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What I Learned in the Rainforest

[From Norbert -JFB]

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What I Learned in the Rainforest
The following is a keynote address to the World Future Society on July 19,
1997, by Tachi Kiuchi, Managing Director of Mitsubishi Electric
Corporation, General Manager of Global Communications, Former Chairman and
CEO of Mitsubishi Electric America, and Chairman of the Future 500. Mr.
Kiuchi heads the Global Communications and Industrial Ecology Programs of
the Mitsubishi Electric Companies.
by Tachi Kiuchi

Thank you for the honor and privilege of speaking with you this afternoon.
I have been fascinated by the global perspectives I have gained at my
first World Future Society conference, and I appreciate all that I have
learned from you. I come to speak on the two issues most vital to the
future of my business, and perhaps of the world: (1) the environment, and
(2) the emerging information economy. To me, these topics seem intimately
linked. Perhaps this is partly because I work for an electronics company,
and I see our impact on the environment. But my most important lessons
about the link between business, environment and economy did not come from
my company. My most important lessons about business and environment I
learned in the forest. Let me explain. My first lesson in the forest
happened 37 years ago, days after I graduated from the University of
British Columbia. I was asleep when I got my lesson. This was unfortunate,
because at the time I was driving a little British car through the forests
of the Canadian Rockies.
It is not advisable to drive a car through the Rockies when one is asleep.
You might drive off a cliff, which is exactly what happened to me. When I
woke up in the hospital, I had plenty of time to reflect upon what I could
learn from this incident. I remembered advice that my father had given me
a few years before. He knew I was an adventurer, and a risk-taker. He
liked that, but he didn't want me to have too much of a good thing. So he
took me aside and told me: "Do whatever you want. But don't die." I wanted
to call my father to tell him that I had taken his good advice, but my jaw
was clamped shut. So I couldn't. He found out anyway. The Japanese Consul
General saw an article on my adventure in the local newspaper, and sent it
to him.
I have since passed along my father's advice to others. I think about it
when people ask me what I think about sustainability. To me, this is what
it means: "Do what you want. Follow your purpose. But don't die." For a
young man, driving off a cliff in the Rocky Mountains teaches a valuable
Stay alert. Watch where you are going.
It seems to me that the global business community is driving quickly
toward a cliff, and we have our eyes closed. If we opened them, here is
what we would see: Today, 600 million of the Earth's inhabitants-in
Europe, Japan, and the United States - enjoy the material benefits of
industrialism. Soon, 2.5 billion more-China, India, the former Soviet
Republics-will join us. And after them, the final 3 billion will seek the
same. They demand and deserve to share in the benefits which we enjoy. To
do that today, we need three planets. But we have only one.
We must learn a new way of life. We must learn to provide affluence
without effluence. We must develop prosperous human communities, with
meaningful work and social equity between various groups. And, we must do
so by consuming less from the environment, not more.
Population explosion. Habitat destruction. Resource consumption. Those are
signs that may worry us. But as we approach the 21st Century, I wonder if
you all see, as I do, positive signs as well, signs of the dawn of an
entirely new era, an era when all our businesses, yours and mine, will
undergo dramatic change. That new era could move us beyond the industrial
era, where we used machines to expand human muscle. It could carry us into
a new era where we expand the human mind.
To excel in this new era, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation has developed a
long-range business plan. We call it Vision 21. Vision 21 challenges us to
excel in several emerging business domains, all based on the use, not of
raw materials and fossil fuels, but knowledge. For example:
We make some of the world's most efficient solar cells.
We make fuel cells that turn simple hydrogen to electricity, with no
We make microchips for companies like Hewlett-Packard and Sun.
We introduced the world's first CFC-free refrigerator, and won the US
Environmental Protection Agency's award for our innovation.
We design and engineer technologies of the Internet, that allow us to
communicate without paper, to travel without going anywhere.
We make the satellite systems that can continuously monitor the global
environment, and feed that information back to nations, businesses, and
people who can take action in response.
Through Vision 21, we are shifting our investments away from the
ecologically harmful practices of the old economy, toward the
information-based technologies of the future. We are shifting from growth
based on consumption to growth based on knowledge. The pace of change,
however, is extremely fast. To succeed, we must be agile. And we must be
creative. And that requires that we operate our businesses in bold new
In the old days, we operated our businesses like they were machines. But
machines are not agile. They are not creative. They do not respond well to
change. In the future, we need to operate our businesses according to a
different model. That brings me to how I got my second lesson from the
Around Earth Day five years ago, I received a small stack of letters from
a class of elementary school students, asking me to do what I could to
stop harming the rainforest. The letters confused me at first. We are an
electronics company. We have no timber holdings. We make no forest
products. We use very little paper or wood. What's the connection? It
turned out they were talking about another company that shares the
Mitsubishi name. We've been separate companies for 50 years, since 1946.
Not subsidiaries, not divisions. Separate. But no one knows this except
us. Everyone thinks they own us, or we own them, or somebody else owns us
all. So long ago, we stopped trying to convince people we are separate
companies. It's much easier just to try to do something about the problem,
instead of worrying about the name confusion.
Solving problems and fulfilling needs, after all, is how businesses
discover new markets, and generate new profits. It's even better if the
company isn't invested in whatever caused the problem-so there's no
trapped capital to lose. So, on my next trip to Asia, I visited the
Malaysian rainforest. I met with expert foresters. I visited timber
cutting sites, as well as reforesting and research operations. I spoke
with visionary environmentalists and executives. What I learned changed my
life as a corporate executive.
I learned that saving the rainforests-- in fact, saving the environment--
is more than an environmental necessity. It is a business opportunity. In
our case, it is an opportunity to further advance Vision 21, to pursue
business opportunities that use creativity and technology to substitute
for trees, for resources of any kind. After I visited the rainforest, we
spoke with Amory Lovins, the famous expert on resource efficiency. We
asked him to lead a global study team, to discover what opportunities
business had to save forests. He agreed, and established the Systems Group
on Forests. In a few weeks, his Systems Group will release a series of
reports that show how businesses like yours and mine can help to reverse
the systemic causes of forest destruction. If you want to take advantage
of these opportunities, and invest in business pursuits that could help
save the rainforests, please give me your card.
But I learned something else in the rainforest, something more profound. I
learned how we might operate our company not just to save the rainforest,
but to be more like the rainforest. Let me explain. As I said earlier,
today's fast-changing business environment requires that we be alert, and
responsive. Agile, and creative. To do so, we must structure our company
so we are a learning organization. Not top-down, but bottom-up. Not
centralized, but decentralized. Not limited by rules, but motivated by
objectives. Not structured like a machine-- which cannot learn-- but like
a living system, which can.
When I visited the rainforest, I realized that it was a model of the
perfect learning organization. A place that excels by learning to adapt to
what it doesn't have. A rainforest has almost no resources. The soil is
thin. There are few nutrients. It consumes almost nothing. Wastes are
food. Design is capital. My model for Mitsubishi Electric. An organization
that is like a rainforest.
Here is what a banker would say if asked to make a loan to a rainforest:
"No way!" After all, it has no productive assets. Yet rainforests are
incredibly productive. They are home to millions of types of plants and
animals, and more than two-thirds of all biodiversity in the world. Those
plants and animals are so perfectly mixed that the system is more
efficient, and more creative, than any business in the world.
Imagine how creative, how productive, how ecologically benign we could be
if we could run our companies like the rainforest? How can we begin? By
operating less like a machine, and more like a living system. An
Industrial Ecosystem. That is why, at Mitsubishi Electric, we have begun
to adopt an environmental management system founded on principles of
Industrial Ecology. For us, this means two things: First, we must have our
eyes wide open, and see the environmental costs and benefits of our
business. Second, based on what we see, must take action.
See costs -- reduce them.
See benefits -- increase them.
See needs -- fill them.
Not just inside the company, but throughout the community, locally and
globally. We must take responsibility for the impacts of our products,
from cradle to cradle.
So, instead of keeping environmental affairs separate from the core
operations of our company, we are integrating it. For example: We recently
combined our Environmental Management and Quality Management programs.
From now on, it is not just quality of product. It is quality of the
Earth. We also combined our Product TakeBack effort with our Design for
Environment program. The United Nations awarded us the Habitat II award
for this initiative. I have copies of an article on this program, for
those of you who are interested.
We combined ISO 14000 -- the new international environmental management
standard-with our Natural Step program The Natural Step is a program
developed in Sweden to help companies avoid products and processes that
violate principles of sustainability in nature. We recently trained all
our North American managers in The Natural Step, the Swedish-based program
that helps companies operate within nature's limits. I am told I was the
first CEO of a major company to take The Natural Step training. Now we are
working with Paul Hawken and Karl Henrik Robert (row-BEAR) to help bring
the training to Japan.
Finally, we are looking for ways to combine our efforts with those of
others. Maybe some of you. To do that, we are sponsoring a series of
roundtable discussions about Industrial Ecology and advanced resource
productivity. We call the participants in these discussions The Future
500. Time will tell whether the name is correct. I invite you now to join
in this process.
If The Future 500 and Industrial Ecology are subjects that interest you, I
hope you will join me at two events-write the dates in your calendars now:

September 18 to 21, 1997 -- the Ecotech Conference, in Monterey,
April 24 to 26, 1998 -- Industrial Ecology III, in San Francisco.
Through these discussions, we intend to find business opportunities that
will help preserve the Earth. We intend to redirect our investments in
ways that will be as productive as a rainforest. Which brings me to my
third lesson from the rainforest.
How can rainforests be so productive when they seem to have no capital
assets? They are productive because their capital is hidden in their
True profit comes from design, not matter. In fact, the most important
Natural capital is its design. Its relationships. Like those we see in the
rainforest, or in our communities, or in our companies. In Japan, we have
two terms to describe this: omote and ura. Omote is the surface or front
of an object, ura is its back or invisible side. Omote and ura . External
reality and underlying reality.
When I visited the rainforest, I thought: As business people, we have been
looking at the rainforest all wrong. What is valuable about the rainforest
is not omote -- the trees, which we can remove. What is valuable is ura --
the design, the relationships, from which comes the real value of the
forest. When we take trees from the forest, we ruin its design. But when
we take lessons from the forest, we further its purpose. We can develop
the human ecosystem into as intricate and creative a system as we find in
the rainforest. We can do more with less. Grow without shrinking.
Ura , not omote .
We are beginning to learn the value of this in business. Consider the
microchip. A microchip's omote -its physical content -- isn't very
valuable. Silica is the cheapest and most abundant raw material on the
planet -- sand. But a microchip -- its shape -- is design, its unseen
artistry - is extraordinarily valuable. Yet it comes from a source that
seems almost unlimited -- the knowledge and inspiration we draw from the
human mind and spirit. That is the most valuable resource, and the most
This becomes the most important question for today's corporate executives
to answer: How can we redesign, reinvent our corporations, so that they
fully harness the human mind and spirit? How can we transform our top-down
hierarchies, our conformist monocultures, to engage the magical creative
qualities we see in the forest? That brings me to ...
To succeed in the new economy, we must operate by the design principles of
the rainforest: the design principles of nature's most advanced learning
organization. There are at least five of these design principles-- and no
doubt many more that I have yet to learn. Listen to them carefully. See if
you agree, and see if you can tell what connects them. They are:
1. Get feedback.
2. Adapt. Change
3. Differentiate.
4. Cooperate.
5. Be a Good Fit.
Let me explain what I mean.
1. Get Feedback. I know from my drive over the cliff that there are
two kinds of feedback: "advance" and "direct". "Advance" feedback is when
we see the danger, and have time to change. "Direct" feedback is when we
don't see the danger, drive off the cliff, and are hurt or die. This is
the path chosen by 99% of all species who have lived on the earth, and are
now extinct. Needless to say, I like advance feedback better.
Humans have the best individual feedback systems anywhere in nature- our
eyes, our ears, our minds. But our collective feedback systems -- at the
community and company level - are nowhere near as developed. This is now
my #1 personal priority. To create at Mitsubishi Electric the best system
of corporate feedback in the world so that we know the costs and the
benefits of every product and service we create, and the social and
environmental needs we can help fulfill, better than any other electronics
We will do it by listening -- like I am here, today and yesterday. But
even more, we will do it by measuring, in ways I will describe in a
moment. This -- getting feedback, by listening and measuring -- is Step#1
to being the most effective electronics company in the world, I believe.
But it is still just a start. Design principle #2 is:
2. Adapt. Change. It is not enough just to look ahead and see the
cliff. We must turn. We must change. For that, at Mitsubishi Electric
America we will create incentives. When people are creative and
innovative-when they find ways to reduce costs and enhance benefits --
they will be rewarded. We all know that what gets measured gets done. So
we will no longer just measure quarterly profits, return on investment,
and GNP. Beginning in 1998, we will also measure three new things:
pollution intensity, resource productivity and quality of life.
We will create systems that reward people whenever they think and act to
reduce costs or increase benefits -- inside or outside our company. We
have already begun -- our decentralized management and team-based
structure encourages people to be creative about reducing costs
internally. Now we want to do the same to reduce costs for the
environment, for society as a whole. We want to eliminate the last
vestiges of our machine-age structure, and apply the principles of
Industrial Ecology to become as creative and innovative as a living
system. We will also share our methods with every other company, through
The Future 500.
3. Differentiate. Be yourself, be unique. In the rainforest,
conformity leads to extinction. If two organisms have the same niche, only
one survives. The other either adapts, or dies. In today's economy, the
same happens. If two businesses have the same niche -- make exactly the
same product -- only one survives. The other adapts, or dies.
So what are most companies today doing? They are trying to be the one that
survives. Cutting costs. Downsizing radically. Desperately seeking the
lowest cost. We think it is much smarter to differentiate. Create unique
products, different from any others. Fill unique niches. Don't kill our
competitors, or be killed by them. Sidestep them instead.
Be yourself, Be. Only then -- after we differentiate -- is it time to
reduce costs, and grow more efficient. We have learned this the hard way.
We sell millions of televisions, stereos, and appliances. We cannot
compete by being the lowest-cost operator. Instead, we must offer products
that are different, distinctive. We must choose and fill our unique niche.

This is new for many in Japan. The philosophy used to be: Don't
differentiate. Don't be different. If the nail sticks out, it will be
hammered down. Now, I say our philosophy must be: Stick out, or you will
rust away.
By being different, we are also better able to fulfill design principle
4. Cooperate. Today, many people think "competitiveness" is the key
to business success. Their thinking is out-of-date. In the old economy,
when we were all the same, we competed. We had no choice -- we all made
the same products. We filled the same niche. We could not coexist
peacefully in the same community. In the end, only one of us could
Today, as we grow different, we learn that none of us is whole. We need
each other to fill in our gaps. For example, at my company, we no longer
look to grow bigger simply by acquiring more and more companies as
subsidiaries. Instead, we are engaging in cooperative joint ventures with
many others. Each company retains its independence, its specialty and core
competence. Together we benefit from our diversity.
Which brings me to design principle #5:
5. Be a Good Fit. We used to say, "Only the fittest survives".
There is only one winner. But in the rainforest, there are many winners.
The same can be true in our economy. In the old, uniform, monoculture
economy, only one form wins, only the most fit survives. At least until a
new invader wipes him out.
In this new, diverse, rainforest economy, it is not a question of who is
most fit. It is a question of where we best fit. If we fit -- if we solve
a social problem, fulfill a social need -- we will survive and excel. If
we only create problems, we will not.
I am often asked whether the needs of the corporation and the needs of the
environment are in conflict. l do not believe they are. In the long run,
they cannot be. Conventional wisdom is that the highest mission of a
corporation is to maximize profits. Maximize return to shareholders. That
is a myth. It has never been true. Profit is just money. And money is just
a medium of exchange. You always trade it for something else. So profits
are not an end. They are a means to an end.
My philosophy is this: We don't run our business to earn profits. We earn
profits to run our business. Our business has meaning and purpose-a reason
to be here. People talk today about businesses needing to be socially
responsible, as if this is something new we need to do, on top of
everything else we do. But social responsibility is not something that one
should do as an extra benefit of the business. The whole essence of the
business should be social responsibility. It must live for a purpose.
Otherwise, why should it live at all?
That suggests the final lesson I learned -- so far -- from the rainforest:
The mission of business -- the mission of civilization -- is to develop
the human ecosystem, sustainably. To take our place in the global
ecosystem. In all our diversity and complexity.
What I learned from the rainforest is easy to understand. We can use less,
and have more. Consume less, and be more. It is the only way. For the
interests of business, and the interests of environment, are not
incompatible. They are the Japanese omote and ura , the Chinese yin and
yang, product and process, economy and ecology, mind and spirit -- two
halves. Only together can we make the world whole.
To contact The Future 500:
801 Crocker Road
Sacramento, CA 95864
916.486.5990 (fax)
Visit our website at:
posted with permission by
New Horizons for Learning
P O Box 31876
Seattle WA 98103 USA

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Recycled Paper Accounts for Two-Thirds of Office Depot's 2004 U.S. Paper Sales

Recycled Paper Accounts for Two-Thirds of Office Depot's 2004 U.S. Paper
DELRAY BEACH, Fla., July 12, 2005 - Office Depot has announced that 65% of
its 2004 U.S. paper sales came from recycled paper -- a 373% increase from

Office Depot, who last year became the first company in the office
products industry to set annual quantified environmental performance
objectives, also reported that the average annual post-consumer waste
(PCW) recycled content of all paper it sold in the United States last year
climbed by nearly 125%.

During 2004, 65.3% of Office Depot's total U.S. retail, contract business,
and commercial paper sales contained PCW recycled content -- up from 13.8%
in 2003. In addition, the overall average PCW recycled content (total
weight of recycled fiber as a percent of total paper weight) of paper sold
across all U.S. channels reached 10.5% -- up from 4.5% in 2003.

"We are thrilled to report that nearly two of every three sheets of paper
sold in the United States by Office Depot last year contained recycled
content," said Tyler Elm, director of environmental affairs for Office
Depot. "With paper being the most ubiquitous single office product, [this]
sales effect [is] ... a testament to the growing public and corporate
adoption of our quality recycled paper."