If anyone can, Canon can

Canon has a philosophy of "living and working together for the common good". Tom Idle visited its UK headquarters and discovered that this ideology embraces climate change and the environment to such an extent that even the company's products have sustainability built into them

Nestled in the beauty of the Surrey countryside is the magnificent headquarters of electronics business Canon. I arrive just days after the Sunday Times has published its annual Best Green Companies to Work For survey, an index in which the firm came a respectable 32nd; naturally, there’s a buzz about the place. The HQ at Woodhatch, Reigate is clearly a place within which people love working. With 27 acres of carefully-manicured grounds, a koi carp pond and an on-site restaurant, Canon’s philosophy of kyosei (which literally translates from Japanese to “living and working together for the common good”) seems to have seeped into the psyche of the office workers here.

“Canon’s environmental commitment is rooted in our philosophy of kyosei,” says Ryoichi Bamba, president and CEO of Canon Europe, Middle East and Africa. “This philosophy was established in 1988 and is now firmly embedded as a core value of our company. Guided by kyosei we strive to balance environmental concerns with economic development.” And this doesn’t seem to be purely words from the CEO.

After all, this is a company that positively encourages its employees to work one hour less for eight days in the summer so that they can get home to be with their families.

The pristine surroundings seem to contradict the industrial process at the heart of this business. Manufacturers of digital SLR cameras, camcorders, lenses, printers, scanners, photocopiers, Canon is even using its high-tech sensing and imaging technology in a joint partnership with the University of Kyoto for disease detection experiments.

Founded in 1933, Canon began life when a small group of keen scientists set out to establish their presence in camera technology. It wasn’t until the 1970s that products hit the UK market, and at that time only calculators, micrographic equipment and copiers were the stable here. Then, in 1982, a separate camera sales operation was merged to form Canon (UK) Ltd, and since then the company has grown to become a world-leading provider of imaging solutions for the digital office and home environments.

Today, the business turns over £27B a year and employs more than 130,000 staff around the world. Seven-hundred and fifty of them enjoy the Surrey location. In the UK head office, the firm has created both a harmony between staff and their working environment and as a fantastic showroom for its many products. It didn’t come cheap though. The £21M building was officially opened nine years ago, fusing three different locations into one central office.

Architecturally, it is a superb example of how buildings can blend seamlessly into their environment, landscaped as it is to complement the natural slope of a hill and preserve the existing meadowland and forest.

Inside, energy conservation is the key. The building is naturally ventilated throughout through a combination of its east-west axis location, the thermal qualities of the huge, heat-absorbing concrete structure, and a fresh-air ventilation system, maximised by a sophisticated building management system, which controls the opening and closing of high level windows. Meanwhile, on the roof, solar panels (manufactured by the company itself) generate around 35kW of power. The amount of electricity being generated at any one time can be monitored visually by a wall-panel located in the reception area.

Nobody works more than ten metres from a natural light source, helping to cut energy use and costs. Lights switch themselves off when there is nobody around and the building boasts its own sunshades, preventing the summer sun heating the south-facing areas. Louvres on the east- and west-facing windows do a similar job in blocking the early morning and evening sunlight creating too much heat inside.

Not only has this building been awarded an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating, it has picked up dozens of trophies along the way, not least the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust Building of the Year Award.

Canon’s people love being here. And they love bringing clients here too; it’s a chance to show the building off, as well as the products in the Canon stable. “Woodhatch is like a living showroom,” says Tracey Fielden, head of office marketing. “Clients can see the products in action here. So, we’ll get HR managers come in and they will want to visit our HR department to see how they are using Canon products in their day-to-day activities.

“And the good thing is that they will get an honest appraisal of how good the products are from our people, who seem to be more critical of things than anyone else.”

Staff are not just proud of the building in which they work or the products they sell. One of the main reasons why Canon performed so well in this year’s Sunday Times survey was that its employees understand the climate change agenda and appreciate the way in which their employer is tackling it. Canon engages with its 1,700 UK staff via a monthly newsletter, featuring things like profiles on ‘eco-warriors’: those doing something positive for the environment both at work and at home.

Around 85% of people here say the environment is an everyday consideration for them. And more than 70% say bosses actively encourage them to be more green in the workplace. “We put green or red smiley face stickers on people’s PCs if they’ve left them on standby overnight,” says environment and product safety manager, David Lucioni. He explains: “It’s amazing how quickly you can affect behaviour change – they don’t want to be embarrassed by having more red stickers than green.”

Individual waste bins have been removed, encouraging people to walk to the nearest recycling bins for cans, paper, cardboard, and ink and toner cartridges. Since this initiative was put into place, the number of general waste wheelie bins being removed from the site has dropped from five to three a day.

Modern working methods (which so often go hand-in-hand with good environmental performance) encourage video conferencing to cut needless travel and hot-desking facilities for homeworkers that are visiting the office.

This consideration for the environment is not an add-on initiative, developed to jump on the green bandwagon. Canon has been doing this stuff for years. In 1990, it became the first company in the world to begin collecting and recycling toner cartridges. It was the first Japanese firm to become accredited to the ISO 14001 standard and today has more than 700 of its sites certified worldwide.

It also strives to make products 75% recyclable by mass (for reuse and material recycling) and 85% recoverable by mass (including thermal recycling).

But when it comes to how business approaches sustainability, there are perhaps three types of company. First, there are those that keep an eye on policy and regulation and ensure they stay ahead of the law; then there are those that do the first, and see opportunities in the climate change space to gain the competitive edge.

The third group of companies does both of these things, while also having the power and influence to affect real change along the supply chain. Canon belongs in this third group.

The company’s printing solutions are a good example of what I mean. The functionality it has built into its devices allows other businesses to really think about the environment, while reducing resources and energy. The Secure Print option fixed into Canon’s large-scale office printers reduces the number of print jobs that are left in the printer and never collected. Instead print jobs can only be activated and released from the printer once the person sending the job has used their swipe card or password at the device. It’s a simple device but one that has the potential to not only save paper, but also educate users to see print as a valuable resource.

By installing the firm’s uniFLOW Output Manager software, you can even activate your job at any printer in your office.

Canon recently celebrated its 70th birthday with record turnover figures, after an eighth consecutive year of sales and profit growth.

It is a diverse business and, to some extent, protected from the terrible economic global picture. But as the importance of corporate responsibility grows, it is to companies like Canon that we should look to observe how it conducts its business – balancing economic growth and huge R&D investment with its kyosei philosophy and a true consideration for the planet.

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