In a suburb of Kawasaki, on the outskirts of Tokyo, a gentle Pacific breeze rustles ancient cherry trees, scattering their red and golden leaves across ponds of Koi carp. Is this the site of the 900-year-old Daishi Temple? No, writes Johanna Hamilton AMBCS, this is the very first Fujitsu factory.

Celebrating 84 years in business and now the seventh largest IT Service Provider on the planet, Fujitsu has a long history of advocating personal and environmental harmony. Founded in 1935, the company has evolved from one factory with a vision of work and social wellbeing, to a federated organisation of around 400 companies with 140,000 people all sharing the same principles.

To explain the success story of Fujitsu is its Director of Interregional Engagement in the Responsible Business Unit, Mel Melis, based in London and Tokyo and Colm McDaid, Head of Sustainability for North West Europe, based in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Mel Melis explains how the many at Fujitsu share a single vision: ‘Yes, we're a federated company (and there are actually three or four hundred group companies worldwide) but every single organisation, company and regional group within Fujitsu has to be driven by our fundamental philosophy, which is called The Fujitsu Way.

‘The Fujitsu Way defines the way we should do business, the ethics on how we should operate, how we should treat each other, our suppliers, our customers, our employees and, of course, society and the planet at large.

‘In Japan, it’s a fairly standard practice to have this kind of philosophy. Looking at the long term and being socially conscious was at the foundation, though the new Sustainable Development Goals dovetail very well into the existing philosophy. So, the corporate vision, through the constant pursuit of innovation is to create a secure and prosperous future that turns the dreams of people throughout the world, into a reality.’

Colm McDaid continues: ‘The Fujitsu Way, is mandated for all our people on induction. The first statement within that philosophy reads: "In all our actions we protect the environment and contribute to society." It's embedded within our culture. It's not an add-on activity. It's part of our inbuilt activities, it's part of our DNA and is in all of our business processes.

So, is everyone the same? Do employees wear the same uniform? Take the same breaks? Is uniformity celebrated?

‘I think while that is a mindset in manufacturing and that kind of utilitarian style does occur in some offices in Fujitsu,’ says Melis, ‘our new president, Takahito Tokita, is very much trying to break that mould. Japan is still a very homogenous society, and Tokita-San is trying to bring in a more inclusive culture, celebrating diversity worldwide to build the best solutions for Fujitsu and society.

‘Like many other countries, Japan does have more of a bias towards men in management. Even before the new president, Fujitsu has been investing for many years in schemes to include more women in management, to bring in diversity in terms of disability; making buildings more adapted to the needs of our disabled employees - but then outside of Japan, there is more emphasis on cultural and religious diversity and LGBT issues.

‘Tokita-San had the opportunity to work outside of Japan for 2-3 years in an organisation called Global Delivery. That organisation has a very young dynamic, with an average age of around 30. They’re still growing; there's over 13,000 people worldwide in nine different countries and it’s multi-lingual. Our Portugal Global Delivery Centre in Lisbon has over 50 nationalities working there.

‘Tokita-San saw the power and energy that comes with diversity and he wanted to bring that energy back to Japan to re-energise Fujitsu at its core. Obviously, there are established procedures and hierarchies, but from what we've seen so far, he's very keen to challenge those. After a month of taking the reins, he suggested that business attire is no longer mandated. You can wear whatever you like, including trainers and t-shirts, which is a big departure in a Japanese company. The principle is that you come to work, you’re comfortable, you do a good job and you are trusted. If you deliver business in the right way, then that will naturally grow the business, too.

‘Diversity, energy and daring to be different is inherently human. But what happens, when technology advances, and employees don’t feel quite so comfortable? The advent of machine learning and AI is being heralded as the fourth industrial revolution. While people are not smashing up computers as the nineteenth century Luddites destroyed the machines that would take their jobs, there still remains a fear of what might come. That’s why, in everything, Fujitsu has an eye to the future.’

Melis continues: ‘Fujitsu is excited to be part of the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. We are very committed to that multi-stakeholder approach across different sectors, all working together to try and address some of the social problems we've got worldwide. So, we're part of the "future of work" working group, which fits in the AI space. That working group comprises big employers (e.g. banks) that deploy a lot of technology and want to protect their customers too.

‘In terms of AI, we're acutely conscious that the current industrial revolution is accelerating so fast that often, even with good intentions, there will be some unintended consequences of any technology you deploy,’ admits Melis, ‘not just what you deploy directly, but you might sell something to a customer who might then use it in a nefarious way.

‘While legislation is still catching up with the speed of technology, we’ve joined a multi-stakeholder group, AI4People, to help us regulate what we do across the business. We want to ensure that whatever we develop cannot get into the wrong hands and isn’t underpinned with some unintended bias. That's been our big theme for some time now, to really push that angle in terms of Data Protection Security and ensuring society won't be adversely affected by the impact of technology.

‘We all have the same issues: the population is getting older, there's a fear that automation will replace people and there will be a lack of jobs. How do we strike that balance, so the right to work isn't taken away, but we also enhance the working experience for people who are working when automation comes in? It's an issue we've had for hundreds of years, through the various industrial revolutions: when technology comes in, it's seen as a threat. How we mitigate that threat and work together to get the best outcome is the key.

While the overarching theme has good intentions, how can Fujitsu make sure a factory in China will always be on the same page as a data centre in Finland? Or that the raw materials that enable Fujitsu’s drive through the innovation of new products and services, comes from responsible sources? 

‘We still have manufacturing,’ responds Melis, ‘And even when we don't have manufacturing, we will still purchase. As part of an integrated solution, we have the hardware and infrastructure that's necessary to support whatever we deliver – so we're not dropping the ball on our responsibility in the supply chain. Going down to the raw materials level, sometimes it's very hard to establish whether raw materials come from conflict zones, or where there's child labour or slavery, but absolutely it's an area we take very seriously.’

McDaid adds: ‘With the cloud, there will be less call for physical infrastructure. But we still need to be responsible for the physical infrastructure. That is why, as part of our design processes for end of life, we actually send our designers out to work in recycle plants across the world - our own recycle plants.

‘When designers know the pitfalls, hands-on, they can consider end of life from the very start of the design cycle. So, design for re-use. Design for end of life. We also have our own targets on the physical infrastructure as well, so that we use less plastic and try and drive down all the consumables within our products so we can extend the life of the actual devices. We consider the full breadth of sustainability of the products that we develop and source.’

Can you tell us more about the ambitious targets set by Fujitsu?

‘The commitment to using less isn’t just in raw materials, it’s in energy,’ Melis explains. ‘We have the 2050 target to reduce our emissions, globally, operationally, to zero. It is going to be a challenge. Over 60% of our operations are in Japan and Japan’s national grid is predominantly fossil fuel biased. They had a nuclear disaster and now need to backfill power for that lost nuclear generation.

‘2050 isn't that far away, but one thing in Japan's favour is that private sector and central government have a very good co-operative approach. We can say that in the EU and in the UK as well, but in Japan, there is a huge emphasis on this collaboration; even rival organisations will work together and share intellectual property if it helps social issues.

‘The challenge for 2050 is not just the electricity side, it's also all of the other emissions relating to our operation, including transportation. Fujitsu is also undertaking a campaign to eradicate plastics from our whole organisation.’

McDaid continues: ‘We believe in a human-centric society - working together for those goals on a path to a prosperous future. It’s using computers for the betterment of society, for people. Everything that we do should have a people or human-centric outcome. So, we're making things better for society, for people.

Traditionally, we had numerous targets to adhere to, such as our reduction in energy and water, clean air, etc. We used to look at those on a three-year cycle, but things in the environment change so quickly that we now believe that even a three-year cycle is too long; we've reduced reviewing our targets down to two years. We need to constantly reassess our goals to see where are, look at how to make changes and then put those processes in place. We need to take a step back every now and again and make sure that we're totally aligned.

‘We have our long-term Fujitsu Climate and Energy vision, the 2050 vision to be carbon neutral and we're making good progress. I think the rate of change, not only the rate of change within the environment but the rate of change within technology as well, means that we have to align all of our technologies to the environment. It is a challenge, no doubt, to keep the two on par but it is certainly one that the organisation is very much on track with.’

While setting its sights high, is there a risk that Fujitsu may be over generous in marking its own, environmental homework?

Melis says not: ‘There is always the challenge that you could be greenwashing the way you disclose your progress, or ‘rainbow-washing’ with regard to the sustainable development goals. What we want to do is to have verifiable, measurable, specific goals which are time bound, which stand up to scrutiny, which people can really analyse. Often, we use academic institutions to help us with that, to prove what we are achieving. One of those examples in the sustainability area is signing up to some of the science-based targets.

‘Our science-based targets are downloadable from the website and very transparent; there are a huge amount of data points for proving that. In the other eleven areas we've published on our website, we want to develop equally verifiable targets in both the short and long term. We have to prove the measurement philosophy and the value to our people, our customers and society.

McDaid continues: ‘So, the targets are set in Japan and fed down throughout all the other regions. These are found within our Environmental Management System, which is Bureau Veritas certified. We're in an audit cycle now in terms of the EMS, so that's a continual activity. We also have our own internal auditors to make sure systems are running as they should.’

The well-being philosophy enshrined in the first Fujitsu factories has also been brought to the UK’s shores at their landmark building in Bracknell. Powered by solar cells and with a nesting pair of resident peregrine falcons, the UK headquarters even has a ready supply of honey thanks to a colony of honeybees and an adjoining meadow of wildflowers. I ask Melis about the building: ‘It's not a very pretty building,’ he admits, ‘but we've got the bio-diversity spot-on there. I took some of the Fujitsu honey to my boss in Japan, my colleagues were very impressed. We sell that to our employees with the proceeds going to our corporate charity.’

While no one can underestimate the environmental challenge that lies ahead, both for the industry and for the planet, the environmental officers at Fujitsu remain optimistic.

‘I think the key to looking after our planet and society,’ Melis offers, ‘is to collaborate. We have to co-create. We have to not be shy or suspicious about doing that, because what's the business case of not sharing? Well, the business case of doing nothing is that the planet is ruined. So, the private sector has a huge responsibility as much as governments and civil society. We have to protect what we have now, not just for the future of the plant, but for the good of the planet.’