How Ricoh Electronics, Inc. Builds Environmental Awareness 
Demonstrating Responsibility through Resource Recovery and Preservation 
By Judy Asman, Corporate Communications Specialist
 

 

 

March 2001 heralded a milestone for the employees of Ricoh Electronics, Inc. (REI). After two years of pursuing zero waste to landfill, or 100 percent resource recovery, the office equipment manufacturer celebrated this company-wide achievement. As a result, REI facilities in California, Georgia and Mexico no longer send waste to landfills, keeping in line with REI’s slogan, “Keep Our Earth Clean.” 

Many corporations strive to be good corporate citizens, REI is one such company. In a time when cynics claim corporate citizenship to be only skin deep, REI endeavors to overcome the obstacle of cosmetic corporate citizenship through its sincere efforts to educate its employees. 

REI, an Orange County-based manufacturer, began producing adding machines in 1973 for Japanese parent company, Ricoh Company, Ltd. (RCL). The company now has plants in Lawrenceville, GA and Toluca, Mexico. Having started producing copiers in 1976 and later thermal paper and toner, REI has since upheld its commitment to quality and excellence. 

REI’s zero waste to landfill achievement is one of many environmental successes at REI. REI promotes responsibility and awareness through myriad activities such as TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), product recycling, reduction in usage and emissions of toxic materials, rideshare, energy usage reduction, and community service projects such as tree planting, school beautifications and inner-coastal cleanups. 

The company’s environmental management systems are ISO (International Standardization Organization) 14001 certified which means that REI adheres to this international environmental standard. Lee Gjetley, REI’s Environmental Health and Safety Division Manager, explains, “The ISO 14001 standard requires companies to communicate their environmental policy to their employees. It also requires them to help employees understand how their activities impact the environment.” Gjetley goes on to say that REI’s activities put REI at the forefront of environmental awareness in California. “Traditionally, Ricoh has sought ways to go beyond mere compliance with environmental regulations.” 

One example was REI’s introduction of a non-solvent cleaning and “powder paint” process in 1990, which REI uses for its machine parts. The process emits virtually no volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere as traditional painting, and we are able to reuse up to 95 percent of the materials. 

Encouragement from Japan Like Parent Like Child 
REI derives its commitment to environmental consciousness from parent company RCL. The Ricoh Group, which consists of RCL and other Ricoh subsidiaries throughout the world, adheres to the concept that in order for a society to be highly sustainable, it must first be able to effectively produce using minimum resources. The Ricoh Group’s concept of environmental conservation activities is known as the Comet Circle. This model represents a resource recirculating society that manufactures products, which the consumer can eventually recycle. 

Aside from REI working to comply and going beyond mere compliance with environmental regulations, the past several years have been about encouraging employees to integrate environmental and resource saving activities as part of their jobs. The Comet Circle forms the foundation of what RCL does and promotes in terms of the recycling of our products. The two activities REI does to participate in this are toner cartridge recycling and equipment remanufacturing. 

Changing a Culture Through Awareness and Empowerment 
Total Productive Maintenance Motivates Employees to Eliminate Wasted Resources and Labor 

REI’s environmental efforts urge all employees to participate. When employees begin working at REI, they might be complacent about environmental issues. But REI’s commitment to corporate citizenship would not be a genuine one if it weren’t for the challenge of encouraging the employees to take a greater responsibility for their surroundings. 

In September 1999, REI launched Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) to reduce internal operation costs by eliminating waste labor, materials and supplies. 

TPM involvement entails a commitment by the workers to go the extra mile in maintaining a clean and safe environment. REI’s thermal and toner production facilities are divided into sections. Under the guidance of various team leaders, these sections are cleaned and inspected regularly. Inherent in this practice is equipment restoration and reuse. 

Gary Overby, a manager in the group that produces thermal paper, has worked for the company since 1985. He is an example of an employee who has been influenced by REI’s commitment to the environment. “In the sixteen years I have been at REI, nothing has compared to some of our recent achievements and improvements. These are the result of our TPM and zero waste to landfill programs. Whenever I mention to someone outside of REI, that we have achieved zero waste to landfill, I cannot tell you how fantastic his or her reactions are. This always lets me know what a tremendous impact we are making on our environment.” 

REI employees participate in TPM through Ideas for Excellence (IE), a program that allows workers to share improvement ideas in various aspects of their jobs. Recently Overby submitted an IE known as the slitting blade reuse system. This system encourages employees to clean and repair used blades, thereby saving the company money and resources.

 Zero Waste to Landfill
 In the case of zero waste to landfill, the first step was for employees to change the way they look at garbage. Many of us have grown accustomed to simply throwing things away. We have generally put our waste in one bin or, at best, three different bins - one each for garden waste, mixed paper and regular old trash. But at REI, the employees have enhanced their recycling system to be more detailed. 

Don Hermans, Quality System Department Director for the copier manufacturing group, helped implement the many zero waste to landfill activities in his division. Hermans explains, “Through contests, posters, announcements, and training we have raised our job-related environmental awareness. Now we are taking ownership for environmental conservation here at work by doing the same things we have been doing at home for years.” Hermans goes on to explain the detailed recycling system, “We are segregating our paper, plastic and metal recyclables, and green waste is not trash but compost. One of our continuing challenges is to get people to permanently change their habits so we generate less waste and minimize our impact on the environment.” 

Part of what makes REI’s environmental achievements so great is the participation by REI’s plants in Georgia and Mexico. The Georgia plant was the first REI facility to meet the zero waste to landfill target. They also discovered a vendor that can recycle waste toner, one of REI’s biggest recycling challenges. In Georgia, the waste toner is being introduced as a fuel source in the vendor’s cement manufacturing process. Not only does this keep the waste from going to landfill, it helps the cement manufacturing company reduce coal usage during the process. In addition to this, REI is seeking other options for toner recycling such as use in asphalt manufacturing. 

The Toluca, Mexico municipality recently granted Ricoh Industrial de Mexico (RIM) a letter of recognition for their recent zero waste to landfill achievement. RIM became a zero waste to landfill facility in March 2001. “In Mexico, Ricoh is a pioneer,” says Plant Manager Ranulfo Gomez. “Here, waste recycling is pretty new and environmental consciousness is not as strong.” As with the rest of the REI facilities, RIM will continue increasing environmental consciousness through various company activities. 

Eco-Packaging 
In the past, the packaging used for copiers was made from composite materials such as wood, cardboard, and styrene foam, and was therefore difficult to disassemble and sort. This meant that most of the disposed material was either burned or buried. As a more environmentally-friendly alternative, REI is now using eco-packaging, which no longer requires composite materials and is instead made of 98 percent recyclable materials. These materials are mostly composed of cardboard. 

Toner Cartridge Recycling and Copier Remanufacturing 
Since 1997, REI has been recycling toner cartridges for fax machines and printers. REI began collecting various types of cartridges in 1995 and later began recycling a printer cartridge known as the T150. Since shipping their first collection of recycled T150 cartridges, the toner cartridge recycling facility has dismantled over 306,000 cartridges and reconditioned or reused over 9.5 million parts. Today, a recovery and recycling system is being established for used cartridges both in Japan and overseas. This process demonstrates REI’s participation in RCL’s Comet Circle, REI’s copier remanufacturing poses another example. 

REI is currently remanufacturing three different copier models for resale or lease. The used copiers come from Ricoh Corporation’s lease program. When a lease expires, Ricoh Corporation turns the copier over to REI. The parts recovery or reuse rate is approximately 95 percent per unit. 

What’s Next?
 “To survive in the next century, a company needs to be more environmentally oriented and carry out more socioeconomic practices,” asserts Masamitsu Sakurai, President and Chief Operating Officer of RCL. “We have been through a ‘passive’ period, in which we simply dealt with regulations and a ‘proactive’ period, in which we voluntarily took measures to reach higher goals in conserving the global environment.” These are the first steps REI has taken through its participation in its various environmental and improvement activities. 

Sakurai understands environmental activities and awareness are also important for a company to be economically strong. “We are now in a ‘responsible’ period, in which we are increasing our economic value as a company to continue such activities. We need to aggressively appeal to society by helping to decrease the overall negative impact on the environment while working with communities and citizen groups on activities that contribute to the environment.”

 Recently Innovest, a New York based company that informs investors about organizations with strong environmental management policies, named RCL No. 1 in its industry for environmental management. The findings show that organizations with solid practices will be economically strong in the future and are also the strongest companies in which to currently invest. This statistic is promising in that more and more companies will prove lucrative if they demonstrate greater responsibility for the environment.


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