Nov 16 2022 - Saitama, Japan

Zero Waste Design: Ishizaka on The Future We Must Create

By The Climate Pledge Team

How Ishizaka Inc. transformed from a family business running a single truck operation to an innovator in circularity and waste treatment.

As part of our content series, The Future We Must Create, we spoke to three signatories based in Asia-Pacific and worked with local artists to bring their vision of a better future to life. For Ishizaka Inc., a better future is where all of society lives in harmony with nature, and where there is zero waste.

Ishizaka Inc. was founded by Yoshio Ishizaka back in 1967 as a construction and demolition (C&D) waste treatment company in Japan. Today, the company is helmed by Yoshio’s daughter Noriko Ishizaka, who has been instrumental in transforming the family business from a single truck operation to an exemplary organization achieving gold standards in C&D waste treatment, including a volume reduction and recycling rate of 98%.

Noriko Ishizaka, CEO of Ishizaka Inc.
Noriko Ishizaka, CEO of Ishizaka Inc.

Noriko Ishizaka was born and raised in Tokyo. She studied at a university in the US before joining Ishizaka Inc. (founded by her father) in 1992. In 1999, a TV news program falsely reported about dioxin contamination of agricultural crops in Tokorozawa (of Saitama Prefecture) due to industrial waste. This caused companies like Ishizaka to be vilified. Noriko was motivated to help change the narrative for Ishizaka Inc. and in 2002 convinced her father to appoint her as president to improve the situation. Her vision was to create a responsible company where employees would want their own children to work, and to introduce innovation into the field of C&D waste treatment. Publisher Nikkei Asia named Noriko Woman of the Year in 2016, and the Keizai Koho Center granted her Outstanding Leadership Awards in Corporate Communications in 2021.

The improper handling of industrial waste can have dire consequences for the environment. For example: Concrete is the most utilized substance on the planet after water, and its manufacturing involves cement mix. According to a report by WWF International, the global production of cement is estimated to grow to 5 billion tons by 2030, which is approximately five times the level it was in 1990. This will come at a heavy cost to the environment, with the cement industry responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions.

Through its waste treatment system, Ishizaka is working tirelessly to recycle and recirculate concrete back into the construction industry as valuable materials with third-party certification, thereby helping to decrease carbon emissions from the industry by using leading-edge technologies. Waste from demolished or renovated buildings is recycled as construction materials, which are then used as roadbed in other infrastructure projects Additionally, Ishizaka employs the use of waste-sorting robots and other energy-saving advancements such as replacing fuel-type heavy machines with electric ones to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Ishizaka factory recycling efforts
Ishizaka factory recycling efforts

“ We are doing everything we can but to make a lasting impact with climate action, we need to collaborate with other businesses, governments, and even the general public, first by creating awareness and then encouraging tangible changes in the industry. ”

Noriko Ishizaka

CEO, Ishizaka Inc.

But Ishizaka Inc. is just one company, and the complete circularity of these materials will require concerted efforts across the design and construction, recycling and upcycling industries to reduce carbon emissions significantly. In fact, climate collaboration has become a decisive factor for companies to reach a net-zero carbon future. A 2022 Amazon-commissioned study of 750 APAC business decision-makers, with responsibility for environmental and societal sustainability, found that more than 2 in 3 APAC businesses see collaboration as critical for climate action, yet, the lack of access to cross-sector networks continues to impede cooperation.

“We are doing everything we can, but to make a lasting impact with climate action we need to collaborate with other businesses, governments, and even the general public, first by creating awareness and then encouraging tangible changes in the industry,” says Noriko. Since 2020, she has set up a new vision, “Zero Waste Design,” aimed at improving the company’s volume reduction and recycling rate from 98% to 100%, and helping shape a society that does not believe in waste. The company offers an environmental education program which reinforces the basics of the three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—and conducts frequent facility tours, loosely coined as miseru keiei, which can be understood as “management by opening up to the public.”

Ishizaka garden supporting environmental education
Ishizaka garden supporting environmental education

To accelerate their recycling and net-zero goals, Ishizaka has joined The Climate Pledge, enabling access to a network of companies to collaborate with through shared knowledge, policy advocacy, education and industry initiatives, among others.

Co-founded by Amazon and Global Optimism in 2019, The Climate Pledge is a commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2040. As a climate collaboration platform, over 375 signatories across 54 industries and 34 countries have joined the Pledge to-date. Signatories of The Climate Pledge agree to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis, implement decarbonization strategies in-line with the Paris Agreement through real business changes and innovations, as well as neutralize any remaining emissions with additional, quantifiable, real, permanent, and socially beneficial offsets to achieve net-zero annual carbon emissions by 2040.

"Whether a product will end up as waste or get recycled boils down to decisions made at the time of its production,” says Noriko. “It is necessary to think about manufacturing and disposal as a set, and this is why we want to collaborate with various manufacturing companies and other critical partners through The Climate Pledge. We also hope to unlock policy areas that encourage more companies to recycle and upcycle their industrial waste, innovating and finding new solutions to more efficiently manage and treat all waste.”