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Eco-friendly Ricoh’s next challenge. Ricoh’s commitment to new eco-friendly businesses.

Eco-friendly Ricoh’s next challenge
Ricoh’s commitment to new eco-friendly businesses

Written by NewsPicks Brand Design

The RICOH Eco Business Development Center in Gotemba currently serves as both a reuse & recycling center and a development hub for new eco businesses. Ricoh transformed what was once a mother plant for printing machines into this environmental business development hub just two years after the original plant closed. Let’s take a closer look at the RICOH Eco Business Development Center, which is creating new businesses for the company.

115,000 printing machines collected annually from across Japan

The RICOH Eco Business Development Center extends over an area of about 100,000 m2 in Gotemba City, Shizuoka Prefecture. The center serves as a central hub for the reuse & recycling business, and a total of 115,000 printing machines recovered from across Japan are delivered annually.

The recovered printing machines are sorted by a robot system that was developed in-house. After being sorted in accordance with their condition, the machines are automatically transferred to the next phase within the reuse process. Following a number of procedures, 15,000 units are shipped out as refurbished products, and those that are unsuitable for refurbishing are recycled for their parts.

After being lined up, the recovered printing machine storage & management system sorts the machines, which are then transported automatically to their next processing phase.

After being lined up, the recovered printing machine storage & management system sorts the machines, which are then transported automatically to their next processing phase.

Globally, there are few printing machine reuse & recycling centers that are as large as the one in Gotemba. In addition to this function, the center in Gotemba also serves as an open innovation hub to create new eco businesses for Ricoh.

Transformation from a mother factory

The RICOH Eco Business Development Center previously served as a production base for printing machines and was positioned as a mother factory. A mother factory is a factory that serves as a production base that also provides support behind the scenes in terms of logistics, technological development and production management upon a business expanding domestically or abroad. However, following the reorganization of its global production functions, Ricoh closed this mother factory in 2013.

Yuichi Deguchi, Director of the RICOH Eco Business Development Center, Ricoh Co., Ltd.

Yuichi Deguchi, Director of the RICOH Eco Business Development Center, Ricoh Co., Ltd.

In 2014, one year after closing the printing machine factory, Ricoh launched a project to transform the site into a reuse & recycling center for Ricoh’s products in Japan. Yuichi Deguchi, who is currently the Director of the RICOH Eco Business Development Center, was appointed to lead the project.

“The news that we would be taking on a new challenge in Gotemba surprised many at our company and the expectations were high,” says Deguchi, as he looked back. Deguchi took on the responsibility of setting up the RICOH Eco Business Center from the ground up.

Consolidation of the reuse & recycling functions into Gotemba

Reusing and recycling products is a costly business. At that time, Deguchi was in charge of the reuse & recycling business. He planned on improving the operational efficiency of the business by consolidating the reuse & recycling bases that were spread across 10 locations in Japan into one that would specialize in the reuse of products.

“How about Gotemba?”

Deguchi had been thinking about consolidating the bases to a location in Keihinjima in Ota-ku, Tokyo, but after hearing the suggestion above, made by Yoshinori Yamashita, who was then his direct superior and current President and CEO of Ricoh, Deguchi changed his mind. It was the decision he made at that time that led to the rebirth of the former factory in Gotemba.

The RICOH Eco Business Development Center, the former mother factory for printing machines which was revamped into a development hub for new eco businesses.

The RICOH Eco Business Development Center, the former mother factory for printing machines which was revamped into a development hub for new eco businesses.

The factory, however, was too large to be solely used for the reuse & recycling center. A decision was reached to designate the site as one that also researches environmental technologies and develops new eco businesses, embodying Ricoh’s commitment to the environment. The blueprint was finally written.

A factory nearly in ruins reopens in one year

The first to arrive at the former factory in Gotemba was a small project team consisting of only eight employees, including Deguchi, and Kazumi Hanada, who was also in charge of the reuse & recycling business at that time and is now an executive officer at Ricoh Industry.

Once arriving, however, what they found was the former mother factory nearly in ruins as a result of being abandoned for a year.

Kazumi Hanada, Corporate Vice President General Manager, Reuse & Recycle Division, Ricoh Industry Co., Ltd.

Kazumi Hanada, Corporate Vice President General Manager, Reuse & Recycle Division, Ricoh Industry Co., Ltd.

As a result of Deguchi and the team’s effort, the facility that didn’t have access to electricity or running water when they first arrive, was up and running in three months and serving hot soba noodles at the on-site cafeteria. Little by little, the production line for the reuse & recycling center started to operate as well.

“This is where Ricoh’s new eco businesses are created.” That was the strong belief shared by the team led by Deguchi. After putting in a full year to prepare the site, the RICOH Eco Business Development Center officially opened its doors in 2016. Currently, the facility employs more than 700 people, including temporary staff.

Akira Ito, Senior Manager, Business Planning Group, Reuse & Recycling Department, Ricoh Industry

Akira Ito, Senior Manager, Business Planning Group, Reuse & Recycling Department, Ricoh Industry

Akira Ito, who is now serving as the Senior Manager of the Reuse & Recycling Department’s Business Planning Group at Ricoh Industry, called on former factory workers who had been transferred from Gotemba to locations across Japan to come back.

“As a result, many were transferred back to Gotemba. I felt really grateful when they told me how happy they were about the facility being restarted,” he says.

Environmental awareness is part of Ricoh’s corporate DNA

Ricoh was one of the first Japanese companies to take on environmental conservation efforts. In 1976, the company established the Environmental Promotion Section to address efforts pertaining to recycling, CO2 emission reduction, and zero emission initiatives ahead of other companies. Behind this is Ricoh’s founding principles. Kiyoshi Ichimura, the founder of Ricoh, advocated the “Spirit of Three Loves,” love your neighbor, love your country, and love your work. This way of thinking was passed down through the generations as part of Ricoh’s corporate DNA, and now includes love for the global environment and local communities, according to Deguchi.

At the reuse production line, the amount of CO2 emissions reduced through their work is displayed.

At the reuse production line, the amount of CO2 emissions reduced through their work is displayed.

The mission of Ricoh’s reuse & recycling business is to lead the environment conservation efforts of the company. 95 percent of Ricoh’s printing machines are returned to the manufacturer. However, the reuse & recycling business is one that it costs both money and effort.

Even for refurbished products, the standard set by consumers is high. It is important to meet this demand while minimizing production costs. The employees that take on this task take pride in what they do and the skills that they possess.

Shipping out products with a recycled product sticker that symbolizes the pride of Ricoh employees and their skills.

Shipping out products with a recycled product sticker that symbolizes the pride of Ricoh employees and their skills.

Committing to making the environmental business profitable

These days, “environment” is a topic that most companies talk about as an important issue. Deguchi, however, insists that the concept of “environmental business management” is one that shouldn’t be forgotten.

“If you lose cost-consciousness in the name of protecting the environment, or if you take on environment related activities begrudgingly as a duty, that effort won’t last long. We are committed to the concept of environmental business management, which demands success both in environmental conservation and in business profitability,” he says.

To be straightforward, “Ricoh will not engage in any reuse & recycling projects that are not profitable.” This, however, is not to be confused with the company only caring about profitability.

“Among a wide range of reuse & recycling operations, we prioritize projects that are profitable. By investing the profits gained through the projects in the development of new environmental technologies, we can keep the efforts pertaining to the reuse & recycling business going. We believe that by operating under such a philosophy, we can solve social issues and achieve SDGs,” emphasizes Hanada.

Even for heavy printing machines, eco-friendly reusable cardboard boxes are used. The boxes are strong enough to stack two boxed machines on top of each other.

Even for heavy printing machines, eco-friendly reusable cardboard boxes are used. The boxes are strong enough to stack two boxed machines on top of each other.

Woody biomass utilization welcomed by local communities

Presently, the RICOH Eco Business Development Center is moving forward with a wide range of initiatives to create new businesses. “Woody biomass utilization” and “lighting and air-conditioning control system” are examples.

The woody biomass utilization project is a cooperative with Gotemba City and the University of Tokyo. To conserve the forests, appropriate forest thinning is essential, but having no established avenue to use the trees that were cut down is a social issue. To meet this challenge, the cooperative recycles the lumber left from thinning the forests in the Gotemba area into wood chips to use as fuel for boilers. This is used at the RICOH Eco Business Development Center and covers about half of the energy used on-site for air-conditioning and hot water. In addition to forest preservation and the creation of a low-carbon economy, this cooperative contributes to the development of local communities.

In recognition of this local-production-for-local-consumption model, Ricoh won the “2017 Environment Minister’s Award for Global Warming Prevention Activity.” The company has received inquiries about this model from local municipalities faced with forest-related problems, hot spring facilities using boilers, and golf facilities. Ricoh is able to provides consulting services in this area, including how to file an application for a subsidy for the use of biomass. Presently, Ricoh is negotiating with about 30 projects to implement the model in various regions.

Woody biomass energy plant located within the premises, where wood chips produced from locally thinned trees are used as an energy source.

Woody biomass energy plant located within the premises, where wood chips produced from locally thinned trees are used as an energy source.

“The woody biomass utilization project was a completely new challenge for us,” says Deguchi. “Ricoh is taking part in this project from the perspective of solving social issues and in doing so, contributing to the growth of local communities while achieving SDGs.”

Lighting and air-conditioning control system made possible by combining Ricoh’s technologies

The lighting and air-conditioning control system was developed by leveraging sensing technologies, which is an area that Ricoh excels in. The system senses luminance, presence of people, and temperature/ humidity changes and optimizes the system in accordance with the office space, achieving a substantial reduction of energy use. This system is also installed at the RICOH Eco Business Development Center for testing purposes, and the aim of the initiative is to cut energy consumption in half, even in environments using LED.

The system leverages Ricoh’s sensing technology and controls lighting and air-conditioning in accordance with luminance, humidity and the presence of people.

The system leverages Ricoh’s sensing technology and controls lighting and air-conditioning in accordance with luminance, humidity and the presence of people.

Typically, control systems of this nature can only be installed in newly constructed buildings. The system developed by Ricoh, however, is compatible with existing buildings as well. What makes Ricoh’s technology unique is that the system is a one-stop solution that can control both lighting and air-conditioning. This challenge is to make the know-how accumulated through Ricoh’s efforts to conserve energy at its own facilities available for sale externally.

Ricoh plans to make the lighting and air-conditioning control system available in spring 2019. Ahead of this release, in March, the system will be installed into the new office building of the Gifu branch of RICOH JAPAN Corporation, a sales distributor. Efforts to make the office building energy friendly will be put into place.

At the new Gifu office building, a wide range of technologies tested at the RICOH Eco Business Development Center were also installed, including heat insulating construction material/ glass, photovoltaic power generation, and storage batteries. As a result, a drast reduction in terms of energy usage was achieved. The building was certified to be “Nearly ZEB*” by a third party.

The Gifu building has been positioned as a model office equipped with energy-saving technologies and initiatives, and the building model will be expanded to office locations across Japan. The locations will then be used as “facility-wide showrooms” when making proposals to customers.

Another effort that Ricoh aims to make practical use of within the next year or two is the micro hydropower generation system. With the risk of large-scale blackouts caused by earthquakes and typhoons increasing, the expected demand for this business among others is one of the highest.

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If small waterways within the premises of factories and buildings can be leveraged to generate power, the technology might play an important role in the event of an emergency. Micro hydropower generation is attracting attention mainly from local governments and environmentally conscious companies. Despite practical use of the technology not being achieved yet, Ricoh has already received an endless stream of inquiries about when the system is being released.

Fostering open innovation to shift away doing everything in-house

The driving force behind the development of the new eco related businesses has been the RICOH Eco Business Development Center’s commitment to “open innovation.” In fact, various companies, universities and municipalities send their staff to the Center to tour the facilities. The number of these visitors is 4,000 per year, and they include representatives from competitors that are often surprised at how committed Ricoh is to having an open mindset.

“Ricoh President Yamashita talked about how the company’s development of new businesses will move away from doing everything in-house. To succeed, thinking outside of traditional norms is vital,” says Deguchi.

Because speed is important, operations need to be optimized by cooperating with companies that excel in areas that Ricoh isn’t acquainted in. Deguchi and his team members are fully aware of this.

“There’s always the possibility of suffering a loss as a result of giving outsiders open access to the whole facilities. However, I am convinced that the positives from granting open access will outweigh the negatives when it comes to the RICOH Eco Business Development Center,” he says proudly.

An exhibit of “Comet Circle TM” a concept that Ricoh believes is necessary to achieve a sustainable society, that uses actual printing machine parts.

An exhibit of “Comet Circle™” a concept that Ricoh believes is necessary to achieve a sustainable society, that uses actual printing machine parts.

Companies are now expected to contribute to the achievement of SDGs and take on efforts to create a sustainable society. RICOH Eco Business Development Center is a major hub that serves an important role in the company’s effort to help create a low-carbon and recycling-based society. More than ever, the facility will become a symbol that delivers how committed Ricoh is to the environment.

*Nearly ZEB: ZEB (Net zero energy building) is defined as a facility with goals to reduce its energy balance to zero through energy consumption reduction efforts such as usage of natural energy and facility system optimization. Facilities with a net reduction of energy consumption by 50% or more is classified as “ZEB ready,” 75% or more is “Nearly ZEB,” and 100% and above is “ZEB.”

Written by NewsPicks Brand Design

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