ricoh” on it, says Pollock.
The company stopped exporting its waste problems to third-world countries while ago – though Pollock admits that sending second-hand machines to places like Cambodia or India was initially cheaper option than breaking them down in New Zealand.
Today the company collects toner cartridges and bottles from customers free of charge and these are recycled into functional products such as park benches, seats, decking, speed bumps and rubbish bins. Aluminium components are recycled, circuit boards are shredded, with heavy metals extracted for re-use; paper and cardboard is also recycled while plastics and polystyrene get re-manufactured into other plastic products like cable reels or garden edging.
Ricoh’s Japan-based parent company has set its own medium and long-term targets for environmental action including the reduction of total carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent of 2000 levels by 2020 and by 87.5 percent by 2050. It’s also continuing to push the envelope in terms of the energy and resource efficiency of its manufacturing processes and products.
In 2009, for the fifth year running, Ricoh Group has been named in the top 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World – the only document solutions company to make the list, which was announced at the World Economic Forum at Davos. In the company’s favour was its “Year 2050 extra-long-term-environmental vision” and how present management strategies support the realisation of that.
The three principles informing its core philosophy are “people, planet, profit” – the trick being to make positive contributions to communities and environment while continuing to grow business and deliver solutions of value to its customers. Its conservation activities are based on the belief that it is imperative to reduce environmental impact to level that the planet’s self-recovery capabilities can deal with it.
In New Zealand those activities include range of tree-planting activities involving both staff and customers. Every year since 2004, there have been beach clean-ups and native bush planting on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf. The long-term goal is to fully restore the ecology of native forests, beaches and wetlands on the island. The tree-planting tally for Motuihe is now over the 9000 mark and the company has taken part in other initiatives in Christchurch and Wellington.
But in tighter economic times, there’s an increasing realisation that sustainability is not just about hugging trees, says Pollock.
“It’s about saving money – if you don’t fly to Wellington when you can use video-conferencing, if you reduce energy use, you save money. Businesses have been struggling to survive over the past few months – they have to cut costs. And guess what – we want to help with that.”
He reckons the company probably started to turn profit on its sustainability journey for the first time last year. range of initiatives – from increasing calls dealt with by phone, to installing GPS navigation in service technicians’ cars so they take the most efficient route to customer offices – all add up.
Pollock acknowledges that achieving carbon neutrality had its challenges – both in terms of time and money, particularly in the first year. But there are business benefits – including lower power and petrol bills, reduced waste collection costs, improved customer loyalty and new customer acquisition.
The company’s green credentials might offer marketing advantage, he adds, but there’s little point in pushing the message at people who aren’t particularly interested.
“We’re already number one in the market and, in the end, photocopier is just tool. You don’t have to get too complicated about it.”
However it’s very much part of the company’s future focus, says Pollock.
“I do believe it has been one of the contributors to our success and I genuinely believe there are some problems occurring as result of our impact on the environment. We holiday at Whangapoua and we’ve been lucky to have been alongside dolphins and sharks. I’ve also taken the kids to see Great Barrier Reef and it isn’t what it used to be.
“These are things our kids and grandkids are going to miss out on – they won’t have the same opportunities unless we start doing something about it. And how daft not to be more environmentally responsible if we can all save money at the same time…”

Company profile
Founded in 1936, Ricoh has offices in over 150 countries and more than 108,000 employees. Ricoh NZ is headquartered in Auckland with branch offices in Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
In 2008, it was sole recipient of the prestigious New Zealand Performance Excellence Study Awards managed by Business Excellence NZ. The company recently announced sponsorship of sustainable export scholarship for
the NZ School of Export.

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