Recently, I interviewed Kousuke Ito, Director of the Sustainability Management Center at Ricoh USA, for a webinar about sustainability as part of our New Workplace series. From our conversation, it became clear that the current COVID-19 pandemic represents an opportunity for workplaces and office equipment vendors to reassess and enhance their sustainability efforts.
|Screenshot from New Workplace series webinar with Ricoh’s Kousuke Ito.|
Pandemic Revealed Importance of Sustainability and Resilience
Taking a step back, the pandemic really showed our society the importance of sustainability—or the ability to sustain the various activities we need to do—as well as resiliency. Without adequate access to masks, ventilators, and other medical equipment, we were forced to extend the use of face masks through recycling them, as well as ventilators and other equipment by refurbishing them—at least until we had access to more resources.
“The lesson being learned from this COVID-19 pandemic is that we need to build a resilient society, a society where we can withstand the changes caused by the external forces—at this point it is the virus—and become truly sustainable,” he said. “So, sustainability and resiliency kind of work together.”
New Opportunity to Go Digital, Reduce Use, and Redesign Office
Workplaces and society in general can build up their resiliency and sustainability through new ways of working. For example, by moving over from paper-based ways of working to digital and online workflows, they can limit their environmental impact (e.g., fewer devices needed, reduction in paper and consumables use) while also allowing their business to continue in the event of a disruption.
“The post-COVID, new world of work version 2.0 is really focusing on the new world of work on steroids—meaning work from home—and that really needs to talk about the cloud technology and where anyone from your organization is able to access the important information to continue your business,” Ito said.
And as workers return to the office, there’s an opportunity to redesign offices and processes to limit the environmental impact—such as by reducing the number of devices, implementing more recycling, and improving the building’s energy efficiency.
“This (sustainability) is becoming the new backbone of the new world of work,” Ito said.
Younger Generations and Larger Companies Also Driving Sustainability Opportunity
While the pandemic has given society an opportunity to stop, reflect, and put into practice sustainable practices, it is also two segments of the population—younger people and larger companies—that are increasingly championing and mandating sustainable business practices.
Regarding young people, in just 10 years, Millennials and Generation Zers will represent about three-quarters of the global workforce. And their passion about sustainability is so much greater than the previous generation from a consumer and employee perspective.
“They don’t want to do any business with a company who does not share the same value…or they just want to work with a company who shares the same value,” Ito said.
Similarly, many larger companies including Fortune 100 and 500 global companies are “fully embracing” sustainability into their core business strategies, Ito said. In fact, it is hard to find a larger organization that is not addressing sustainability in some way—whether it is through energy conservation, resource conservation, recycling, and/or carbon footprint reduction. This focus is likely to extend to other segments of the business community, including SMBs and other small organizations.
“You really need to keep up with it or, better yet, you might want to stay one step ahead of your competition by realizing this change in our marketplace because, like it or not, this is going to become the major topic,” Ito said. “And it’s better to get started before anyone else joins because if everybody else joins, you don’t want to be a follower.”
Industry Has an Opportunity, Too
In addition to developing digital tools—including collaboration solutions with data, voice, and/or video conferencing capabilities for anywhere, anytime, any person, and any device access—document technology manufacturers can continue to enhance the eco-friendliness of their print and scan technology. It’s important, however, that green capabilities are practical and easy to use. In other words, the less user intervention and impact on business productivity required, the better.
“If [the ‘green’ feature] prevents your productivity, you’re not going to use it,” Ito said, noting a feature like instant return to ready condition from deep sleep mode as a good example of a beneficial eco-friendly feature.
Office equipment vendors should also “walk the talk” when it comes to sustainability, Ito said. They cannot simply sell green tactics when they are not doing the same thing they are preaching to their customers. For example, they can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint, install solar panels at their offices to reduce energy consumption, and work with eco-friendly suppliers and partners.
“[Sustainability] is too big of a problem to take on with a single organization,” Ito said. “We need an army of same minded groups to do this.”
Ricoh’s Eco Excellence program for its dealer partners aims to help them make these kinds of changes, with tools and educational materials to help them sell “green” initiatives and reduce their own environmental impact. Dealerships who take sustainability to a certain level can earn “elite” status in this program.
Sustainability Is More Than Just Environment
Ito wants people to know that sustainability is not just about limiting the impact on the environment. It’s also about addressing other societal challenges, including issues around poverty, equality, and education.
“Once we take the journey on environmental sustainability, then I encourage you all to look for other opportunities, such as SDG (the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals), and there are many tools and resources available,” Ito said. This may include office equipment dealer initiatives and volunteer opportunities within local communities.
Furthermore, sustainability often overlaps with other important business goals—including cost savings, productivity, and data security. For companies that are less engaged with sustainability, its intersection with other top business priorities can drive interest. “It’s not that difficult to start changing the mindset,” he said.
Sustainability really is about the balance of the economy, society, and planet (or people, prosperity, and planet), according to Ito—something Ricoh’s founder identified back in 1946. “It doesn’t matter how old or how new the concept is, but sustainability continues to revolve around the balance of those three components,” he said.
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