Ohkawa Printing: Aiming to Become a 'Social Printing Company'

Ohkawa Printing: Aiming to Become a 'Social Printing Company'

With 35,000 printing companies in Japan alone, how does one mid-size printer set itself apart? Ohkawa Printing is positioning itself as a environmentally sensitive company dedicated to building a sustainable society through its business practices. By Eriko Saijo



There are about 35,000 printing companies in Japan. However, the number of these companies has been reduced by about 10% in the past five years, due to selection by tight business environment and the rapid spread of digital technology. In order to continue to be in demand, what should a printing company do?

Ohkawa Inc., a mid-sized printing company located in Yokohama, puts forth a unique vision of being a "social printing company" to contribute to building a sustainable society through the printing business. The company is making an effort to reduce the environmental impacts of all of its business activities and contributes in areas related to the aging society and the medical field.

Such company initiatives have been given recognition by the Green Purchasing Awards grand prize, the first time for a printing company, at the Eighth Green Purchasing Awards in Japan, on Dec. 12, 2005. The awards are sponsored by the Green Purchasing Network, which is composed of companies, governmental bodies and consumer groups, and is awarded annually to associations that display outstanding efforts in their green purchasing activities of preferentially purchasing products that have less impact on the environment.

Ohkawa Printing Co., Ltd., which started out as a company that prints labels for pharmaceuticals, will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2006. The company employs 40 workers, and the annual sales amounted to 600 million yen ($5.31 million) as of March 2004. The company mainly prints packages for medicines and food, and a broad range of printing materials, such as brochures, leaflets, and product information.

Tetsuro Ohkawa is the sixth president. He had been thinking for several years about how printed materials would be needed by society over the next 100 years. When he thought about this, going back to the origins of the company, he realized that Ohkawa serves society by printing error-free materials, such as pharmaceutical product inserts on the effects of medicines.

As in the example of those inserts, printed materials for medicines sometimes contain life-critical information for those who take the medicine, so mistakes are not permissible. It is of utmost importance to convey correct information, which allows the company to contribute to society through its business. These thoughts led the company to create its vision as a "social printing company."

Now the company has a variety of initiatives, such as quality control systems for printed materials in the medical and other fields, "universal design" features that serve not only healthy people with normal abilities, but also the elderly and the physically challenged, and what it calls "Eco Line" for environmentally friendly printing.

Among these initiatives, the most outstanding is the Eco Line initiative. This is a unique concept that incorporates technologies that reduce environmental impacts throughout the entire printing process, starting from the choice of materials, printing, bookbinding and delivery. This is how it works.

In their business activities, the sales staffs use public transportation as much as possible. If they need to use a car, they use a hybrid vehicle owned by the company. When it is not available, they use the local "car sharing system," shared with others in the community.

How about the actual production process? First, whenever possible, they use eco-friendly paper. They can select one from the following five options according to the printing purpose: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper (made from pulp from sustainably-managed forests); chlorine-free bleaching pulp paper; paper made from wood cuttings arising from forest management; non-wood kenaf paper (made from a fast-growing plant suitable for paper); wood-free bagasse paper (using the residue from sugar cane production); and recycled paper.

To promote FSC-certified paper, Ohkawa Printing obtained chain-of-custody (CoC) certification, a certification system for the management of process and distribution, in June 2004. CoC certification verifies the flow of forest products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) through the supply chain, from the forest to the point of sale. The FSC logo can be placed on printed materials from a CoC-certified printing company. Many major printing companies have obtained the CoC certification, but among small-and medium-sized companies, less than 1% done so.

The use of FSC-certified paper in Ohkawa Printing was 1.3% of the total paper use over seven months from April through October 2004. The volume is expected to increase in the future.

For printing ink, the company is gradually introducing ink that does not contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Although the use of plant-derived ink containing soybean oil has been increasing in the printing industry recently, 60% to 80% still contains petroleum-derived solvents. The company has replaced these with VOC-free inks for all four basic colors (black, dark blue, red and yellow) since November 2005. The use of the VOC-free ink will soon be 20% of the total for the company, according to estimates from the previous year. Combining this amount with the soybean ink, about 80% of the company's printed materials will be printed with plant-derived ink.

The company's practice in the binding process is also eco-friendly. It uses glue instead of wire for binding, which is safer and more recyclable than conventional practices. Although eco-friendly binding is limited in use in terms of the variety of papers and the number of pages, Ohkawa Printing plans to promote it as much as possible, depending on the printing purposes and forms, whether it be medical manuals or brochures for cakes and snacks, even if they have to bear the cost of promotion.

The company also delivers printed materials to customers in plastic containers, instead of conventional cardboard boxes, in order to reduce waste. For delivery, it uses vehicles powered by compressed natural gas. Combined with a hybrid car for sales operations and the supplementary use of the local car sharing system, the company has reduced total CO2 emissions by about nine tons annually since it started these efforts.

The company has been doing its best to use the materials and technologies proposed under their Eco Line guidelines for all the printing orders, after giving full consideration to the purposes and nature of the each publication. Ohkawa says that the key to promote the Eco Line depends on how well their sales staff can meet client's printing requirements and at the same time understand their environmental concern.

The company has also developed original products further integrating the ideas of the Eco Line. One example is a desktop-type calendar, called the "Separate Eco Calendar." It uses a binding comb made from paper, 70% recycled paper for the mat board, recycled paper containing bagasse for the calendar sheets, and soy ink for printing. It can be set up easily by hand and provides enough space to write notes. It was originally used as a sales promotion gift when sales people visit their clients for New Year greetings, but improved every year incorporating environmental considerations and universal design as much as possible. Now this calendar is also sold as a sales promotion product.

Another example is the "Happy Forests Calendar," launched this year. This desktop calendar consists of a setting made of Japanese cypress, cut in the process of forest management in a local forest in Kanagawa Prefecture, and calendar sheets, VOC-free ink printed on FSC-certified paper.

The 12 calendar sheets from January to December can be reused as postcards. The company can also sell the calendar sheets for the following year separately, so customers can reuse the wooden setting. Also, 1% of the calendar sales is donated to a cause known as "Nurturing Forest, the Water Source of Kanagawa" to contribute to forest management.

If some people in Kanagawa Prefecture purchase this calendar, they can not only contribute to green consumption, but also send postcards to friends and feel connected to the forests that are a vital source of the water people use every day. Buying this calendar every year gives a sense of continuity. The company believes that offering this calendar can bring people together with each other, as well as with nature.

The company also thinks that printed materials such as the Happy Forests Calendar can help connect people in various efforts, including nature conservation and corporate social responsibility (CSR). In order to be a sustainable printing company, Ohkawa believes it is essential to come up with suggestions and make efforts to contribute to establishing a sustainable society, in addition to meeting normal business needs. Ohkawa Printing has already started these efforts, and it will be interesting to see where the company goes from here.

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This article has been reprinted courtesy of Japan for Sustainability. It was first published in December 2006.