Green for Profit or Green for the Environment
As a former employee of Konica Minolta, I feel particularly well suited to discuss the CSR measures of the company, both in the US and more globally. Konica Minolta (KM) has been concerned and active in CSR measures for far longer than many other companies. In fact, in 2009, they set forth an aggressive plan called EcoVision 2050 that sought to reduce all CO2 emissions to 80% of levels that they had been in 2005. Then in 2017, they added a carbon negative pledge to that, and have since updated their performance to announce they will be carbon negative by 2030, 20 years ahead of schedule. (Message from the Sustainability Officer – Sustainability | KONICA MINOLTA, 2020).
Their commitment could be seen in the products that they produced. Especially in the cornerstone of the “copier” industry, toner. Traditional toner had been produced by high speed pulverizing of carbon, and adding developer components that carried the toner through to the imaging process, until it was eventually transferred to the paper through electrical charge, heat, pressure and oil. Not only is this clearly a carbon/coal based product, but the subsequent power and additive requirements are not characteristically friendly to the environment (The Creation of New Value, 2010).
Their answer was to create a new type of toner from bio-resin waxes, which were completely biodegradable, used low power OLEDs to create the transfer charge (instead of high power lasers), required far less heat to be produced, and drew 75% less energy. I was fortunate to be one of only two US executives that travelled to the Tatsuno, Japan (located near the site of the Nagano winter Olympics) toner factory. While located in the mountains surrounding Mt. Fuji, and not very practical to reach, the water from the crystal clear rivers was needed to produce the toner. The only waste product from that manufacturing process is soapy water that is safe for the environment. Even product materials flowed by gravity through each step until the final product was deposited in large distribution bags on the bottom floor. The entire plant was powered by Natural Gas which was plentiful in the region.
In the US, the Corporate HQ that I was located in made the bold step to reroof all of the parking carport covers with LED panels, which allowed them to produce nearly all needed power for the campus.
However, not all steps were Environment based. Leadership in Japan and the US created a 5 Material Issues plan that focused on social elements, and specifically employee welfare. Steps were taken to provide paths for employees to bring forth charity activities from their personal lives to the company’s attention for their support. It also engaged employees in the official charities on an ongoing basis, such as the 5K Bridge Run for the National Kidney Foundation which had scores of employees either competing to raise money, or directly donating. In every office around the country, you see local charities that are being supported by public and private events. Employees feel as if their priorities around social welfare are important to the company. (Message from the Sustainability Officer – Sustainability | KONICA MINOLTA, 2020).
With all of this said, there are certainly issues that are not in keeping with this CSR message that I have personally borne witness to. These are my views and opinions, and are presented. as such. In the past 3 years, the company suffered internally from image issues related to ageism and misogyny. Several female senior managers and leaders seemed to be pushed out of positions and let go, in favor of what was perceived to be younger, prettier, more “hip” people with hardly a part of the experience. Even though the senior leader they reported to was herself a woman, she was no friend to experienced employees. In fact, I personally frequently hear comments that “that’s just not the way the world thinks anymore, and it’s old fashioned thinking”. Yet, these individuals who had been let go were performing their tasks very well, and didn’t need to be “hip”. The results were significant legal battles. These employees filed lawsuits which are certainly public record, however, most ended in private settlements. Significant financial settlements in favor of the employees each time. Yet, internal workings within many areas of the company never changed.
Further unmasking of this two sided coin, was when much of the workforce was downsized, purportedly for Covid business results, in July of 2020. I woke up on July 1 2020 to an email from HR with 12 letters of dismissal for my employees (a team of 45(. At no time was I asked about performance of the individuals, workload, and the impact to clients if they were forced to leave. Instead, there was no allowance to talk or renegotiate, and the firings had to be done that day. There were 100s let go that day. Understand that the group I ran was an essential part of the ongoing operations of many of our clients, and not something where slack could be picked up by others. We had been trying to double our headcount up until then. This cold, surprise method of essentially letting a computer spit out the candidates for elimination had one added effect. It caused me to actively begin looking to leave the company with which I had been so proud to work for 17 years. I left as soon as the next round of early retirement was announced. I am not alone. Many others followed as the actions of the company seemed inconsistent with the messaging from Tokyo.
So after all I have seen, the company is definitely Green for both profit and the environment. They’ve done those two things well. However, the Global nature of leadership is that while direction from the top may be X, the direction determined to embody that in local or regional companies may look like Y. As such, while profit and environmental issues are green, so is the color reflecting the queasy feeling I get when I think about the recent history of employee treatment.
Message from the Sustainability Officer – Sustainability | KONICA MINOLTA. (2020). Konicaminolta.com. https://www.konicaminolta.com/about/csr/csr/message/officer.html
The Creation of New Value. (2010). https://www.konicaminolta.com/about/csr/csr/download/2010/pdf/2010_en_all.pdf