Ricoh is determined in its zero-carbon vision

Photovoltaic solar panels in a mountainous region of Japan
Photovoltaic solar panels in a mountainous region of Japan

This article is drawn from the Energy Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running Thursdays.

There is a close corollary between determination and innovation.  

Consider the story of Ricoh, the Japanese electronics and digital workplace company with the distinction of being the first business in its nation to become part of the RE100 initiative last spring.

Before you dismiss that gesture as just another commitment, let's remember that the Japanese market for renewable energy looks dramatically different from in the United States. But Ricoh isn't just shooting for 100 percent renewable electricity, it also aspires to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — yes, the elusive "zero" status.

This is not going to be easy. Despite the country's feed-in tariffs for sources such as solar and wind, it's still very expensive to buy renewable electricity there. The bias toward nuclear power is still strong and the big utilities there apparently aren't as willing to embrace change as they've become in Europe and North America. The first places multinational Ricoh is embracing a switch are where renewables are relatively well supported. That includes Singapore, where the company should reach the mark by 2020, and Europe, where Ricoh's operations in nine countries already have achieved the target, according to remarks made by CEO Jake Yamashita during the Climate Week ceremony a few weeks back.

On its home turf, the RE100 goal has turned Ricoh into a vocal and influential advocate for policy changes — and innovative ideas for getting around roadblocks. The company was at the center of the creation of Japan Climate Leaders (a partnership born in 2009) and the Japan Climate Initiative (PDF) (a counterpart to the #WeAreStillIn movement launched in July 2017). In fact, it has nudged 11 more Japanese businesses to pick up RE100 in the past year: Now, Japan can boast the third-highest level of participation.

"I am confident that it is only by taking action that we can act as a catalyst for change," Yamashita said in his remarks.

And, to my original point, Ricoh is willing to go around the system. In April 2017, it stepped out with a local nonprofit, the Renewable Energy Institute, as part of a network of companies that are advocating ways to increase corporate use of renewables in Japan. 

Some huge companies are walking alongside Ricoh in that philosophy, including Fujitsu, IBIDEN, Shimizu and SoftBank, Sony and Fujitsu, as are the local subsidiaries of Apple, IKEA, Microsoft and Patagonia.

Among the paths they support is a push to help Japanese companies invest more directly in projects, Ricoh Corporate Vice President of Sustainability Sergio Kato told me during Climate Week. Ricoh already has installed solar arrays at key factories in Numazu and Atsugi, but it's discussing the idea of a much broader installation that would provide a shared resource for companies that want to buy renewables.

Beyond that, Kato said the company is piloting efforts to train the technicians for its imaging and digital office equipment into experts in installing and maintaining systems that will be key for a clean economy transition, such as electric vehicle charging infrastructure for BMW and Nissan and, potentially, energy storage technologies. You also could see Ricoh play a role in solar panel recycling, LED lighting retrofits and other areas where its experienced services workforce could be an asset. "We need to move to a zero-carbon society; this is not just about electricity," Kato said.

Two quick housekeeping items to finish off this rant:

First, if you believe your energy team could benefit from managing its projects and strategy more holistically, you should peruse a new white paper ("A User's Guide to Comprehensive Energy Management") published by GreenBiz Research and Siemens. (Registration required.) You can listen to an archived version of our Oct. 9 discussion here.

And second, I hope to see at least some of you at VERGE 18 this week. I'll be skulking around, moderating a range of sessions on everything from strategies for scaling the 100 percent renewable energy movement to self-driving vehicles to how blockchain technology could make for a healthier food supply chain. You can still score a free VERGE Expo pass by registering with the code V18EXPO. Can't be there in person? Sign up for the free VERGE Virtual livestream of the plenary sessions and exclusive interviews at the Sidebar.