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Daishowa Paper ProductsCo.: an Eco-Friendly Business by Starting with What You Can Do

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

The TOKYO20xx series is our original, annual tabloid magazine. From TOKYO2022, we revised our mailing method, abolishing the use of OPP polyethylene bags and switching to eco-friendly paper instead.

As a supplement for TOKYO2022, we interviewed Mr. Ryosuke Saito, President and CEO of Daishowa Paper Products on the theme of "paper and ecology". We hope you enjoy this interview along with the tabloid.


 

Daishowa Paper Products provides safe, reliable, and high-quality products and services based on its paper processing technologies cultivated over many years. Under the slogan, "An Environmental Problem Solving Company," it is working to address environmental issues that are occurring on a global scale through using paper.

We interviewed Mr. Ryosuke Saito, President and CEO, and Ms. Nana Izumi of the Marketing Office and Environmental Measures with Paper Office.

(Interviewer: SMO’s Mikiko Saito)


 


Mikiko Saito: How long ago did you start adopting the “environment” as your company’s focus?

Mr. Ryosuke Saito: Four years ago, I took my daughters to participate in a volunteer activity for sea turtle conservation with a non-profit organization called Sanctuary. When we went to the beach in Hamamatsu in the morning, we found about 120 holes where sea turtles had laid their eggs in the middle of the night, and we picked them up, put them in cages, and returned them to the sea after they hatched. At that time, one of the NPO members pulled out a plastic bag from his pocket and told me that the sea turtles mistook the bag for a jellyfish, ate it, and died.

We're a paper bag store to begin with, so we've always had a "vs. plastic bag" kind of argument. However, about three months after this realization, news of straws coming out of the noses of sea turtles flew around the world, and in the same year, several states on the west coast of the U.S. passed laws to abolish straws, so the timing coincided.

In the long run, I was aware of the fact that since my grandfather founded the company, paper companies have been bad for the environment because they cut down trees. I didn't like my family’s businessas it was said to be bad for the environment, so I always had an awareness of environmental issues as a base. That is one of the reasons I majored in environmental economics at Keio University. The base (of my awareness of environmental issues) as sponge cake, topped with a cream of "sea turtle protection," finally becoming as a cake that I can show to everyone.

Mikiko Saito: Nowadays, there are many companies that are committed to environmental issues, but weren't you one of the first?

Mr. Ryosuke Saito: No one had said anything about it, so those in the industry were like “Oh, Saito’s saying something again.” After that, there was the introduction of a charge for plastic bags, and arguments against paper bags increased.

It was stopped a little by COVID-19, but the shift to paper was one of the keywords, and I wanted to take advantage of it as a tailwind, and I still do. Mikiko Saito: When you say, “shift to paper,” do you mean not only plastic bags?

Mr. Ryosuke Saito: Of course, everything. This is the origin of the idea that paper is clearly different from petroleum-derived materials, as the trees are grown with sunlight and water. There has been a movement to use paper instead of plastic for various products.

Roughly speaking, the process of making 1 ton of paper emits 1 ton of CO2. One ton of steel emits 2 tons of CO2, and plastic emits 3 tons of CO2. In terms of environmental impact, I think it would be better to use paper made from the sun and water, even if only a little, in a field dominated by plastic.


Mikiko Saito: Is that what the slogan "An Environmental Problem Solving Company" is all about?


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: As someone in the paper-based business, I was wondering what I can do to help. Environmental issues are too complex to understand, and we are too afraid to say that we can change the world by doing so. I think we should be humble. What we are doing may be environmentally friendly in one aspect, but in the other aspect, it may be the opposite.


Mikiko Saito: When you take a look from many angles, I do understand that it's difficult to know what is beneficial. But we have to do something, so we have to make the best out of what we can do.



Mr. Ryosuke Saito: The more I think about it, the more I can't do anything. The only thing I can do is to sort out all the various issues and then carefully work out what I think should be done. Mikiko Saito: How did the people in your company react to your idea of becoming a company that solves environmental issues? Mr. Ryosuke Saito: This may not be the direct answer to your question, but I asked the Marketing Office for help and now we are doing a lot of things in strong collaboration with the sea turtle activity non-profit organization I mentioned earlier. Ms. Izumi from Maketing Office:I'm currently working both in the Marketing Office and in the newly established "Department of Environmental Measures with Paper" that started in June 2019. One of our projects is to protect and release the eggs of sea turtles in cooperation with the non-profit organization called Sanctuary. We pick up trash to keep the beach clean so that the sea turtles can come to the beach, and make sandbags to protect the beach from being washed away by the waves. The bags, which were originally made from hemp, are now made with natural sources that could be seen in bags that contain rice or flour. We are starting a new initiative that only we can do.


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: While we are working with Sanctuary to protect the ocean, we are also working with a forest conservation organization called "more trees" to protect the forests.

People say that creating paper involves deforestation, but what "more trees" is doing is advocating that too much artificial planting is destroying the forests in Japan, and that the forests will weaken if they are not managed properly. I thought it would be a good idea to make kraft paper from softwoods cut down in the rough domestic forests and use it to make paper bags. Since coniferous trees have long fibers, kraft paper made from coniferous trees is ideal for paper bags that need to be strong. I know it sounds like a big deal, but we can protect the oceans and forests if we can use them for the convenience of the world instead of plastic bags.

However, domestic logging is very expensive. The mountains in Japan are very steep, so it is very difficult for people to go in and cut them. It is cheaper to plant trees in flat areas overseas and cut them down, so that's what people are doing all over the world. But we should do some of it domestically even if it costs more.

Mikiko Saito: It's like always thinking about coexisting with nature through paper.

Mr. Ryosuke Saito: It's like the world of Ghibli movies, like Laputa from “Castle in the Sky” or Nausicaa from “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”. Human beings are really tiny, and we need a little help from nature.

Mikiko Saito: While we have our own lives and cannot abandon convenience, we should explore what we can naturally do without being stoic. I like that idea.


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: There are a lot of people who are talking loudly about environmental issues, and while I think it's wonderful, it also makes me a little tired. Depending on the subject, humans or the Earth, what we do changes. As soon as the subject is the Earth, we no longer need human beings, because the more we try to make our lives more convenient, the more we are doing things that are bad for the environment. However, we have no choice but to come to terms with the fact that we have to live life to the fullest.



Mikiko Saito: Most companies are talking about the "environment" right now, but what kind of specific things do they want you to do, or work together on?


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: We get a lot of requests to turn plastic into paper, but there are some things we can do and some things we can't. If someone wants to make a plastic bottle out of paper, it might be technically possible, but it would be very expensive. There are two ways to make plastic bottles: "de-plasticization" and "reduction of plastic." But even if de-plasticization is impossible, "reduction of plastic", in other words, using part of the plastic and combining it with paper, would be the way to go. For example, yogurt and cup noodle cups are made of a composite material of paper and plastic, but it is still better than 100% plastic. I think this is where we should focus our efforts on "dieting" by using as much natural origin plastic as possible. Mikiko Saito: Are the customers like, “Alright, we want to save the world, so we’ll just change our plastic materials to paper, so please take care the rest. Thanks!” ?


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: Yes, they're rather intuitive, but just changing the material is an approach that is too extreme. Just like there is no good guy who has everything.

Mikiko Saito: What are some specific examples of your efforts? Ms. Izumi: As part of a project with Higashiomi City, we distributed paper bags free of charge to restaurants in the city to help business owners who were having trouble with COVID-19. We also held a similar project within our own company. Everyone was so happy and we ran out of the paper bags in no time. The project was even featured in the newspaper.


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: In terms of local governments, this is not recent, but for decades, Hiroshima City has always had paper bags for household garbage. The reason for this is that we need to reduce the water content in the garbage to make sure we’re within the incineration capacity. With plastic bags, you can put anything in them without cutting the moisture or anything else, but with paper, you would be motivated to cut the moisture. I heard that the people of Hiroshima City can now use plastic bags, but there are still many people who use paper bags. So I've been asking other local governments, "Why don't you use paper bags?”. However, there are some disadvantages such as not being able to see what is inside.

We have a website called “Kankyo Dainari, (https://www.kankyodainari.com)” which provides information on environmentally friendly products. I tell my team members that it is ok to ask our clients to be patient. Everything is becoming more and more convenient, but if we are patient, we can save a lot of time and energy.

Mikiko Saito: Everyone has to endure a little bit, and that's a big deal when it accumulates.

Mr. Ryosuke Saito: On the other hand, we produced a product called "Shippo Vidro Tissue" that was developed with a focus on being “100% plastic-free”.

There are holes in the package design. The person in charge wanted to put plastic on the back of the package because dust might get in through the holes and contaminate the package during the distribution process, but I said, “Sure, dust might get in but think of all the plastic waste we would be producing!” We decided to stick to plastic-free. Mikiko Saito: How were problems with the distribution process resolved?


Ms. Izumi: We use Ogawa Washi, a beautiful, traditional Japanese paper made in Ogawa, Saitama Prefecture, which has a history of 1,300 years to wrap the tissue box. We also send them in a gift bag made with craft paper. Mr. Ryosuke Saito: In pursuing profit, we always use a small amount of plastic, but we decided not to do that. It's okay if a little dust gets in. Normally, the hole in the middle of the tissue box has a piece of plastic to support the tissue so that it doesn't fall back in the box, but we attached a piece of washi that is as soft as possible and won't cut your hands. Mikiko Saito: That's nice. I've always thought that Japanese people are too detailed. A scratch you can't even see is treated as a defective product and can't be sold. Mr. Ryosuke Saito: When you go abroad, you’ll find that the operations are done roughly and the service is unpleasant, but they get paid more than workers in Japan. If you look at it from the other side, they are more productive by not providing excessive service. In Japan, even with deflation, people are doing excessive service and are underpaid. It is finally coming to awareness that Japan is becoming poorer as a whole.


Mikiko Saito: I think tissues are unfairly priced too low. If they were priced higher, people would be inclined to use them with more care.


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: In my opinion, the reason why tissues became unfairly low priced in Japan is because consumer finance companies started handing out tissues for free (Tissues are distributed in the cities of Japan by companies for free as a form of advertisement) . People started to feel that tissues were something they get free of charge. This is also the case with the debate over the charge for plastic bags. People will take and use a lot of stuff if they’re free, but they won't waste it if they know that there is a charge for it.

Before the mandatory plastic bag charge in July of 2020 was introduced, I lobbied for paper bags to be used instead. Unfortunately, some stores are now charging even for paper bags, like 5 yen for plastic and 10 yen for paper bags. On the positive side, it’s a good chance to make people realize that paper bags are worth the money, not something that is provided for free.



Mikiko Saito: If I have the choice, I try to choose paper at the supermarket, even if it means I have to pay a little more. The best choice might be using reusable shopping bags though.


Mr. Ryosuke Saito: I'm not saying that paper bags are overwhelmingly better, but they are preferable to using plastic bags, aren't they? We always talk about this. We have these certification marks on the bottom of each paper bag and we donate to each organization if they adopt our paper bags, for the ocean and tree protection activities I mentioned earlier.


Mikiko Saito: How are the customers’ reactions?

Ms. Izumi, Marketing Office: It is receiving good feedback from our customers. Many people say that they choose our paper bags because of these marks. It is something that stands out during our sales process as we created on our own.


Mikiko Saito: Daishowa Paper Products is the only company that has a system in place for this. Even if you want to donate or do something good, you don't know where to go from there, so this is a good idea that makes customers happy. Mr. Ryosuke Saito: Paper bags are easy tools to start something. If we were to advise our clients to change their products completely, it would be a huge undertaking. But with paper bags that we manufacture, which act as secondary packaging, it would be a change that clients are easier to accept. We have several departments, but we often use paper bags as a starting point for our thinking. I spend all day thinking about paper bags.


Mikiko Saito: It's a great way for clients to get involved, to learn about what they can do together.

Mr. Ryosuke Saito: While there are many big issues and points of contention, we, as a paper bag maker, can do something like this from our own perspective. I ask, “How about you?” We also hold training sessions with case studies of what we are doing through this thinking process. We advise our clients to start on the small things, like changing materials, together.


Mikiko Saito: That's nice. Lastly, I think there are a lot of companies that want to work on the environment but don't know what to do. Can you give some advice?

Mr. Ryosuke Saito: Since the problems are too big to be vaguely defined as “environmental issues” or “CO2 emission reduction,” I think it is important to narrow down the issues, such as protecting the oceans and trees. I think that even companies involved in plastics should not deny their own business. I think it is important for everyone to really think about how we should approach “dieting” little by little.


Mikiko Saito: When narrowing down the list, it’s important to understand your company’s purpose and why you’re working, to be in the mindset that you can do something similar for the environment. It's great that everyone is saying, "Decarbonize!” That's a great thing, but I doubt if we can really do it. Mr. Ryosuke Saito: It's all about what you can do, so you have to think about it from the perspective of clarifying what you can do first. This all starts with your company’s Purpose. I really like the following way of thinking: “Through our contribution to society with our products, we need to focus on reducing the environmental impact but not changing the degree of contribution.” We have a number of elements that we incorporated into our own business, so I think there are new things that we can see by doing them one by one, little by little. I think we need to make sure that making money for ourselves and contributing to solving environmental issues are not on opposite sides of the same coin, but rather the same.


Mikiko Saito: That's right. Doing something that creates a large obstacle upon you won’t last long. But on the other hand, if you offer that sense of uniqueness and differentiate yourself from others, it would lead to better branding, like Daishowa Paper Products, so that people can buy the products after understanding that story. Thank you very much for your talk today.


 






Ryosuke Saito

Daishowa Paper Products Co., Ltd.

President & CEO



Born in Tokyo in 1977, he graduated from Keio University in 2000 and joined the Industrial Bank of Japan (now Mizuho Bank). After his predecessor fell ill, he joined Daishowa Paper Products Co., Ltd. in January 2001. Soon after, at the young age of 23, he took over the actual management of the company and became the President and CEO in 2012. While achieving thorough quality control as a manufacturing company, the company has evolved into a total package company that utilizes its own design capabilities to meet creative customer proposals and realize in-house manufacturing. In June 2019, the company began to tackle environmental issues occurring on a global scale, and is now working on new businesses, with himself concurrently serving as the head of the Department of Environmental Measures with Paper.



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