How Orient Corporation Utilizes EcoVadis in The Pursuit of Sustainability

July 2, 2024 EcoVadis EN

Katsumasa Okano, Representative Executive at Orient Corporation

Orient Corporation is a long-established trading company with a history of over 75 years. Specializing in construction materials, industrial products, and air conditioning ducts, the company helps Japan’s major heavy industries, car manufacturers, and convenience store chains.

Over the years, Orient has earned a strong rapport with its customers via material procurement, logistics management, and tailoring optimal systems for customers’ operations. The company excels in anticipating clients’ needs and proposing value-added services.

In its ongoing commitment to sustainability, Orient underwent an EcoVadis assessment for the first time in 2022, and has since received the Bronze Medal for two consecutive years. We asked about the challenges of taking on third-party sustainability assessments as a trading company that sources diverse products, and why Orient pursues sustainability.

What made you decide to take the EcoVadis assessment?

One of our core businesses is providing construction materials for physical retail spaces such as convenience store chains and drugstores. Our clients expressed interest in our sustainability practices and encouraged us to undergo the EcoVadis assessment.

In recent years, our clients’ attention has increasingly turned towards sustainability, particularly regarding environmental regulation compliance and demand for ethically sourced products. Orient has been proactive in sustainability promotion over the years, recognizing the importance of sustainability in enhancing corporate value. We decided to take theEcoVadis assessment to evaluate our initiatives from a third-party perspective and gain insight into where we stood.

What sustainability initiatives were you engaging in prior to your first EcoVadis assessment?

We obtained ISO 14001 certification in 2007 and engaged in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities based on ISO 26000, an international social responsibility standard.

Our company also established an ISO 14001 office, a Business Continuity Planning (BCP) office, and a health committee. A CSR committee oversees these initiatives and holds meetings regularly.

While we have long committed ourselves to CSR and giving back to society, sustainability encompasses a broader scope that requires us to address new challenges. The opportunity to undergo the assessment came at the right time, as we needed to align our efforts and strengthen our initiatives.

Was there anything particularly challenging about the assessment process?

EcoVadis asks companies to provide detailed evidence on four themes: Environment, Labor and Human Rights, Ethics, and Sustainable Procurement. Compiling the necessary data was the most challenging aspect for us.

For instance, documenting our evidence for Labor & Human Rights was relatively straightforward, as our management department maintains meticulous records on various metrics like overtime hours. However, for Sustainable Procurement, our sales representative teams had to collect documentation from suppliers to quantify the CO2 emissions of the industrial products we handle.

Our general process involved assessing which parts of the questionnaire could be readily answered and which would require further data with the CSR committee and our sales team. Then, we focused on addressing the questions we could readily answer and began gathering evidence.

Do you think your long-term engagement in CSR contributed to receiving the Bronze Medal upon your first assessment?

It definitely helped. We undergo ISO 14001 audits annually, so we collect environmental data as part of our daily operations, which is substantial evidence for the assessment. Additionally, we hold particular local distinctions—we are certified as a “Work-Life Balance Promotion Company” from Tokyo's Chuo Ward, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government designates us as a “Company Promoting Work-Life Balance.”

On the other hand, our company maintains robust product quality control, but we weren’t addressing aspects of sustainability outside of what our clients were explicitly requesting. We don't manufacture products ourselves as we are a trading company, so obtaining the necessary data for the questionnaire requires close coordination with manufacturers. This complicates things, especially for essential data like CO2 emissions, which we don't measure in-house.

As our customers increasingly demand CO2 emission disclosure, we acknowledge the importance of compiling data and sharing specifically how sustainable our products are. Achieving this transparency would enable us to grow and positively impact our community. 

What are you doing to raise employee awareness about sustainability?

In 2023, we made it a company-wide policy for all employees to participate in sustainability initiatives. We also established a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) committee alongside our existing ISO14001, BCP offices, and health committee. All employees are required to participate in one of these groups.

For example, employees on the SDGs committee attend monthly meetings to further their understanding and explore avenues to advocate for the SDGs within our operations. Group discussions also include identifying actionable company initiatives aligned with SDGs.

More employees have become interested in sustainability than when initiatives were confined to a smaller group. Employees are more aware of and demonstrate accountability in sustainability practices.

As Orient requests its suppliers demonstrate sustainable business practices, is it also important to demonstrate your company’s high-level understanding of these issues?

As you rightly pointed out, we hold high expectations for suppliers and are internally committed to maintaining awareness and diligence in our practices. Refraining from considering environmental concerns would compromise our reputation and contradict our sustainability goals.

Internally, we have implemented measures to bolster awareness, such as strategically placing SDG-related stickers throughout our office. For example, stickers near light switches highlight SDG goal 7: "Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all." While seemingly minor, these small adjustments contribute significantly to our ability to engage confidently with partners and suppliers, signaling our commitment to sustainability in every aspect of our operations.

How has undertaking the EcoVadis assessment benefited your company?

We have benefitted in a few key areas from undergoing assessment. 

Our company is now more confident in our products, knowing that they align with our customers’ sustainability goals. For example, we handle an energy-efficient ceiling fan called "eneFAN" that is installed in large commercial spaces like warehouses and factories. The fan helps save energy and reduce CO2 emissions with its natural breeze-like airflow, creating a comfortable and safe work environment. Engaging with EcoVadis helped our company and our employees realize the value that sustainable products like this bring to our clients.

Clients have also given us positive feedback, sharing that they appreciate our sustainability efforts, which have helped increase interest from customers. The eneFAN is now one of our core products.

We have also noticed advantages in recruiting new hires. Despite the recent labor shortage, our company receives many new applications for open roles. The younger demographic, in particular, has reacted positively to our sustainability efforts.

Additionally, management places more emphasis on employee engagement than before. For instance, the health committee looked into overtime hours and paid leave to create a more conducive working environment. We revised policies to make taking time off easier, introduced refreshment breaks, and enhanced maternity, paternity, and caregiving leave systems.

Orient achieved another Bronze Medal following its  second assessment — did you change your approach the second time?

EcoVadis examines company policies, actions, and achievements. Our previous CSR activities weren’t aligned enough with how we address challenges and our guiding policies and results.

For the second assessment, we used the EcoVadis scorecard to clarify the sustainability improvement areas  we should address and prioritize. We organized our company's main policies into six areas: essential sustainability, human rights, ethics, procurement, environment, and information security. These policy areas are documented and published on our company's website.

This new systematic approach contributed to us securing Bronze again and improving our score.

What advice do you have for other companies beginning sustainability initiatives? 

Sustainability encompasses a variety of issues—it's crucial to avoid spreading your efforts too thin, which can easily lead to less-than-impactful results. Our company looks at societal movements and listens carefully to client needs to decide our initiatives. We focus on tackling tasks we can excel at and lead in.

What sustainability initiatives will you be focusing on in the future?

Engaging in sustainability can lead to significant business opportunities in today's business landscape. In the future, we want to collaborate closely with our community to ensure our practices benefit all stakeholders—including our customers, suppliers, and broader society.

While our initial engagement with EcoVadis was in response to customer requests, we have shifted our focus towards being more proactive in sustainability and proposing new initiatives to our suppliers, such as reducing CO2 during production. Ultimately, we hope these efforts will benefit both Orient and our suppliers, partners, and society.

About the Author

EcoVadis EN

EcoVadis is a purpose-driven company whose mission is to provide the world's most trusted business sustainability ratings. Businesses of all sizes rely on EcoVadis’ expert intelligence and evidence-based ratings to manage risk and compliance, drive decarbonization, and improve the sustainability performance of their business and value chain. Its AI-powered risk mapping, actionable scorecards, benchmarks, carbon action tools, and insights guide a resilience and improvement journey for environmental, social and ethical practices across 200 industry categories and 175 countries.

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