Career Advice Working Women

The queen of green

Katherine Lau strives to make Fuji Xerox (HK) a more environmentally friendly firm

In its efforts to become more environmentally friendly, Fuji Xerox (Hong Kong) already boasts a long list of successes. It has significantly reduced the amount of energy that its office uses, can now recycle almost all of its old machinery, and has won more than 100 awards for high levels of sustainability.

Much of the credit for this can go to Katherine Lau, the company’s general manager of corporate quality and sustainability. For the past decade, Lau has overseen a range of projects to make Fuji Xerox a more sustainable company, driven by her passion for protecting the environment.

Lau discovered this passion at school. “I was in Canada for one year. They were starting to teach environmental pollution issues and how to protect the environment. I was very inspired,” she says.

Back in Hong Kong, Lau joined Fuji Xerox as an executive secretary in 1995. She says she wanted to stay with the company because she felt it was very proactive towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability.

In addition to her work, Lau studied part-time for a degree in business communications to equip herself with the communication skills she saw as vital for a role promoting CSR and environmental protection. “I felt communication was something essential in most jobs, and especially [for me because] I was interested in sustainability and quality,” she says. “If you have to convey a message, you really need the capability and the confidence to deliver it.”

In 1999, Lau transferred to the quality department, where she worked to ensure the company met customer requirements. As customers were increasingly concerned about their environmental and social impact, this role also involved looking at the company’s sustainability and CSR initiatives.

“Customers require CSR and sustainability,” Lau says, “That is why we have to integrate them into our solutions and services. Our latest devices, for example, have all been designed with eco-friendly plastic and smart energy management.”

In 2003, responding to growing customer environmental concerns, Fuji Xerox underwent several changes to become more environmentally friendly. It began to shift its business model and increasingly acted as a document consultancy, moving from encouraging people to print more to advising companies on how to reduce printing volumes.

The company also adopted ISO 14001, a framework for managing operations in a more sustainable way. The implementation of these changes provided Lau with an opportunity to work more on making the company even more environmentally friendly.

“I was challenged to deploy this whole system across the company,” she says. “This was a good starting point for me to broaden my career from not only taking care of quality, but also looking at sustainability.”

Lau needed to draw on her communication skills to effectively convey the changes to different departments and explain why sustainability was important. “I had to make sure colleagues got the environmental sustainability message very clearly,” she says. “It was easy for them to be confused and feel that on one side [the company] asked [them] to sell more and on the other the market has been changed.”

Explaining the changes to the sales team proved particularly challenging. “They would not listen to any deployment that didn’t help their business,” Lau says. “I had to link the sustainability element into the business.”

Since then, Lau has overseen numerous projects to make various aspects of Fuji Xerox greener. In 2004, she helped establish an integrated recycling system for the company’s e-waste. The company now transports its e-waste to special facilities in Thailand where it is processed and broken down into pieces that can be disposed of or re-used.

Setting up the system involved extensive negotiations. “We had to work with the Hong Kong and Thai governments’ environmental departments,” Lau says. “They were very sceptical about why a commercial company would be doing something like this, especially the Thai government, which said: ‘Hey, are you dumping all your landfill in Thailand?’ So we had to do a lot of lobbying and produce evidence to show them this was a success.”

The system means Fuji Xerox now produces virtually zero landfill and instead creates new materials to use. “On one hand we can make sure we don’t waste natural resources; on the other hand we can help to lower the landfill issue in Hong Kong,” Lau says. “It is very meaningful.”

Lau has also introduced initiatives to make Fuji Xerox’s Hong Kong office more energy-efficient. These include a “Lights Off During Lunch” programme and checks to encourage staff to turn off computers at night. She has even persuaded management to use more environmentally friendly lighting and slightly raise the office temperature. Computer servers have been consolidated.

“We have implanted a lot of energy-reduction initiatives,” Lau says. These have helped the office to reduce carbon emissions significantly, achieving a 10 per cent drop in carbon dioxide emissions during the 2012 financial year.

In 2010, Lau introduced an annual sustainability report to allow Fuji Xerox (Hong Kong) to document the success it has had becoming more sustainable, and what still needs to be done. “This is another good initiative,” she says. “It’s a useful tool to do an examination on ourselves, and a very good form of communication with our stakeholders.”

While the company has already managed to become much more environmentally friendly, Lau recognises there is still more that can be done. “We have a lot of good initiatives in place already,” she says. “We have to find something to move that on, to continue that role. If you are at that high standard, to move further you need more effort. But we are confident we will find a way to do it.”


Katherine Lau advises on how companies can be greener.
Measure performance “Companies should have some sort of references. It’s not necessary that you go through an audit, but you can reference some of the standards that are already in the market, such as the IS0 14001.”
Learn from others “You can also obtain best practices from your suppliers. For example, we share best practices with all customers and stakeholders. They can learn from each other to try to make sustainability part of their DNA.”
Lead from the top “Our managing director and our senior management team all agree and all have the same views on this area. That can help the company to do something that’s really effective.”