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Follow the leader 2

Follow the leader

A year after announcing its Environmental Vision 2050, Epson is actively pursuing sustainable development. But is its call for other manufacturers to follow suit being heard?

Speaking on the eve of the European Green Week in the summer of 2008 Akihiko Sakai, executive officer, corporate strategy office, Seiko Epson Corporation, unveiled an ambitious environmental programme that would see the company make all sorts of changes to its structure and business practices to address some of the world's most pressing environmental concerns. Moreover, Sakai invited other members of the printing and imaging industry to match or better Epson's targets, saying: "That's the only time we would be happy to come second best".

A year on and Epson is proving true to its word, having already taken steps towards achieving its Environmental Vision 2050 which includes the reduction 2050 which includes the reduction of CO2 emissions by 90% across the lifecycle of products and services and elimination of global warming gas emissions other than CO2, to ensuring that all products are either reused or recycled, and to take an active part in biodiversity projects.

The goals for the first ten years of Epson's Environmental Vision 2050 are as follows:

  • To reduce CO2 in parts manufacturing (via product designs that save energy and resources). Epson says that parts account for the highest percentage of CO2 emissions in the lifecycles of its products. Therefore, to mitigate environmental impacts stemming from parts, Epson will conduct fundamental reviews at the product design phase to shrink parts sizes and weights and to reduce part counts. At the same time, Epson said it will enlist the understanding and co-operation of suppliers in realigning production centers and overhauling distribution and logistics.
  • To develop a business model in which end-user products have a longer service life and ultimately are returned to Epson. In addition to extending the service life of its products, Epson has promised to build a business model that includes an efficient resource cycle. Among the areas to be examined are be product reuse, leasing and rentals.
  • The mobilization of an expert group to cut cleanroom energy use in half. Cleanrooms are the single largest source of direct CO2 emissions at Epson, accounting for the release of approximately 300,000 tons of this gas. Therefore, Epson has pledged to put together a team of experts from product manufacturing, basic facilities and other relevant departments to promote the development of technologies that will limit cleanroom energy needs, by assuring that energy is used only at the times, in the spaces, and in the amounts necessary. The company will further reduce energy use through cleanroom consolidation.
  • Assisting employee reforestation and environmental activities. Epson plans to enlist the co-operation of local governments etc. in creating reforestation programs for which Epson employees can volunteer their time. Epson said it will also gather ideas from employees and provide assistance for environmental preservation programs in which they can participate. "Epson is sending a clear signal to the world that it is serious about tackling global issues. It is the responsibility of all those in a position to do so to alter their behavior in order to reduce their burden whether or not we can achieve these goals. We all know that failure would have dire consequences and is simply not an option," said Sakai.

This is no idle talk and Epson has been busy fulfilling its self-imposed environmental obligations. As outlined in Epson's recent Sustainability Report 2009, the company has already made a significant reduction in the impact it's making on the environment during its financial year to March 2009. The environmental and community activities during the period, states that on a per unit of sales basis, Epson's emissions of global warming substances showed a consolidated global reduction of 51%, compared with the 1990 financial year,against the target 50% reduction, and a drop in energy use within Japan of 43% (the target was 35%).

Epson technical innovation is a key contributor to energy savings as the energy consumption of inkjet printers has been reduced by 73% over the last four years. The micro piezo inkjet technology developed by Epson for its lifelong printheads reduces the amounts of voltage and current required and thus significantly reduces energy consumption. The same technology material for e.g. chips and other electronic components production. This is a first step towards tackling the resource depletion the world will soon face and which can already be observed by the immense increase in raw material prices in the past few years.

An Epson report says that even if the rise in temperature could be restricted to just two degrees, global warming could potentially mean the extinction of 25% of all natural species. This is why Epson will also focus on protecting biodiversity. One of the initiatives already launched is an ambitious initiative to help restore the biodiversity in Serra da Gardunha, Fund?o, Central Portugal. Epson is working with local partners to restore the area's scenery and wildlife,all of which were devastated by the severe forest fires of 2003 and 2005. The project will reintroduce mixed vegetation which, while unviable for and most sustainable habitat for a vast diversity of flora and fauna.

All this activity has led to the Seiko Epson Corporation being selected for the second time on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, a leading indicator of socially responsible companies. "This year I intend to accelerate actions that will move us a step farther toward achieving our vision," said Epson president Minoru Usui. "Reducing our CO2 emissions by 90% will require fundamental changes in every facet of our business. If we reinvent business processes such that we can halve CO2 emissions arising from manufacturing, logistics and from products themselves, we can, with the help of synergies, slash our emissions by 90%. Conceiving of and delivering low environmental impact products is a challenge that belongs to all manufacturers." Thankfully, others agree and are pushing their eco-responsibilities ever further.

Take Screen, which has put environmental issues at the top of its agenda and is endeavouring to significantly reduce the environmental impact of its manufacturing as well as the products themselves. The company signed up to the Eco Kyoto 21 agreement as long ago as 1994 and the results have been dramatic. Carbon dioxide emissions have been more than halved since 2000 and the 2010 target for waste reduction was reached four years ahead of schedule. One of Screen's goals now is for each new machine, or generation of machine, to be defined as a certified green product and it is aiming for improvements in five key areas of manufacturing: energy efficiency, resource efficiency, recyclability, safety and chemical management.

At Inca too there's a real push on the green front, with product design focussing on the lifecycle of the machine including the use of materials selected to "conform to environmental goals". The company says: "We minimise energy and materials when making our printers. We use efficient, environmentally responsible transport and delivery methods. We continue to develop working practices and machine designs that have a beneficial impact at all stages of the product life and consider this an important part of our business practices.

"In our development process we consider energy saving design, resource saving and the elimination of harmful substances. A large proportion of a product's total environmental impact is caused by the energy consumed in use, we therefore work hard to make steady progress in this area by using high performance chips and lead free electronics. Key components move to stand-by power or complete shutdown whenever possible to conserve energy. "Harmful substances used during manufacturing, including those in the product itself and those contained in consumables, are another focus of Inca's product development - such as the use of UV inks (a monomer containing no solvents or VOCs)"Furthermore we focus on reducing the need for daily operator maintenance which does not rely on purging and which generate very little ink waste. Printers use refillable bulk tanks and ink is supplied in lightweight 5l blow moulded plastic containers to reduce packaging (the containers can be used for waste ink which is collected for disposal). "Finally, by modifying the design of the product it has become possible to ship kit in standard, re-usable shipping containers rather than single-use crates to reduce the environmental cost."

These are by no means the only print kit manufacturers seriously looking at running a more environmentally sustainable business - most are constantly researching ways to improve. The likes of Agfa, Canon Europe, Fujifilm, HP and Oc? for instance are part of Verdigris, a non-profit making print environmental research initiative whose goal is to learn more about the carbon footprint of print and electronic media, from the point of file creation via production to final distribution, use and disposal.

What's clear is that manufacturers in concerns ever more seriously, and if you do too it's worth asking a few pertinent questions of the companies in whose equipment you invest.

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