Yasunori Ogawa: The future of printing is digital and sustainable

Seiko Epson Corporation president and CEO Yasunori Ogawa in conversation with PrintWeek

07 Feb 2022 | By PrintWeek Team

Yasunori Ogawa

PrintWeek (PW): Tough 18 months…
Yasunori Ogawa (YO):
Yes, it’s been a very tough 18 months. Although our products have sold well, we’ve had to cope with the effects of the pandemic including ongoing supply and logistics issues.

PW: Your learnings from 2021...
Our goal is not to pursue short-term profit, but to leverage our technologies to make a real difference in society through sustainability and by addressing genuine issues that our customers are facing. The ongoing difficulties this year have taught me that we are absolutely moving in the right direction and that the company will thrive in the long term if we continue along this path.

PW: How has your company and factory sites responded to the challenges of the Covid-19 era?
We’ve had to completely rethink the way we work from the office through to the factory floor. In the past we sent large numbers of engineers to our factories in Asia when we launched new products, but we had to innovate when this became impossible. Educating our local staff remotely to manage the various processes has increased our overall strength. We also had to innovate using digital technologies on the marketing and sales side when we could no longer use traditional methods such as trade shows.

PW: Anything on the ideas front? Any new research or innovation?
I can only tell you that we’ve been busy refocusing our entire company on addressing societal issues such as achieving sustainability. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to understand our markets and their future trends, and on creating products and services that will help solve genuine issues and bring about a more sustainable society. One example is using our dry-fibre technology to create alternative non-plastic materials that will contribute to decarbonisation.

PW: The pandemic has impacted India’s prospects to become a USD5 trillion economy by FY25. However, has the last quarter numbers reposed faith in the Indian market?
The pandemic has affected growth in India just as it has across the world. However, the Indian growth story remains very positive and we are upbeat about the news that suggests that the Indian economy is bouncing back. In Q2 FY22 the Indian GDP surpassed pre-pandemic levels and it seems like consumer confidence is gradually returning.

However, the spread of Omicron is a concern, as it could temper the momentum and increase the uncertainty in the economy. The global supply chain and logistics disruptions are also a cause for concern, but we hope the situation will improve soon.

Epson HQ

PW: Brands (FMCG and non-FMCG) are seeking more and more from print and packaging. As a global manufacturing brand, how can our industry cater to the new normal of - gaining speed; more flexibility; profit-centric approach; and lower carbon footprint?
Epson is offering digital printing solutions that answer these needs, with products and services designed to reduce both customers’ environmental footprints and their costs, for example though bulk ink packs that generate less waste and help reduce ink costs. In addition to the high-quality printing solutions you expect from Epson, we have developed software solutions that will allow distributed manufacturing. Customers using our solutions will be able to manufacture close to the market with the same high levels of quality across multiple locations

PW: How should print adopt marketing strategies that promote the print brand beyond the function of product or service. One school of thought is, the key is to do more than just meet consumers’ immediate needs. What is your view?
Yes exactly. We need to convince the market that by using our products they are contributing to a greater good. An example of this is sustainability. I firmly believe most consumers are concerned about the environment and will choose products that will contribute to the sustainability of the planet.

PW: 77% of Indian consumers are actively engaging with sustainability. These consumers will invest time and money in companies that try to do good. Three sustainable actions you have undertaken in the past year that you can share with us?
Only three? We’ve now focused our entire company on sustainability so I could give you many examples from every part of our operations. For a start, we’ve committed to our new environmental vision of becoming carbon negative and to stop using non-renewable underground resources by 2050. We will invest 100-billion Japanese yen by 2030 to help bring this about

PW: How do you plan to achieve this goal?
We have begun an ambitious decarbonisation plan including the transformation of all our sites worldwide to renewable electricity by 2023. Second, we are employing our efficient, compact and precision technologies, such as heat-free printing technology, throughout our entire product range to help reduce our customers’ environmental footprints. Third, we are developing environmental technologies such as our dry-fibretechnology to create new naturally derived (plastic-free) materials.

PW: Is there a Green Gap between what our industry talks about; and the rest of society? For example, the industry uses terms like “biodegradable” and “circular economy”. How can we bridge the knowledge gap?
Yes, there is definitely a gap. In 2021, we conducted a global survey called the Epson Climate Reality Barometer to investigate people’s attitudes to climate change around the world. In the survey, we found that almost three in four (73.4%) Indians are optimistic that we will avert a climate disaster in their lifetimes.

We believe it is incumbent on companies like Epson to use surveys like this to warn people of the immediate dangers the planet is facing, and to offer practical sustainable solutions that they can incorporate into their everyday and working lives.

PW: Your plans for 2022?
With so much uncertainty that’s the hardest question of all! Of course, the first plan is to be as flexible and resilient as we have been for the last 18 months. The second is to continue to focus on bringing to reality the corporate vision and the environmental vision we set in 2021. I’m sure we’ll come across many issues and unforeseen circumstances, but our commitment to our goal of achieving sustainability and enriching communities will remain unchanged.

PW: One outrageous prediction for the year to come ...
It’s not so outrageous, but we have a lot of exciting things going on and I confidently predict you will hear much, much more from Epson in 2022.

Quick fire questions

  • How do you unwind?
    I’m always very relaxed. Recently I’ve joined a company program here in Japan to encourage employees to walk and exercise more. To help me do this I’ve been kicking a football around in my garden at home. I’ve also started playing the ukulele.
  • One piece of music you love?
    I love listening to Nadia by Nitin Sawhney, which is a cover of the Jeff Beck original.
  • Favourite film?
    I love Life of Pi which is about an Indian boy who is set adrift with a Bengal tiger.
  • Three books by your bedside?
    I usually sleep so well I don’t have time to read before bed. Recently I’ve read Let My People Go Surfing by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard about how he built a company focused on sustainability. I also read The Dream of Solomeo by Brunelio Cucinelli, the founder of the eponymous fashion brand, about his vision of humanistic capitalism.
  • One thing about print you love to utter in a public forum?
    The future of printing is digital and sustainable!
  • Recent packaging innovation that impressed you?
    Recently I’ve been very impressed by some cushioning materials made using Epson’s dry fibre technology (now under development) and a cushioned envelope made with the same technology (also under development).
  • One tech-guru (past or present) you want to meet - and why?
    I’d love to have met the late Taiichi Ono, who was responsible for creating Toyota’s lean manufacturing system. I’d like to ask him about how he struggled against the odds to design the Kanban (just-in-time) system against a lot of opposition.