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February 3, 2020 / 1:21 AM / Updated 10 hours ago

Innovation that prioritises value rather than profit

Bottom line results are essential to any long-standing successful business, but some have wider ambitions that govern the way they operate.

YKK is one such company and since it was founded in 1934 it has always put customer value at the heart of its operations. The goal is to offer and create value that goes beyond customer satisfaction and brings people joy.  

This thinking is deep-rooted within the company’s philosophy. It stems from company founder Tadao Yoshida, who believed that companies were also members of society and had a responsibility to share the benefits they created if they wanted to generate long-term success.  

Only by demonstrating the value they offer to society can companies win ongoing support from customers. It is a mutually beneficial, collaborative approach that has informed YKK’s thinking since day one.  

It has also fostered a spirit of innovation and ingenuity within the company as it has strived continually to design and develop new products that offer increasing and different types of value to its many customers.  

A culture of sustainability 

In recent years, views on what represents value have changed considerably. Environmental and wider sustainability considerations have become increasingly important and YKK has shown itself to be at the forefront of these evolving issues.  

For example, in 1994 – 25 years ago – YKK drew up and issued its first ”Environmental Pledge” that committed the company to seek out and implement ways to reduce water waste, minimise chemical usage and contribute positively to conservation.  

It was the same year that YKK launched the NATULON® zipper, its first environmentally focused product, which is made from recycled plastic bottles and highlights the company’s pioneering approach to sustainability.   

Today all its major factories are accredited to ISO14001, demonstrating they have effective environmental management systems in place.  

YKK published its first, annual, ”Environmental Report” in 2000. The document details business activities aimed at resolving social and environmental issues. 

The 2019 edition also included the “YKK Group Environmental Vision 2050”, which details plans in specific areas such as:

·      Responding to climate change
·      Sustainable use of water
·      Utilisation of resources
·      Symbiosis with nature

In addition to defining detailed environmental policies, setting tough performance targets and committing to achieve these goals, YKK has also put its green thinking into new products.  

The GreenRise® zipper, for example, uses molasses, a byproduct from sugar production, as a core element in its manufacture. Using this plant-based raw material reduces the amount of new petroleum usage and CO2 required when compared to standard zippers.  

Another YKK product that is pushing towards a sustainable future is ECO-DYE®. It pioneers the use of waterless dyeing technology for zippers, meaning that hardly any water is used in the dyeing process.  

It is products such as these that are helping YKK hit its environmental targets and that will deliver further improvements in the years ahead.  

Taking a lead on reducing marine plastic

Marine plastic waste is a massive issue and if the global community does not change its current behavior, research forecasts that by 2025 the seas will contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish. By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish – by weight – in the sea.  

Data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature shows that eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, accounting for 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. This leads to severe injuries and deaths for marine species that ingest or are tangled in plastic debris. Marine plastic pollution also threatens food safety and quality, and human health.  

Avoiding these outcomes means designing new materials and recycling and reusing existing resources more effectively. To do this, YKK has developed a product called NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ that is made from plastic waste diverted from ocean bound waterways and waste streams to prevent it from becoming marine plastic. NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ zippers are   indistinguishable from zippers made of virgin polyester and they generate much better outcomes for the environment.   

 The company also makes NATULON® zippers from post-consumer polyester products such as recycled plastic bottles. These zippers are fully recyclable at the end of their own lives, creating a circular economy. YKK can make 10,000 NATULON® zippers – each 60cm long – from 3,609 plastic bottles.   

By recycling material from different sources, NATULON® and NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ products ensure the widest range of plastics are prevented from becoming marine plastic waste.  

In addition to stopping plastic waste ending up in the world’s oceans, YKK manufactures its products using carefully designed processes to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emission, the use of crude oil and the production of industrial waste.  

By increasing the use of recycled materials and minimising the negative influences of its manufacturing, YKK has created a double-edged benefit to the environment.  

Spreading the word

As YKK pioneers new products that will protect the planet, it wants customers and users to know the story behind them and the impact they can make in creating a better tomorrow.  

One way the company is doing this is through a series of anime films. Posted on YouTube and watched by more than 30.6 million people, the three films have grabbed the attention of a new audience and given YKK a platform from which it can now develop the dialogue.  

Just as YKK has innovated the products it brings to market, it is evolving the way it engages with its customers and demonstrates the value its products create.  

If Tadao Yoshida was correct, this strategy will continue to serve the company well as it builds towards its centenary in 2034.

“ECO-DYE®” , “GreenRise®” and “NATULON®” are the registered trademarks of YKK Corporation in Japan and other countries/regions.
“Ocean Sourced™” is a trademark of YKK Corporation in Japan and other countries/regions.

The Reuters editorial and news staff had no role in the production of this content. It was created by Reuters Plus, part of the commercial advertising group. To work with Reuters Plus, contact us here.

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