Green may not be Yokohama Rubber Co. (YRC) Ltd.'s corporate color, but the company is taking on a decidedly green hue thanks to the efforts of President Tadanobu Nagumo, who has made ecological issues a cornerstone of YRC's corporate strategy.
``Considering all the serious issues that we are now facing, we have to take our own approaches to global warming, depletion of energy resources and environmental issues as sincerely and quickly as possible,'' Mr. Nagumo told attendees at the 26th annual Tire Society gathering Sept. 25 in Akron.
He said the company's vision ``is to assert world-class strengths in technologies for protecting the environment. This is the most important responsibility for those who are willing to expand in global overseas markets.''
Mr. Nagumo, president of YRC since 2004, has made ecology a cornerstone of the firm's Grand Design 100 management plan for the coming decade. That plan calls for the company to improve operating income about fourfold while doubling sales by 2017, YRC's centennial year.
As part of that plan, YRC is working to get all of its plants globally certified according to ISO 14,000, reduce CO2 output measurably, install energy cogeneration systems where feasible, reduce factory waste to zero and launch products-both tire and non-tire-that ``exemplify environmental virtues.''
Within YRC's corporate framework, these efforts are called ``Eco-Motion.''
Two specific projects Mr. Nagumo mentioned were YRC's work on Porous Elastic Road Surfaces (PERS), which use silica bonding with ground rubber to lower road noise by up to 10 decibels, and a new scrap rubber processing technology that will enable YRC to use recycled rubber in new tires starting this year.
``We're continuously developing our manufacturing and technology to help the environment,'' Mr. Nagumo said. ``Additionally we're devoting our wholehearted energies into our R&D activities to provide environmentally friendly products with high added value.''
The recycled rubber project involves a mass production technology that uses waste of vulcanized rubber as a raw material for new tires. Yokohama began its first commercial-scale use in January and has stated it intends to use 300 to 400 metric tons of recycled rubber in tire manufacturing this year.
Starting next year YRC plans to expand this practice to its overseas factories and explore ways to license the technology to other tire companies.
Mr. Nagumo is under no illusions that charting a green path will lead automatically to higher sales and/or earnings.
``This (strategy) is not easy to be accepted by the consumer,'' Mr. Nagumo said through an intepreter, ``but we see it as our corporate social responsibility.''
Mr. Nagumo said his strong belief in environmental responsibility was fueled by the ecological message former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has been postulating for the past several years and conversations with friends and colleagues.
The move to eliminate waste has reached nearly every corner of YRC's business. During Tire Business' interview with Mr. Nagumo in Akron, a colleague accompanying him held up their agenda, showing it was printed on the back of paper that already had been used.
Mr. Nagumo has set up a team of 40 employees who now are visiting all YRC offices worldwide to monitor their operations and make recommendations on how to eliminate waste.
The company is seeking to spread its environmental ``gospel'' via a new Web site, www.ecotreadsetters.com, which features regular eco news updates, a variety of tips for greening the daily routine, links to a carbon footprint calculator, a community forum section, etc.
Earlier this year, YRC's Yokohama Tire Corp. subsidiary achieved ISO 14001 Environmental Management System status at its Salem, Va., tire plant, joining the company's Japanese plants as so certified.
The internationally approved ISO 14001 standard helps a company reduce its impact on the environment's air, water and land, Yokohama said.
``This certification is just one facet of our `Green Initiative' that covers U.S. operations and reduces the company's environmental impact in every way possible,'' said John Nevin, Yokohama Tire's quality assurance manager at the Salem plant.
One of the plant's first changes was to eliminate the use of solvent-based green outside paint, used to spray on tires before the curing process, Mr. Nevin said. The plant moved to a water-based paint, eliminating much potential pollution.
Tire molds are vented during the curing process, and the vents are filled with tiny strands of rubber that in the past had been discarded. Recycling that rubber is now under way at Salem, Mr. Nevin said.
``Because of our efforts,'' he said, ``the product is more environmentally friendly. We're also trying to find good ways to recycle and reduce our scrap so we're not filling up landfills.''
``Yokohama is pledged to work toward `zero emissions,' a program that will eliminate industrial waste at landfill sites,'' said Shinichi Suzuki, executive vice president of manufacturing and technology, plant manager and a YRC vice president.
``Our commitment to the environment is very important,'' Mr. Suzuki said, adding that Yokohama's manufacturing plants around the world aim for zero-waste output.
``We work to reuse or otherwise recycle all waste and will introduce cogeneration systems to raise resource efficiency. We work in all our operations to reduce waste and the output of carbon dioxide.
``Globally, this is our moral obligation.''
All of Yokohama's Japanese plants have been ISO 14001 accredited since 1999 and the company's plants worldwide are certified or in the process of becoming certified.