Following Epson’s third successive platinum rating for sustainability from EcoVadis, Henning Ohlsson, director of sustainability for Europe, discusses how the consumer landscape is leaning into sustainability and how data and independent assessments are critical in filtering real ESG initiatives from other noise and avoiding claims of greenwashing.
Tell me a bit about what you do at your company and your career to date. How did you end up working in sustainability/ESG?
I am the director of sustainability for Epson Europe and managing director for Epson Germany, where I have spent the past 19 years of my career. Prior to this, I worked as general manager at Motorola, sales and marketing director at Nokia and marketing manager at IBM.
I believe that organisations have a responsibility to build a sustainable future, both socially and environmentally, for the long-term future of the planet. Advancing my career in sales through the world of technology has given me a particular understanding of the challenges and opportunities our industry has in addressing environmental and social issues. The rate at which these issues have developed over the years has encouraged me to contribute where I can and really integrate Epson’s global vision around sustainability into our business framework. Today I am proud to lead Epson’s sustainability efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and to work for a company that takes its ESG responsibilities so seriously.
What are your company’s key goals for sustainability and why?
Our business’s global goals are to become carbon negative and underground resource free by 2050, aligning with the 1.5 °C scenario by 2030, and fostering a more sustainable culture that embraces all 17 of the UN SDGs. These goals are reflective of Epson not only as a global technology leader, but as a business with sustainability instilled in its management philosophy and its corporate purpose.
What are your roles and responsibilities, in your own words?
My role as the sustainability director for Epson Europe is to align Epson’s global goals with Epson’s activities across Europe, the Middle East and Europe. Day-to-day this includes everything from cutting emissions in our supply chain and complying with European technology regulations, to fostering a more sustainably-minded culture at Epson and continuously integrating the UN SDGs into our business framework across all areas of our operations.
As a business, we sell indirectly through the channel, therefore a significant part of my role includes aligning our channel partners’ values with our own and ensuring the upmost transparency of our sustainability activities with all our stakeholders. As such, my team publishes an annual sustainability report to illustrate how Epson is aligning with its global sustainability goals and also to outline various initiatives that align with the UN SDGs. This is key to ensuring we are remaining accountable for our commitments and pledges and also inspiring our employees, partners and other stakeholders on how they can act to support sustainability.
Key to Epson’s manufacturing strategy is reducing end-user emissions through our product solutions. Therefore, I am responsible both for delivering this message to our teams across EMEA and also ensuring the environmental aspirations of our partners and industry peers are considered in Epson’s new product development.
Have these goals come about through customer demand, employee demand, a top-down leadership approach, or a mix of all three?
Most importantly, these goals align with Epson’s responsibility as a global technology leader and the integrated role of sustainability in our corporate purpose and our management philosophy, which are what uphold Epson’s cultural framework across our global network.
We recently ran a climate reality barometer survey, for the second consecutive year, to better understand public perceptions of climate change, and learned that 48.1% of people across the world are optimistic that a climate catastrophe will be averted in their lifetime. While this optimism varies across different countries, what is clear is that we have a long way to go to influencing people to think more sustainably, whether in a personal or professional capacity.
What are customers and employees specifically telling you regarding the importance of sustainability in their future decisions?
Sustainability is increasing as a regulatory sales criterion and as a buying incentive. Our own research found that consumers, particularly Gen Z (86%) and Gen Y (79%), have high eco-expectations and pay attention to the environmental and social credentials of brands they engage with and buy from. Meanwhile, most CEOs and IT decision-makers are already convinced of the need for environmentally friendly solutions, and according to additional research we commissioned, 65% ringfence 10-50% of their budget for more sustainable products and services.
Sustainability is also increasing as an employer incentive, with more than 70% of employees choosing to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda.
The pandemic showed us first-hand that businesses failing to adapt to the macro environment cannot compete with those that are, and the climate crisis will take this to new extremes as governments and industries crack down with stronger environmental regulations.
Give me some examples of the cultural impact of an ESG policy. How can employees/stakeholders buy in?
For many, the term ‘ESG’ symbolises climate change, but it also covers labour practices, talent management, equal pay, diversity, health and safety, as well as codes of conduct and business ethics, and so much more. To help ensure employees are kept updated on this, mandatory e-learning modules around ESG topics and policies are carried out by all Epson employees and this is updated and rolled out each year.
We recently became the first in our industry to be internationally certified for our CSR Management System alignment with the UN SDGs, which was verified by global certification organisation Bureau Veritas. Achieving this meant clearly identifying the challenges and opportunities of each department’s short, medium, and long-term plans in relation to the UN SDGs and addressing routes for further improvement. The series of external audits that led to this certification enabled new discussions, opinions, and ideas around ESG to form amongst employees, which has had a very positive cultural impact for Epson. This new benchmark for transparency and accountability is crucial for getting the buy-in of our employers and stakeholders, and as you can imagine, puts sustainability significantly higher on everyone’s agenda.
How important is proactive leadership in establishing and driving achievable sustainability goals? What examples/best practices can you give organisations who are looking to establish their own ESG frameworks?
Taking our CSR management as one example that any company of any size can use, transparency and accountability are the key drivers to ensure integration of ESG into a business framework. We do this at a global level with ESG goals, such as our 2050 environmental vision, and the strategies and commitments we have put in place to help achieve them. These strategies are being made by Epson’s senior leadership but are being implemented and enforced across the business, making them a fluid part of the company culture. By creating more accountability for everyone, ESG needn’t be regarded with any stigma or uncertainty amongst employees.
The key point here is that ESG is complementing rather than compromising business. As part of our decarbonisation strategy, Epson has science-based targets to reduce its scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions, and has put in place a series of commitments to achieve this including reducing the environmental impact of our technologies. An example of this is Epson’s business inkjet technology, which serves as an energy-efficient alternative to traditional laser printing. According to research we conducted together with University of Cambridge, a worldwide switch from laser to inkjet printers by 2025 could save 1.3 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year. This example represents a significant benefit to our partners as the sustainability proposition, married with the costs saved in energy bills, makes for a significantly appealing and increasingly relevant proposition to businesses.
The term ‘greenwashing’ is of course well known – is it an even bigger issue today with heightened expectations? What can be done to spot bad actors? What are the examples of red flags?
Anecdotes and sound bites are no longer self-sufficient in determining the sustainability of a business, which is why data and independent assessments are critical in filtering real ESG initiatives from other noise.
Using our business inkjet as one example, we knew that our technology was offering a more sustainable printing alternative to competitor laser devices thanks to its reduced energy consumption and consumables required. However, we wanted to find a way to find a more credible means of quantifying this proposition to partners and their customers. So, we created the optimisation tool, a platform that calculates the savings in energy, consumables, cost and time when shifting from laser to inkjet, based on manufacturer’s data provided and verified by an independent consultancy, Datamaster Lab. By offering this platform, we can change the conversation our partners are having with end-users by offering independently verified, quantitative savings and leaving less to the imagination.
Following COP27, is there anything specific you’d like to see achieved or any action you’d like to see committed to?
The mood at COP27 really pivoted around increased action. More accountability for renewable energy and financial commitments to align with the ‘red line’ of 1.5°C and turning actions into plans backed by transparent planning and reporting, are key takeaways that should be more commonly adapted by industries.
Promoting the importance of sustainability at grass roots and within communities remains key to ensuring long-term stability in how we tackle climate change. In our recent climate reality barometer, 75% of African respondents cited company and community sustainability initiatives as influential on climate attitudes and actions. To this end, Epson is working with World Mobile to provide inclusive and quality education, by bringing technology and connectivity to previously unconnected schools in Africa. We hope commitments like this will continue more frequently, particularly in regions with fewer resources in tackling climate change but are receiving much of its repercussions.
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