Like many parents grappling with the distinct possibility that the planet may not be a hospitable environment for their children in the future following a slew of natural disasters and extreme weather conditions arising from climate change, Siew Jin Kiat, feels a “personal responsibility” to ensure that his two daughters and generations to come have a “better future” to look forward to.
But unlike most parents, Siew is able to count himself lucky.
As the Regional Managing Director of Epson Southeast Asia (SEA) since early last year, he is in a position of authority to actually walk the talk, and to bring to life sustainability projects for the markets that he is in charge of.
On a global scale, electronics giant Epson has long been a strong proponent of sustainable practices even before it became a hot button topic. In 2008, it established its Environmental Vision 2050, a statement of the company’s environmental goals to the year 2050. Last year, it revised the vision to focus on becoming carbon-negative and underground resource-free by 2050. Epson SEA has since followed suit.
“Guided by Epson’s renewed global aspirations, we have since put sustainability at the core of our business roadmap to achieve our own sustainability goals here in Southeast Asia,” he says.
In other words, the company will focus on addressing three more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to contribute to the areas of decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation, and infrastructure and to increase impact through partnerships – in addition to the current focus areas of responsible consumption and production, and mitigating the effects of climate change.
“Today, business and sustainability goals cannot be mutually exclusive – instead, they have become increasingly intertwined,” Siew says. “A core part of what we do at Epson is to ensure that these goals can be used to mutually drive one another.”
- WALKING THE TALK
- BETTER TOGETHER
Walking the Talk
Sweater and jacket by Zegna
Of course, given the current climate, focusing on sustainability is something companies are expected to do, and not applauded for.
With growing scepticism from investors and increased scrutiny from regulatory bodies amidst rising incidences of greenwashing, the pressure is on companies to fulfil their sustainability obligations in ways that not just meet shareholder expectations, but also makes sense to the average employee and man on the street.
At Epson, this means sustainability must start from the basics. The mandate: To reduce usage of paper, electricity, and water across all operations – from manufacturing to sales and marketing.
Factories in the Philippines and Indonesia, for example, have transitioned to 100 per cent renewable electricity, with the latter using biomass fuel, a renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals. New products, like its heat-free inkjet printers and PaperLab, the world's first dry process office paper making system that turns wastepaper into new paper, are deliberately designed with the intention to reduce impact on the environment.
Siew elaborates that compared to traditional laser printers, Epson’s heat-free inkjet printers use up to 85 per cent less energy, with up to 85 per cent less carbon dioxide emitted. With the Epson PaperLab, he says a smart recycling solution is now availed to corporate clients to “close the loop on printing”, bringing to life the concept of a “Circular Economy” where resources are re-used for as long as possible, as opposed to the traditional ‘use and throw’ mentality.
“As much as there are efforts to go paperless, printing is here to stay for the long run. What we can do is to provide more sustainable alternatives for business users. When we incorporate energy efficient practices throughout our processes, we can make a tangible industry impact,” explains Siew.
- WALKING THE TALK
- BETTER TOGETHER
Sweater and jacket by Zegna
Perhaps one of the trickiest parts of Siew’s role is helping different markets, each with its own local priorities and issues, find balance between purpose and profits aligned with the company’s sustainability vision. To this end, Siew is a big believer in the hands-on approach.
“Each market has differing sustainability issues that need to be addressed, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I am passionate about creating familiarity and connection to build camaraderie and shared vision towards a common goal.”
Adds Siew: “Be it townhalls, visits to regional offices, or taking part in the sustainability events and initiatives across the region, I get involved personally, or when possible, attend them in person. This gives me a better understanding of the sentiment on the ground and where I can support my team better to bring the wider vision to life.”
The key to instilling a shared sense of passion, he believes, is to provide employees with the autonomy, resources, and guidance to move forward with their own strategies.
For instance, as part of a key partnership with the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature to scale marine conservation impact and climate solutions across Southeast Asia, Epson’s employees across the region have been involved in different activities, such as tree planting initiatives in Singapore and mangrove restoration in the Philippines.
Through coral restoration efforts in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the company hopes to also revive marine tourism to enhance the livelihoods of local communities, so that in the long run, they are “empowered to maintain and manage coastal resources on their own”. Webinars with WWF in Vietnam help provide guidelines for businesses to transition to sustainable energy.
"Epson has a responsibility to solve societal issues with our technology that ultimately benefits livelihoods and protects the environment.”
In Singapore, Epson has also partnered the Textile and Fashion Federation (recently renamed as Singapore Fashion Council), a non-profit trade association that promotes the local fashion industry through partnerships in multiple key pillars including sustainability.
In July, it was one of the sponsors at the Enable the Change Fashionability Summit, where the company’s Digital Textile Printing solution, which runs on less electricity and water, was showcased as a sustainable option for reducing textile waste.
The scope of Epson’s sustainability efforts and partnerships has been wide-ranging, but they are a critical part of the company’s sustainability strategy, says Siew.
“Leveraging the additional resources and expertise of our partners allows us to achieve greater breadth and depth in the impact of our efforts.”
The sustainability agenda is still relatively nascent in the business world in Singapore. But as the launch of initiatives like sustainability reporting portal ESGenome by regulators Monetary Authority of Singapore and Singapore Exchange puts the heat on companies to not only get with the program, but also be transparent about the impact of its efforts, the sustainability space, for local companies or otherwise, will likely look very different in the future.
Bigger challenges will likely lay ahead for Epson, but nothing Siew is not already accustomed to. After all, he has spent 27 years journeying with the company through a business landscape in flux.
“I’m a strong believer of change being the only constant – and I have always been motivated to drive long-lasting, positive change within the company,” he says. “As an industry leader, Epson has a responsibility to solve societal issues with our technology that ultimately benefits livelihoods and protects the environment.”