In the second part of an in-depth interview with ARN's Brian Corrigan, local Kyocera Mita managing director, David Finn, talks about the printer-maker's green credentials.
Kyocera has claimed environmental responsibility as a competitive advantage for years now. How did the company take that direction and how has it progressed?
David Finn, Kyocera Mita (DF): We had a standard laser about 12 years ago but our chairman decided we had to get out or differentiate. Early models were expensive and it was an uphill battle because being green did cost you money. The savings were there but the capital costs were wrong so we became a niche player in the early days. It was a bit green and alternative almost but we have turned it around as the products improved and we went through the experience curve. Today, everybody knows the planet is not well. It's like the people who were able to find scientists years ago to tell us that smoking does no damage. You wouldn't get anybody with half a brain standing up now and saying smoking is not dangerous.
What are Kyocera's environmental credentials today?
DF: I have a guy in Canberra whose job is to push this message and we have an alliance with Clean Up Australia. We had a study done by the Australian Conservation Foundation [ACF] in 1997, which said every toner cartridge thrown out in Australia during the next year would fill the MCG to a depth of three metres. A new study done by Clean Up Australia now puts that figure at six metres. Kyocera print cartridges are in there as well but at least we know ours will revert to water vapour in 30 years. Our competitors' products don't and they contain toxic substances that take up to 900 years to break down.
Many vendors now have environmental messaging. Is that frustrating?
DF: They have all got the same message and that's life but we can point back to a solid history. Anybody can jump on the bandwagon and green-wash but proving it is a whole new ballgame. There's nothing I can do about other vendors' messaging but we were doing it long before it was fashionable. We are an environmentally accredited company [ISO 14001] and everything we do is to an audited standard down to selection of suppliers, the packaging used and how we dispose of it. Half of our competitors didn't even bother signing up for the packaging covenant. All our packaging is made from recycled newspaper and the dye is vegetable dye. That gives us a feel good factor. Part of our green technology is now so cost efficient that it saves people money. Our competitors can say they are green all they want but they have no real answer to that. We use Sims [Group] for recycling and they recycle 98 per cent. Our products are also Reduction of Hazardous Substances [RoHS] compliant so there's no nickel, cadmium or lead in them. That's mandatory in Europe but not in Asia-Pacific. It doesn't matter how slow this race is but we are going to win the environmental battle. Other vendors can put green stripes on but they are all show and no go.
What is going to make the industry more environmentally responsible?
DF: I think there will be legislation on formal take-back. In Europe, all cartridges have to come back and there is none of this voluntary stuff. There's a big cost factor. Europe is far more advanced than we are but then they have to be because they've got denser population and a higher concentration of pollution. They had to clean up their act.
Who should be responsible for disposing of old equipment?
DF: You can argue it is the user or the vendor. Personally, I think the manufacturer should be responsible and we do that now. We rolled out 4000 printers in a tender earlier this year and for every one we dropped off we picked up the one it was replacing. That's what has to happen and some of the tenders require it. That is sorting out a few tender responses because people are good at dropping it but can't handle the inbound flow. Your whole company goes from one-way traffic to one that has to be able to dispose of equipment to. We are fully geared up for that but it adds another layer of cost to your operations. It is part of our commitment and it will become mandatory sooner or later.
So you think we will go down the legislation path?
DF: I think if Labor gets in it will happen sooner rather than later but if the Liberals are re-elected it will remain a talking point. I think Labor has a keener interest in the environment. There has been a lobby group in Canberra for some time now focused on end-of-life equipment and a number of our competitors are fighting against any take-back program. It will become mandatory that users can bring a product back to the vendor for disposal but they might be able to charge for that service. Resellers could end up being depots where you drop off an old printer and pick up a new one.
Environment apart, where else do you think the print battles will be fought in the next year or two?
DF: It is hugely commoditised and there is a self-destruct battle going on between vendors that are unable to differentiate. All they can do is lower their prices and eventually something has to break. They can't survive and the current situation is not sustainable.