Kermit the Frog once lamented that "it's not easy being green," but in today's environmentally conscious world, manufacturers are becoming increasingly concerned about the negative impact their processes and product lines may have on our ecosystem-and they're implementing sustainability practices and initiatives to combat these problems.
Some of the biggest players, including Olympus, Canon, Epson, Nikon, and Fujifilm, have dedicated divisions and areas on their websites where visitors can view comprehensive sustainability reports, environmental initiatives, and ecological education.
"When Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, came out, customers started to take notice, and we seemed to already have a lot of the answers," says Adam Yates, director of corporate communications for Fujifilm. "We really benefit from the heritage of our headquarters based in Japan-it's an island manufacturing culture, a small, contained place with limited resources."
A few companies have already been recognized for their environmental efforts. Other World Computing was recently selected by Computerworld magazine as one of the Top Green-IT Companies for 2008 for its new "green" corporate headquarters (explained in more detail later), while Legion Paper received a certificate of environmental stewardship for its Champion-level participation in Rocky Mountain Power's Blue Sky program for converting its Moab, Utah, offices to 100% renewable wind power (reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20.4 tons). And Eastman Kodak Company, Hewlett-Packard, and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. have all been named to the Corporate Knights, Inc., list of "Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World," a select group of companies whose sustainability performances falls within the top 5% of their sector.
Manufacturing the Mother Earth Way
Before some of the newest environmentally friendly products even hit store shelves, manufacturers have to consider their internal processes, energy usage, and manufacturing methods. Joe Vaughy, VP, Marketing & Finance, Fujifilm, underscores how committed his company is to making sure their manufacturing M.O. is up to par. "At our South Carolina OTU factory, there is a fish tank with a sign on it that reads: ‘Uses water from manufacturing output,'" he says. "It's clean water in, clean water out."
A dozen of the world's most high-profile companies (including HP and Sony) have recently stepped up to fight against global warming, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Partnering with the World Wildlife Fund, the participants signed a "Tokyo Declaration" that commits each company to specific, environmentally friendly practices. HP, for example, pledged to reduce emissions from operations and the use of its products by 6 million tons below 2005 levels by 2010. Sony, on the other hand, will strive to work with transportation companies that handle the distribution of the company's products to help cut its emissions.
Xerox, which joined the EPA Climate Leaders program in 2003, launched a companywide energy-reduction program called Energy Challenge 2012 to reduce its own greenhouse gases. In 2005, the company pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations companywide by 10% by 2012. As of December 2007, the company had already exceeded its 2012 reduction target and has upped its goal by more than 100%.
Legion Paper is forging its own innovative path to an ecological utopia, not only tallying the amount of recycled content in its papers-the company tries to not even use trees in the first place. According to the company's website, hundreds of its papers are from highly renewable plants rather than forests, and hundreds of other papers are made by hand and dried in the sun, rather than using electricity-intensive paper machines.
Neschen Americas' SEAL brand has established its Eco-Logic Manufacturing program, part of its ongoing commitment to build high-quality products while reducing the impact these products and their manufacturing have on the environment. The program stems from Seal's use of advanced aqueous adhesive technologies, and the related manufacturing processes that yield low VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions. Seal's R&D is focused on water-soluble, biodegradable, and/or recyclable products that will meet or exceed the performance levels of current solvent-based materials.
Other companies are implementing green into the factories and buildings themselves. Unibind is harnessing the most natural energy possible: All of the company's Belgium office buildings' roofs are being solar-paneled. And Other World Computing (OWC) recently completed construction on its 10,000-sq-ft corporate headquarters, featuring a geothermal heat-pump system, fiber-optic rooftop light-harvesting technology, high-insulation windows, "smart" building technology with sensors that detect and adjust for unused rooms, an installed water-filtration system, and waterless urinals and dual-mode toilets.
Certifications and Compliance
Getting with the environmental program often involves achieving certain compliances and certifications. One of the most coveted accomplishments in this arena is being able to comply with the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 14001 environmental management standards, which exist to help companies legally minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment.
Nikon has ISO certification, for example, in the areas of environment and quality management. Canon, which was the first company in Japan to be certified for BS7750 (ISO 14001's predecessor), has built environmental management systems at manufacturing sites around the world, subsequently completing consolidated certification for Canon and 103 affiliated companies in 2007. Epson Electronics America's Environmental Management System is also ISO 14001–compliant.
Fujifilm points out another compliance standard it is proud to have achieved: RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances), which restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of certain electronic and electrical equipment. "All our products are RoHS-compliant," points out Fujifilm's Celia Spence, VP, Environment, Health & Safety. "That's no small accomplishment."
Cobra Digital is also RoHS-compliant, restricting the use of hazardous materials found in electrical and electronic products. "Consumers in the know feel that a company that's RoHS-compliant is one that cares for the environment-we clearly do," says JIM ZEMANCIK, sales account manager.
Xerox Corporation boasts "chain of custody" certification from both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). These certifications confirm that Xerox paper products carrying the FSC or PEFC logo have been manufactured using raw materials harvested from certified sources, controlled wood sources, or post-consumer reclaimed sources. As of 2007, more than half of Xerox's office and production products also met the Environmental Protection Agency's rigorous new Energy Star requirements,
Recycling is probably among the more high-profile ways a company can "give back" to the environment, and many photo industry manufacturers have implemented such programs into their overall environmental repertoire. Kodak, for example, recently embarked on perhaps one of the most visible recycling campaigns, teaming up with Wal-Mart and Sam's Club nationwide to recycle used materials from in-store picture kiosks. The program is expected to annually recycle 2 million pounds of thermal printer ribbons, spools, and cartridges.
Cobra Digital has also soared ahead as an environmental leader, according to Zemancik. "First and foremost, we make sure that our facilities are recycling anything they can: plastic, metal, glass, and paper make up the bulk of what we recycle on a regular basis," he says. "In 2006, Cobra Digital began introducing cameras and video recorders that use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which will last for many years. Cobra Digital is looking to unveil many more models in 2008 that will specifically use rechargeable batteries. The alkaline batteries that we currently provide customers are imprinted with illustrations notifying users that they should recycle and not dispose of them in the trash. Small things like that make a difference in the world for all of us." Other initiatives Cobra has undertaken include recycling packaging materials at the corporate office, and using recycled paper and cardboard in its packaging.
HP's Planet Partners return-and-recycling program allows for simple recycling of original HP inkjet and LaserJet supplies, any brand of computer hardware, and rechargeable batteries. The company ensures that returned products are recycled properly, processing them to recover valuable plastics and metals for new products and diverting millions of tons of waste from landfills. The company's goal: to recycle an accumulative 2 billion pounds by the end of 2010.
Some other recycling initiatives undertaken by major manufacturers:
Panasonic has developed a special recycling technology that enables the recovery of metals from plastic-coated wires and plastics used in electric and electronic equipment without causing hazardous side effects.
In an effort to keep its offerings Earth-friendly, LumiQuest has recently updated its product line and packaging. As part of this revamp, the company is making strides in ensuring its products are more environmentally friendly, made of recycled and recyclable materials.
Samsung makes sure its packaging materials adhere to its "3Rs policy": Reuse, Reduce, and Recycle.
Sakar International has introduced its Eco Trends product line; all of the computer, iPod/MP3, and digital camera accessories in this line will be made of recyclable plastics, and the packaging will be made of both recycled plastic and paper and be printed with eco-friendly inks and dyes.
As part of its "Generation Green" initiative, introduced at this year's CES, Canon USA has announced the availability of NatureStone product packaging, which uses biodegradable limestone packaging, reducing the need for paper and other raw materials (resulting in a 45% reduction in natural energy, 65% reduction in petroleum-based plastics, and 50% reduction in emissions that impact global warming). Nikon remains committed to its recycling initiatives, including its ongoing development of "eco-glass," which will significantly reduce the company's environmental loading.