21st century working

4th September 2014


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  • Biodiversity ,
  • Waste


Zoe Simpson

Paul Suff visits two Ricoh sites to discover how the firm is creating working environments for the future

Ricoh UK’s Northampton head office and the Telford factory of Ricoh UK Products may be two very contrasting facilities, but they both place sustainability at the heart of how they function.

The forward-thinking approach of the managed-document services and IT solutions business recognises that business-as-usual is not an option, both in how Ricoh’s organisations operate and in how the people they employ work.

It is a way of operating that implements the sustainable environmental management (SEM) practices that the business has largely embraced since its foundation in 1936.

SEM at Ricoh focuses on developing energy-efficient products, reducing costs and minimising Ricoh’s own environment footprint through the economical use of resources and supporting work styles that enhance operational and energy efficiency. It is a holistic approach that is continually changing.

As Ricoh UK and Ireland marketing director Chas Moloney told a gathering of IEMA members in December 2013: “Ricoh views sustainability as developing a business model that will deliver lasting value for all our stakeholders into the future, and look beyond managing our impact on the environment.”

Ricoh had previously occupied one floor of the Northampton office building. When the other tenants moved out, Ricoh took the opportunity to refurbish the building and bring together workers from four sites into one. Its goal, when designing the space, was to radically alter how its office staff work.

Meanwhile, the Telford plant, which opened in 1984, continues to evolve, creating the kind of manufacturing facility that is likely to become the norm as companies seek to minimise resource use and reduce their environmental impacts. Both sites illustrate why this year Ricoh celebrates 10 years in the list of the top 100 sustainable businesses worldwide.

The world of work

The Ricoh logo is accompanied by the words “imagine” and “change” to describe how the company is committed to supporting creative thinking.

Mike Baddeley, head of business excellence at Ricoh UK, certainly embraces that philosophy. He was charged with leading a project to create an environment at the expanded Northampton head office which would support the changing nature of work and showcase Ricoh solutions, enabling people to interact and share knowledge.

“We needed to create a space that supports workers now and in the future,” Baddeley says. “There is no point designing an office space for how we work today or may work next year. You need to think longer term, say 10 or 15 years.”

The first step on Ricoh’s journey to a new way of working was to understand how work was changing. Baddeley cites the work of Dutch organisational psychologist Dirk Bijl as being particularly inspirational.

Bijl’s book, New ways of working, describes a post-industrial society in which email boxes are overflowing and there is an increasing administrative rigmarole, more rules and procedures, and more controls for measuring whether employees are sticking to the rules.

Most workers, at least in the developed world, can now be described as “thought” or “knowledge” workers, employed in services and professions rather than factories. Yet, argues Baddeley, the way work is organised and managed has not really altered.

“Despite the revolution in technology speeding up how people communicate and access information, the way we work actually feels like it’s slowing us down,” he says, citing the example of organisations still preferring to hold face-to-face meetings even when they are not necessary.

“They are often arranged several weeks in advance and require people to travel. And the outcome is too often: ‘let’s arrange another meeting’.”

Baddeley believes that businesses need to become more agile, providing staff with the tools to move quickly and easily. He also points out that the separation between people’s work and social lives is disappearing.

“The two are converging. There is an expectation among people in an office environment that they will have access to their social contacts. Equally, many will also catch up on work emails at home.”

The pace at which technology is changing will further accelerate changes in how people work and how organisations function, says Baddeley. “Digitisation has transformed how people consume music and films and, with 3D printing, that is now moving to physical products. Technology is continually disrupting existing business models.”

He says these shifting social and business conditions demonstrate why Ricoh has had to change, and accelerate the pace at which it evolves. “How we operate now is simply not sustainable. And it will be the same for most organisations,” he says.

The four “Cs”

The next step for Baddeley was to better align Ricoh’s working patterns with the way the world was changing. “There’s a view that ‘thought’ workers continuously transform, so you need to provide automated processes to allow them to focus on their strengths, which are about being creative, building relationships and developing knowledge,” he says.

“You have to construct an environment that supports and enables their ability to problem-solve and innovate.”

The expanded physical space at the Northampton head office has been designed for such working, with designated areas for contemplation, communication, concentration and collaboration – a theory developed from the three “Cs” concept outlined by designer Jeremy Myerson.

Baddeley describes the building as a meeting and project place, designed and equipped to discourage people from making unnecessary journeys.

“We did some research and discovered that people only spend 55–60% of their time on what they are good at, with the rest spent travelling. We’ve provided technology for people to work when and where they want to work,” he says. Video conferencing, electronic whiteboards, instant messaging, laptops and softphones are just some of the tools available to support mobility.

Baddeley explains that Ricoh’s approach is not about encouraging people to work from home, but enabling them to work in the best environment for whatever they are engaged in doing. “If they need to concentrate, then they might well work from home or in a quiet area of the office. But if they need to collaborate, for example, they need a different kind of space and different tools.”

Account manager Ben Curtis reveals how video conferencing, for example, is reducing the number of face-to-face meetings among Ricoh sales staff. “Previously, the head of sales held monthly meetings, with staff from 35 offices across the UK converging on one site. Now we have only one physical meeting a quarter and the other two are via video conferencing – that’s a huge reduction in travel.”

Similarly, virtual board meetings are now common, with even guests giving online presentations.

Occupying force

Occupancy levels at Northampton are in line with current employee numbers, so there are enough desks for all of the 450 people moving into the refurbished building but no room for expansion.

That is deliberate, reflecting the company’s thinking on future mobility and how often employees use desks. “We did a survey and found desks were occupied for just 66% of the time, on average,” says Baddeley.

Cutting travelling is one thing, but the decision to minimise paper at Northampton is an interesting message from a company best known for manufacturing photocopiers. “Paper ties an organisation to a building and ties an employee to a desk, which is a barrier to the mobile and agile organisation we’re creating,” says Baddeley. “Also, we sell document digitisation solutions, so a paperless environment is compatible with our business model.”

Paper has not vanished entirely at Northampton, but the volume has declined drastically. Customers now receive electronic invoices, for example, while a “Follow Me” print and scan system enables print jobs to follow the user to their choice of printer.

The system automatically deletes unprinted documents after 18 hours. Ricoh has also implemented a scanning and archiving project to reduce stored paper copies of documents, freeing up space and contributing to a sevenfold reduction in filing and storage.

Meanwhile, an e-post system scans incoming paper documents and sends them directly to the recipient’s laptop or smart device.

Manufacturing the future

About 130km from Northampton, at the Telford site of Ricoh Products UK (RPL), another vision of the future of working is taking shape. Zero waste, energy reduction, remanufacturing (see panel, p.16), biodiversity and harmonising operations with the environment are some of the initiatives on which environment officer Andy Whyle and his colleagues are focused at Telford.

Whyle points out that the “Ricoh Way”, the company’s production system, contains 12 key fundamentals; one of these is being environmentally responsible.

SEM is regarded as the growth engine for the business, and Ricoh set mid- and long-term targets in 2000 to minimise its environmental impacts. For example, all Ricoh manufacturing sites had to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2002 – Telford achieved this in 2001 – and to integrate conservation into their business activities by 2009.

Overall, Ricoh aims to reduce its environmental impacts by 2050 to one-eighth of the level recorded at the start of the millennium.

“Ricoh’s ambition is to help to build a more sustainable society,” says Whyle. He explains that this is not only about reducing the company’s impact by saving energy, conserving resources and preventing pollution, but also about helping to increase the Earth’s regenerative capacity and maintaining or enhancing ecosystems. Whyle describes Ricoh’s approach as “eco-centric” culture change coupled with “techno-centric” development.

“We involve staff in environment initiatives and apply technological solutions where possible to help achieve our objectives,” he says. He explains that sustainability is embedded into the management culture at Ricoh through organisation and individual performance targets.

Targets are set by “backcasting”, a concept used to identify what an organisation needs to do to reach its vision of success. For Ricoh, this is its 2050 objective. “We begin with the end in mind to set three-year or staged management objectives – where we expect to be in, say 2017, then 2020,” says Whyle.

Waste as a resource

Resource conservation is a priority at Ricoh. Its 2002 zero waste to landfill goal for all its manufacturing operations was set in 2000, but Whyle says Telford has gone way beyond that, regarding waste as a resource and part of the production process. “Our ‘waste-2-product’ approach recognises waste as a resource for sale and a cost saving, while reducing our environmental impact,” he explains.

“Waste” is segregated at source and taken to the recycling centre at the site, where it is prepared for the customer who is paying for it. “Segregate at source” is included in the staff induction. “Segregation is part of the production process, not an afterthought. It is in employees’ work instructions and people follow these,” says Whyle.

“Segregation points are located in manufacturing areas. People do not come round clearing up, and recycling staff act as quality control.”

Whyle says that, before waste was treated as a resource and sold, it cost RPL around £46,000 a year to divert it from landfill. In 2011, selling on its cardboard and plastics, for example, generated £59,000. And although a company reorganisation transferred some photocopier manufacturing to France, substantially reducing the amount of cardboard at the site, “waste” still brought in £35,000 in 2013.

Securing the highest financial return for the waste depends on quality and demand, so the Telford site has revisited its segregation of plastic to ensure it can gain the best price. This was partly a consequence of China’s policy in 2013 of restricting the import of poor quality scrap plastic – so-called “green fencing”.

“Some of our plastics are highly engineered and many contain fire retardants, so we’ve created a plastics hierarchy to ensure high-quality materials are separated from poorer quality ones,” says Whyle.

He reports that, in 2012/13, 95% of all manufacturing “waste” at Telford was recovered, with only 5% sent for incineration with energy recovery.

RPL is also keen to reuse materials itself. Maintenance manager Mark Anderson explains how he modified the system for reprocessing ink toner, increasing efficiency from 60% to 95%. “We can now put more back into the process to substitute for raw materials, saving the company almost £300,000 a year,” he says.

In a further example of reuse, engineers at the site designed extensions to the corner packaging posts for photocopiers arriving and leaving the plant. Whyle explains that the height of the crates containing the partly-finished machines delivered to Telford was lower than that of the crates for the finished products, so the corner posts were simply discarded.

Now, a plastic extension is fitted to the posts, enabling them to be reused for finished products. This has reduced waste at Telford by 83 tonnes a year and the returnable packaging has cut waste for the end user.

Powering the plant

Reducing energy use is another key objective at Telford and Anderson says it often provides a bigger opportunity in terms of financial savings than dealing with waste. He reports lots of activity at the plant to reduce electricity consumption.

Switching from sodium lighting to high-frequency fluorescent lighting in its toner plant warehouse is one example. As a result, annual energy costs are £25,000 lower and CO2 emissions have fallen by 150 tonnes. “Return-on-investment is 1.6 years and light quality has improved by around 60%,” says Anderson.

Even bigger savings have been achieved by installing variable speed drives (VSDs) on motors and pumps. Fitting 110 VSDs has saved the plant £85,000 a year, which means the investment has been paid back in just eight months. The drives have also reduced annual CO2 emissions by 520 tonnes.

Anderson reports that he investigated installing solar photovoltaics on the roof of the plant’s buildings and in the fields around the site, but says the figures did not add up. “They would have cost £25,000 to install, taken 10 years to pay back, and saved just 50 tonnes of carbon, so not very efficient,” he says.

Overall, Telford reduced its energy consumption in 2013 by 40% since 2002, despite site turnover doubling during that period. It has saved around £500,000 a year and reduced annual CO2 emissions by 4,000 tonnes.

Eco Ninjas

Ricoh connects environmental conservation activities and business management, and its 2009 biodiversity strategy aims to reduce the impact of the company’s operations on biodiversity and engage proactively in its protection. “With increasing loss of biodiversity, there is an increase in risk for both society and business,” says Whyle.

“The scope of the business risk is broad, ranging from higher procurement costs to restrictions through regulation and customer defection.”

Each Ricoh site is required to preserve and develop its local biodiversity. RPL is working with local non-government organisations, such as the Shropshire Wildlife Trust (SWT), to help conserve and enhance biodiversity. Staff volunteers, known as Ricoh Eco Ninjas, have worked with the SWT since 2009.

Whyle says many “ninjas” have undertaken specialist biodiversity training and have carried out conservation activities both at the Telford plant and in the local community.

One example of their work at the Telford site is the creation of biodiversity buffer zones to establish open glades and hibernacula environments. The boundary hedge between the plant and nearby University of Wolverhampton buildings can be traced back to 1889 and is a species-rich ecosystem.

It is included in the buffer zones, allowing wild flowers and grasses to flourish, and providing an undisturbed habitat for small mammals, birds and invertebrates.

Whyle says the strategy also helps the site’s compliance with regulations. He cites the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) as an illustration of how RPL’s approach to biodiversity will assist it in ensuring it does not fall foul of requirements on diffuse pollution, which includes runoff from roads and commercial areas, and can affect water quality.

“Priorslee lake is an important source of drinking water and sits behind the plant, so we need to minimise the pollution risk,” says Whyle. After discussions with the SWT, RPL is proposing to build a sustainable urban drainage scheme (reed bed) to remove pollutants from runoff from the site.

Open door

Ricoh’s Northampton and Telford sites offer a glimpse of how businesses are changing to be sustainable. The company is keen that other organisations learn from what it is doing. Curtis acknowledges that other companies cannot necessarily replicate everything that Ricoh is doing, but he believes there is much that is transferable.

“If businesses are to be truly sustainable, they need to learn from each other what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “Ricoh is changing and we invite others to come and see what we’re doing.”


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