April 26, 2012


Assisting Reconstruction Through Photography: Nikon Corporation

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.114(March 2012)
"Towards a Sustainable Japan -- Corporations at Work" (No. 100)

Meeting Needs, Exceeding Expectations

Recent circumstances surrounding Japan's manufacturing industries have become increasingly severe due to the prolonged appreciation of the yen, damage to Japanese companies' factories and suppliers from flooding in Thailand and the rise of competitors in neighboring South Korea. In the camera sector, however, Japanese manufacturers still hold a 75 percent market share. The top three slots are all held by Japanese companies, showing Japan's continuing strength in this area.

As of 2012, Nikon Corp. will have been in business for 95 years. In 1917, the precision optical manufacturer Nippon Kogaku K.K. was established, financed by Koyata Iwasaki, president of the Mitsubishi Joint Stock Company of that time. Nikon Corp. is a global company whose domestic sales accounted for only 14 percent of its total sales at the end of March 2011, while less than 40 percent of its overall payroll goes to Japanese employees.

Under the corporate philosophy, "Trustworthiness and Creativity," Nikon aims to realize its vision of "Meeting needs, exceeding expectations."

In the field of environmental management, Nikon's Environmental Committee has adopted a new three-year plan, the Nikon Environmental Action Plan, while aiming for annual Environmental Targets under the Nikon Basic Environmental Management Policy. Nikon is taking concrete action in the form of a group-wide initiative divided into six sections, including a CO2 Emissions Reduction Subcommittee and an Operating Environmental Subcommittee.

One initiative involves its continuing activities aimed at totally abolishing the use of hazardous chemical substances such as hexavalent chromium, lead and arsenic in its products. In the 1990s, lead and arsenic were used for optical glass. Nikon, however, developed "Eco-glass," which is free of such hazardous substances, and now this glass is used for almost all of its products except for certain ones with unique specifications.

In addition, Nikon is steadily moving towards eliminating hazardous substances through fast-evolving strategies, such as the use of lead-free solder and the establishment of hexavalent chromium-free technology in surface treatment. At the distribution front and overseas non-manufacturing offices, Nikon works to reduce CO2 emissions, cut energy use and use alternative energy. In fiscal 2008, the Nikon group started an initiative to reduce waste by introducing their own independent system of indicators as waste reduction targets, as proposed in the United Nations University's 1994 "Zero Emission" concept. Since then, 12 offices including Nikon Corp. and its domestic group manufacturers have as of the present achieved its Level 1 category -- a final waste disposal (as landfill) ratio of less than 1 percent.

Nikon was also greatly influenced by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. One plant and seven group companies suffered partial damage to their equipment and buildings in Miyagi, Tochigi and Ibaraki Prefectures. Four of their employees lost their lives, though not while they were at work.

Experiencing this unprecedented disaster, Hideo Yamazaki, manager of the Social Contribution Section, CSR Department, Corporate Planning Headquarters, told us how Nikon considered, discussed, and carried out the measures that they felt were appropriate under these circumstances.

Nikon's Reconstruction Assistance

Nikon's website has a page for "Assisting Reconstruction through Photography." Nikon's intent is to provide assistance based on its particular capabilities -- through photography .

Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Nikon initially sent daily necessities including food to its disaster-affected group company, Sendai Nikon Corp. in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture. Nikon provided support to this company's employees and their neighbors as well. About one month after the disaster, Sendai Nikon partially resumed production. As Nikon continued to provide support to Natori City, the company realized that what the city needed was cameras.

Yamazaki said, "A photo was required to obtain a disaster victim certificate, but many people had lost their cameras. We figured that if people in Natori City needed cameras, people in other places would need them, too. We contacted three prefectures affected by the disaster - Miyagi, Tochigi, and Ibaraki. We prepared and delivered 1,000 cameras to their local government offices. Some of the cameras were given to schools in disaster-affected areas through a 'Recovery Assistance Media Team' project led by an incorporated non-profit organization, Glocal Media Producer, with the help of the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry."

An incorporated non-profit organization, Glocal Media Producer (In Japanese only)

The Recovery Assistance Media Team took some of the cameras and went around to disaster-affected schools in their cars. They gave the schools a type of compact camera with a built-in projector which allowed people share their pictures by projecting them on the wall of their evacuation shelter, for example a gymnasium. Some of these photos were shown in an exhibition held at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. In addition, the photos are being sent out via broadcasting satellite (BS) TV and the Internet worldwide, together with video interviews filmed by the Recovery Assistance Media Team.

While Nikon collaborated with this project by providing cameras as its contribution, the company also held photography classes for junior high school students in disaster-affected areas and created photo books of selected photos taken by the students. By the end of fiscal 2011, the company plans to compile a book of photos taken by the students from three junior high schools; Toni and Kamaishi Higashi Junior High Schools in Kamaishi City, and Ofunato Daiichi Junior High School, in Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture. The company also plans to expand its project to junior high schools in other disaster-affected areas starting in April 2012.

Junior High School Photo Book Project (In Japanese only)

Yamazaki said, "In a separate project, we delivered cameras to children from Iitate Village who evacuated to Fukushima City and held a photography class. I will never forget the happy faces of the children at that time. Photography is of course an art, but it's more than that. It really has the power to encourage people. That's what I felt at that moment. That's why I chose the project title, 'Reconstruction Assistance through Photography'."

Nikon Plaza Sendai is the base for Nikon's recovery support activities. It was opened in front of Sendai Station on February 28, 2012. The Plaza has a photo gallery for exhibitions, a community space for information exchange and networking among non-profit organizations and volunteer groups working in the affected prefectures as well as individuals conducting recovery assistance activities, and a service center for responding to local needs. Yamazaki said, "The exhibition of photos taken by the junior high school students in disaster-affected prefectures will be held first locally. It means a lot to people in the area to see these photos expressing the children's messages."

In response to the request of local people, Nikon has held photography classes for non-profit organizations in Ishinomaki City, one of the areas most affected by the earthquake. When company staff conducted hearings before starting volunteer work such as clearing rubble in the affected areas, they found that local people felt the best thing Nikon could do for them was to teach them photography skills. The company has also been holding digital camera classes that also teach computer and Internet skills to elderly people living in temporary housing in Yamamoto Town, in order to familiarize them with computers.

"We discuss each plan over and over to determine whether or not it can be of help to the affected areas and the victims before making decisions about what we will do or not do, and what we need to do more or less of," says Yamazaki. "We do this because we don't want to impose inappropriate support on the affected people."

Continuous Commitment to Promoting Environmental Education in the Nikon Style

Nikon is engaged with environmental education for its employees and even their families based on the recognition that all business activity benefits from, and also influences, the natural environment. One example is the "Mount Fuji Reforestation Project," in collaboration with the Organization for Industrial Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA) International. So far 330 Nikon employees and their family members have participated in volunteer work such as planting trees on Mount Fuji. Another example is education on biodiversity. As part of in-house education and awareness raising, Nikon published leaflets and textbooks on biodiversity in October 2010. These materials teach about biodiversity and are also posted on the company's website.

Nikon also supports the AKAYA Project in collaboration with the Nature Conservation Society of Japan (NACS-J). This project aims to regenerate biodiversity in the Akaya Forest in the northern part of Minakami Town, Gunma Prefecture while building a sustainable local community. As part of the project, the company has contributed microscopes and cameras. Also in 2009, it published AKAYA NOTE, a booklet to introduce the forest's biodiversity. It distributed 5,500 of these booklets to educational institutions across the country. Nikon also produced "IKIMONO KARUTA" ("living thing playing cards") using photographs and paintings belonging to the company and NACS-J. This card game is an educational material that children use to learn about biodiversity while having fun at about 110 elementary and junior high schools.

Environmental educational tools (AKAYA NOTE and IKIMONO KARUTA)

Another activity is the International Children's Painting Competition on the Environment by the Japan-based Foundation for Global Peace and Environment (FGPE). Nikon co-hosts the competition together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and a pharmaceutical company, Bayer AG. After entries from around the country were screened, the paintings chosen for the national prize were given awards on March 4, 2012, and the top winners were entered in the global contest. The winners of global prize will be announced at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development "Rio+20" in June 2012, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

International Children's Painting Competition on the Environment

Thus, Nikon's environmental conservation and social contribution initiatives range from reduction of CO2 emissions and exclusion of hazardous substances in manufacturing processes to education and awareness raising activities within and outside the company. It keeps on meeting various challenges in order to realize a sustainable society while continuing its Assisting Reconstruction through Photography project in its own way.

Written by Reiko Aomame