Corporate Social Responsibility at Epson: Printers Designed for the Dump?

Published on May 1st, 2013 | by

Epson Printer planned obsolescence corporate social responsibilityJapanese electronics manufacturer Epson has kept a low profile in its corporate social responsibility efforts over its 7 decades in business. The company has recently made a few small waves, including committing to the green electronics certification EPEAT. EPEAT is a certification registry that now includes computers, printers, scanners, copiers, and multifunction devices. Other than that, however, there is little in the news about Epson and their commitments. My recent experience with an Epson printer that, for all intents and purposes, was designed for the dump and exhibited the worst corporate abuse of the principle of planned obsolescence convinced me to do some research and find out more.

First, the printer. I had an Epson all-in-one printer/copier/scanner that was about 2 years old. Just recently, I had a piece of paper jam in the gears, and when I tried to pull it out, a corner of the piece of paper tore off. I was unable to recover the torn piece, and while it measured just about a half inch by half inch, it made the printer stop functioning entirely. Not only could I not print anything, I couldn’t scan or copy anything, either, even though neither of those functions requires the printer gears to move.

So I got on the Epson help page. Here’s the solution they present.

Epson printer malfunction corporate social responsibility

This oversimplification yielded no results. The tiny little scrap of paper was jammed in the gears, further down than either of these areas. So I began to take the printer apart, thinking, surely, a few screws will open it up and allow me to fish out the 1 inch square scrap of paper. No dice. I removed a dozen or so screws, and was able to remove one hinge from the unit, but nothing I did gave me access to the gears. Surely, this is where most paper jams occur, right?

With no luck there, I decided to see if there was someone trained locally to provide a fix. Epson has a link to qualified service center referrals. The closest one? About 2500 miles away.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 3.08.42 PM

I live in Hawaii, so this is not abnormal, but there isn’t even a service center in the city of San Francisco. So…having an Epson serviced is not really an option either.

At this point, I’m starting to think that Epson designs its printers for the dump. This is literally the first paper jam that we weren’t able to extract that we’ve had since we bought the printer, and this…is the end? One paper jam? One 1-inch square piece of printer paper? And that’s it?

So I began to research. Well, as it turns out, Epson is aware of the term “product lifecycle”. So that’s a good starting point. Their CSR page boldly proclaims:

With focus placed on a product’s entire life cycle, elements that form the foundation for an environmentally conscious product are incorporated during the product planning and design stages.

In addition, their website is full of images showcasing green leaves, gentle hands, and little green cars and factories. Ah, yes, the first sign of greenwashing is how much you spend in graphic design making the iconography, as they say.

Screen shot 2013-05-01 at 3.30.14 PM

Digging in a little deeper, Epson points out its three main tenets when designing products with the environment in mind. First is energy-saving design. “We set energy conservation goals for each product and work to ensure steady progress.” Second is resource saving. “During the design stage, efforts are also made to reduce impacts through product size and weight reductions…” And finally, elimination of harmful substances. All good considerations, though most of this is simply compliance with existing regulations around toxic substances, or a way for Epson to reduce its shipping costs. Designing for energy efficiency is good as well, but that’s likely more an effort to make sure that countries and companies with sustainable procurement policies don’t leave Epson in the dust rather than a real effort at making energy efficient products. As evidence of this, just consider that it took Epson 7 years to join EPEAT (the eco-label that signifies a product is more energy efficient).

When compared to Hewlett Packard, a competitor, it’s clear that Epson is lagging. Find The Best ranked HP a 4.09 (out of 5) in green rating, and Epson at 1.36. Hmm. The company is only 60% transparent compared to HP’s 90%, and, to make matters worse, it’s also an energy hog. Dividing sales by energy used, HP just about quadruples Epson’s productivity per energy used. Its water efficiency is worse. HP outpaces Epson 14:1 in sales per water used.

In terms of life cycle analysis, it’s hard to imagine anything that would be a bigger impact than having to dispose of the entire 25 pound printer, plastic, metal, gears, electronics, and all, simply because of the very first, single little paper jam. But that’s the situation I’m in. I’m off to Best Buy to drop off this e-waste, and can only hope that Epson hears my customer survey or finds this article and decides to get on board with true sustainable design.




About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride.
  • Steve

    I believe this runs throughout the Epson product range. I have 2 top of the range projectors that are 4 years old and was told that they have no obligation to support after warranty run out so don’t. Customer service and good product design do not seem close to the top of their list.

  • tetsuoii

    I’ve had multiple Epson printers that self destructed, that is they went into programmed lockdown mode, requiring paid maintenance to reactivate. This is planned obsolescence at its worst.