Interview / Text : Shimazu (Dialogue Designer)
What is the meaning of communicating "sustainability" now?
The winds have changed dramatically over the past year," Mr. Ishikawa replied. In addition to the current trends of the times, public values have changed rapidly due to the Corona disaster. At job interviews, there was a clear shift in the questions students were asking. Previously, questions about salary and corporate structure were common, but recently, "What is the company for?" The number of times they are asked this question has increased. Young people have a strong interest in the role that companies play in society. In addition, in communications with business partners, they ask, "How is Ishikawa Plastics contributing to the SDGs?" The number of inquiries about this issue has increased. Ishikawa continued, "We need to get our message out once and for all.
Sustainable as a material
Based on the concept of "long-lasting use
In the background of creating ARAS, they redefined the concept of "sustainability. What is sustainable manufacturing in harmony with the global environment? secca representative Mr. Uemachi said, "Our mission is to propagate values and share perspectives.
At first, the public had the image of "plastic = trash that can be quickly thrown away," and resin as a material was treated as a villain, with marine debris at the top of the list. Through discussions, they came to realize that plastic is also a renewable material, and that it can be produced at lower temperatures than pottery, thereby reducing CO2 emissions. If used effectively, they can deliver unprecedented value. The essence of the problem is the act of "discarding" and the creation of "discardable objects. Uemachi said, "We want to separate the prejudice that many people have against resin from the material and replace it with a new perception." ARAS used a new recyclable material called glass-filled tritan resin.
He also questioned the current situation where "recycling" is encouraged out of hand. Each process of making, consuming, and recycling takes energy. What is more important is to "use a thing for a long time". Therefore, we decided to create a "strong, beautiful, shape. The key message "Strong, Beautiful, Shape" was born.
Sustainability as a Structure
The curse of "cheap, good quality."
The concept of sustainability in ARAS is not limited to the material aspect. It is also manifested in the structure of the cycle of production, disposal, and reuse. We often see cheap, high quality products in Japan that require a lot of time and effort. For example, handmade products are sold at low prices in mass merchandisers. Mr. Ishikawa felt a strong sense of discomfort there.
I believe "cheap and good quality" is a curse. Specifically, it refers to "low-priced products that require a lot of time and effort. I can understand "high-end, good quality." Consumers may be happy if the price is low, but behind the scenes, someone (the creator) is crying. Someone is working for minimum wage or less. Is that really proper manufacturing? I wanted to change that situation.
It is not simply a matter of "making products in countries with low labor costs. That would be an act of buying someone else from a different location, which is not a solution to the essential problem. Additionally, if the country's economy grows, the business will not last 10 or 20 years. How can that be called "sustainable"?
One solution to these problems was to automate the manufacturing process. Ishikawa Plastics has introduced robots and is actively working to create a system that requires less manpower. Automation is not mass production as a means to pursue profit, but to avoid a situation where someone is crying. There is a big difference. It is the presence or absence of thought. The curse of "cheap and good quality" turns into a prayer through "technology and thought.
We still rely on human hands for inspection and packaging, but eventually we aim to automate these processes and make them as close to unmanned as possible. We aim to realize a supply chain that is "cheap and high quality" and that no one will buy off the shelf.
It also addresses the issue of inventory and disposal. In the apparel industry, the problem is that large quantities of clothing in various colors and sizes are released each season, and if they remain unsold, they are put on sale, and if buyers still do not appear, they are eventually discarded. It is not just a matter of making a large number of clothes. To eliminate the act of "throwing away" and "things to be thrown away," it is necessary to realize supply in adequate quantities.
Ishikawa Plastics has succeeded in producing a minimum number of lots by taking advantage of the strengths of its own factory. When the quantity of a product runs low, it is made on the spot in accordance with the inventory held. The company's main sales channel is its own website. Until now, primary wholesalers, secondary wholesalers, and retailers have intervened between the manufacturer and the consumer. Under this system, information on which products were sold, when they were sold, and how much inventory was held was slow to arrive, and if products remained unsold, they were disposed of.
Until now, we were wasting magnificent information and goods. Now we communicate directly with our customers on our own website, and all inventory is managed centrally by us. We can track orders and lead times. Of course, we have the cooperation of our retailers, but we have limited the quantity of inventory so as not to create losses.
The DtoC system is not just about distribution costs or digital marketing.
We see it as "a mechanism for making the right amount of the right product. It is not production to encourage mass consumption, but to adjust the quantity to meet the demanded needs. The result is a sustainable structure based on the value axis of "coexistence with the environment.
Sustainability as a Spirit
Design Draws Out the Mind
Before secca's commitment to Ishikawa resin, there were no designers, and the shapes of mass-produced products were determined according to the wishes of clients. For example, they wanted imitations such as vessels in which glass was replaced by Tritan, a resin product that was not intended to give the impression of being a "fake. In this case," says Yanai, "the creator would not feel any attachment to what he was making. After observing the meticulous and careful craftsmanship of Ishikawa Resin, I realized that what was lacking was "updates to the product.
When we make tableware for restaurants, we think we are making it for the end user, the customer who will enjoy the food, but we are also making it for the chefs and service people who work there. The chefs and service staff working at the restaurant are excited to serve the food served in these dishes to the customers. This raises the spirits of the people who create the dishes. When food is served by people who are excited, it conveys a variety of things. This is very important, and we want to include the role of design as an internal trigger. In fact, we were happy to hear that the design team at Ishikawa Resin was "making the vessels we designed with great enthusiasm.
If we can excite not only the consumer, but also the "creator (including the manufacturer, chef, and service)," it will have a positive impact on those who see it. The responsibility of the designer lies within," said Uemachi. Even the way of handling a dish is different between a child who has watched his or her parents' backs as they handle it with care every day and a child who has grown up in a household that throws things away when they get tired of them and replaces them with new ones. If they handle things in a boring way, people who grew up watching them will handle things in a messy way.
It is an oriental medical concept," says Uemachi. If we trace back to the source, we can find a clue in the source of value. Not only the end user, but also the question, "What is needed to create value?" The designer's role was there.
Design is important to create something that cannot be thrown away," says Yanai. If the design is not good, people will want to give it up halfway through. Through continuous trial and error, he noticed that there were few tableware made of resin material with elaborate details. What was commonplace in the craft world remained untapped in the industrial world. Mr. Yanai thoroughly addressed the details. How to bring out the beauty of the material? This, in turn, leads to the charm of the product, which in turn leads to attachment to it.
As if to back up Mr. Yanai's words, ARAS products have undergone countless verifications. Even when deciding on a single handle, 10 to 20 prototypes are made. Each person has a different hand size and a different sense of weight. The members of the team carefully discussed where to set the standards.
I usually say the phrase, "What is averaged out does not suit anyone. If we don't feel comfortable with it, no one will be able to share it with others. The sense of "good or bad" is a personal sensibility, so it is difficult to generalize, but at the very least, we must create something that we are truly satisfied with, something that we can proudly say is "good".
We are interested in the process of making things, or how the relationship with people changes after the creation of a product. To be honest, if you continue to make things diligently, you can create beautiful things to some extent. However, there are only a limited number of people who can think about "how the object will affect people. We want to be that kind of designer, and we want to make the world a place where more and more people are like that.
The vessel becomes the catalyst, and the mind (spirit) becomes sustainable. It is meaningless to discuss "sustainable or unsustainable" superficially. The power of design and the power of the mechanism will solve the essential issues. What Mr. Uemachi said about "propagating values and sharing perspectives" is, in other words, "creating a culture. They have a significant impact on people's lifestyles and values through resin.
Prospects for the Future
From the viewpoint of sustainability, we will continue to persistently ask questions and solve them one by one. There is always a spirit of challenge. Mr. Ishikawa says, "We are not inferior to large corporations in the number of decisions we make and the number of failures we make. In the winter of 2021, Ishikawa plans to launch a new project.
Using things for a long time is justifiable, but it means that the business model of rapidly consuming things does not work. It may become our job to share things with our customers as if we are selling them things. Mr. Uemachi said.
In restaurants, where ceramic tableware and precious metal cutlery had been the norm, ARAS is now being adopted as a new option. It has become an option and can coexist with other materials. In the future, we will continue to draw out new potentials that can only be expressed with resin, and explore the craft-like expression of resin. Mr. Yanai said.
Mr. Ishikawa expressed his intention to make improvements from time to time in terms of the mechanism. The system for collecting products should be set up. Relying on courier services wastes energy due to CO2 emissions from trucks. For this reason, we are planning to set up collection spots (sustainable boxes) in various locations. If there are 200 to 500 retail outlets in Japan, an ideal cycle can be realized. There is still much room for improvement. There is still a lot of room for improvement, and we would like to carefully resolve these issues one by one as ARAS grows," concluded Mr. Ishikawa.
ARAS's "sustainable manufacturing" creates culture and changes the world through resin. This multi-layered sustainability will realize a beautiful future.