BreakThrough Interview

Incorporating SDGs into the management strategy of an SME, acquiring many new business partnersOhkawa Printing Co., Ltd.

<Series 1 (Total 2 series)>


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In recent years, an increasing number of companies have showcased their SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) initiatives in venues such as newspaper advertisements. Many SME owners have the impression that addressing SDGs is limited to large companies with sufficient funds, and they do not understand how it will lead to sales and profits.

However, it is also true that some SMEs have succeeded in improving their performance and strengthening their management base as a result of working on SDGs. One of them is Ohkawa Printing Co., Ltd. which was founded in 1881 and has about 40 employees. The company incorporated SDGs into its business strategy, acquiring many new business partners, and was recognized as a role model both domestically and abroad by the government at the 2nd Japan SDGs Awards, winning the SDGs Partnership Award (special award). In this two part series we ask CEO Tetsuo Ohkawa how and why the initiative was started and made a success.

SDGs initiatives attract new business partners

The company has promoted advanced initiatives in the environmental and societal areas, including in 2016 the only “zero carbon print” by a Japanese printing company. SDGs are often considered a business opportunity, but what about for Ohkawa Printing?

“Over the last three years, SDG-related orders have reached a total of about 50 million yen. Transactions with companies working on SDGs are increasing at a rate of about 50 companies a year, and there have even been a few inquiries from overseas. As the number of large companies actively working on SDGs increases, the opportunities to select suppliers that address the SDGs are also increasing. Under these circumstances, the implementation of many measures (shown below) in a wide range of fields such as the environment, energy, health, and job satisfaction led to the acquisition of new customers. ”

Started environmental measures to differentiate away from price competition

With vigorous “ESG investment” to determine investment targets by evaluating corporate environmental, social, and governance initiatives, SDG initiatives will surely remain valuable in the selection of corporate suppliers.

While some companies have been criticized for "SDG washing (impersonation)" that exaggerates contributions to SDGs without commensurate results, other companies like Ohkawa Printing have been commended for delivering quantifiable results through consistent efforts. However, even Ohkawa Printing did not deliver results from the start.

“We began to focus on the environment after the bubble burst. In the midst of tough price competition, we decided to move forward with environmental measures that we had been interested in for some time as a way to differentiate ourselves from other companies. However at that time, the topic of the “environment” was not attracting as much attention from society as now, and it was not immediately profitable. ”


Enthusiasm and numerous encounters supported the efforts

Ohkawa Printing has continued its modest efforts and improved its profitability. Mr. Ohkawa's enthusiasm and numerous encounters supported the process.

“Looking back now, I think it all started when I was 18 years old and lost my father in a likely case of medical malpractice. At the time we decided against litigation because of the poor chances of winning, but the feeling of injustice stayed with us. ''

However when he was 22 years old, Mr. Ohkawa visited the southern United States where he met local people and learned about the reality of intense racism, which changed his perception in a major way.

"Countless people around the world have worse grievances than me, so I shouldn't stay aggrieved forever over my father. I began to think of working for society and helping these people. ''

Mr. Ohkawa turned his grievance into a motivating force and gained experience in the printing industry, first promoting the in-house use of recycled paper and introducing soybean oil ink. Through encounters with social entrepreneurs, the purpose of the “Social Printing Company®” was formulated, which would contribute to society through its business. Making efforts to obtain the cooperation of employees, Ohkawa Printing will move forward with company-wide efforts recognized by the government as “formulating a bottom-up SDGs management strategy" and “implementing feasible SDGs in the core business.”

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 August 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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