BreakThrough Interview

Increasing employee understanding of SDGs and providing new value to societyOhkawa Printing Co., Ltd.

<Series 2 (Total 2 series)>


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SMEs can also incorporate SDGs into management to improve sales and profit margins. That's what the case of Ohkawa Printing tells us, a company which has leveraged its experience of consistently dealing with the environment to work on the SDGs, and has gained a large number of new business partners.

However, the cooperation of employees is essential for making the measures successful. How did a long-standing company founded 138 years ago end up addressing SDGs with a bottom-up approach? In the second part of the series, we will clarify that process.

From environmental and CSR initiatives to the introduction of SDGs

It was in the worsened business environment after the bubble burst that the company began to focus on environmental initiatives aimed at differentiating it from other companies. The first thing Ohkawa Printing worked on was promoting the use of recycled paper and introducing soybean oil ink.

“In fact, some employees hated the changes, and they weren’t immediately profitable. But the on-site staff was pleased that there was no smell of petroleum solvent and that the factory air improved. Addressing the environment is for our own sake as well. It was huge for the employees to realize that.”

Eventually in the 2000s, the trend shifted from “environmental management” to “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).” With the purpose of being a “Social Printing Company®” that contributes to society through its business, Ohkawa Printing has promoted the use of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®) forest certified paper. They have set up multiple employee-led CSR committees and expanded their range of activities. But after a few years, some employees complained about CSR activities taking away time they wanted to spend on the core printing business.

“To be chosen from among the many printing companies, we must create both tangible goods such as print-outs as well as intangible goods such as solutions to societal challenges. Therefore, I explained that in order to perform the core printing business, CSR is necessary to make Ohkawa essential to both the community and society. I gained their understanding and we reached a consensus.”

Based on this experience, the company will continue to work on SDGs.


Employee autonomy is essential for promoting SDGs

Mr. Ohkawa learned about the SDGs and intuitively realized that they provide a fitting challenge for the company, and thus started the initiative. The basic idea is the same as before, but the introduction of the SDG framework has had a direct positive impact on sales. In 2018, Ohkawa Printing received the SDGs Partnership Award (Special Award) at the 2nd Japan SDGs Awards sponsored by the government. As approved in the review, we are promoting measures that value employee autonomy in bottom-up activities that can be implemented in our core business.

“Our company formulates its annual management plan at a workshop with employee participation, and employees are pushing forward several SDG projects in the same way. Specifically, we exchange ideas about what is going well, what isn't going well, what we would like to do, and barriers/challenges that are in the way, then we choose guidelines and actions. ”

Employees selected a team they can contribute to, and voluntarily participated, eliminating the feeling of coercion, and all employees ended up participating. Employee understanding and commitment are essential to connect the SDGs to business opportunities. The reason why the usage rate of “FSC forest certified paper” at the company increased to 59% may be because employees understood the value and explained it to customers.


SDGs let the company redefine the value it can provide

Disseminating information is also important for increasing recognition of the company and gaining support and cooperation for activities.

“Our company has renewed its website with a focus on SDGs, and is also distributing its message on SNSs and holding SDG report meetings. I feel it's important to believe that someone, somewhere, is watching and to continue our efforts.”

Many SMEs are always preoccupied by the work at hand, and end up believing that SDGs are out of the question. Mr. Ohkawa says this is the first hurdle.

“However, for the sake of society and the earth, I think we need to abandon the idea that SDGs are irrelevant to our company. We were able to redefine our company's value through the process of incorporating the SDGs into our management strategy.”

Mr. Ohkawa says that Ohkawa Printing aims to be the world's number one environmental printing company by 2030, positioning itself as a hub at the core of the information industry, proposing solutions to societal issues in the region through its business. Lastly, he revealed the following concept.

One of the SDG goals is to achieve a target by entering into a partnership. There are limits to how much a single company can reduce CO2. For example, I would be happy to consider creating a printing company franchise system that provides new value based on our accumulated know-how to solve societal issues and revitalize the industry as a whole. "

Series "Incorporating SDGs into the management strategy of an SME, acquiring many new business partners"

Series 1 Incorporating SDGs into the management strategy of an SME, acquiring many new business partners
Series 2 Increasing employee understanding of SDGs and providing new value to society

Company overview

Ohkawa Printing Co., Ltd.

CEO Tetsuo Ohkawa

Operating in Yokohama since its establishment in 1881. 37 employees (as of July 2018). Other examples of SDG initiatives are the planning and sale of universal design products such as a multilingual drug history handbook for eliminating information gaps with foreigners, and a desk calendar customized for people with color blindness. Established a “River Connections SDG Exchange” with other companies and NPOs, engaging in environmental activities at the local Ookagawa river and expanding the network of collaboration. After graduating from university, Mr. Ohkawa trained at another company for three years and joined Ohkawa Printing in 1993. 6th generation president since 2005.

Coverage date August 9, 2019

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