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Resolving Social Issues Through Haircare Products that are developed with a thorough Genba Methodology

This article is the 2nd installment in the trilogy “Ambitious for a sustainable Future Collaboration For Innovation”. The Kao Corporation of Japan has been committed to improving the quality of life for over 130 years, based on an exhaustive “genba method” to quality of products. Kao takes into consideration the demands of customers. The company uses the term genba-shugi (or firsthand approach) in order to express its determination to learn directly from customers about the issues they confront and the way they use products. This means visiting homes of customers and seeing their life and their unconscious actions.

In this , the second episode of our ongoing series about Kao’s research skills and the enthralling ideas behind these capabilities, we will focus on haircare products and packaging development inspired by this genba model as well as Kao’s vision of an environmentally sustainable society. The way people live their lives is always changing in line with trends and the environment. Being attentive to the demands of customers is a natural, but difficult element of the Genba method which has been passed on over generations through Kao’s research and development of products.

Kao’s corporate culture is built on its commitment to fully knowing the needs of its customers and gathering results from research to discover issues that arise that may arise over time.

Genba is a method of looking beyond the realm of surveys and theories to looking at how products are used in the real world and assessing the needs of customers. For instance, Kao has discovered important problems by watching how clients wash their hair as well as how they replenish their shampoo at home. You can see an idea of the genba process through the transition of products for hair care that have a history of over 100 years, and also the evolution of the development of packaging technology like refill pouches.

Kao began to conduct research in the field of hair care in the 1920s and then in 1932, the company launched the first solid shampoo. Since since then, the company has come up with liquid shampoos, powder shampoos, as well as hair conditioners. In the year 1970, it launched an anti-dandruff shampoo due to concerns from consumers about hair loss.

Additionally, Kao has been conducting hair research since the 1960s and has surveyed a population of 220,000 people across 18 countries across the globe. The results of this research not only helped to develop products for in-house use as well as increased the standards to research within the field of haircare all over the world. In fact, it was the basis for an important advancement in the haircare industry as per Shinobu Nagase as the principal research scientist at the Kao Haircare Products Research Laboratory.

“In studying actual hair conditions we studied not just scalp and hair information but also every aspect of customer’s habits, lifestyles and their concerns,” says Nagase. “By studying the lifestyle and hair of our customers we created not only shampoos to treat dandruff, but also shampoos to treat damaged hair, anti-aging products as well as products for hair that is colored.”

Kao has provided services to consumers throughout Japan in Japan, as well as Europe as well as Europe, the United States, and Asia. For instance, when working using GOLDWELL which is a German company that Kao was a part of an agreement to tie up capital in 1989 (Kao purchased 100 percent of the stock of the company at the time of the year 1994), Kao repeatedly conducted tests at local laboratories as well as beauty salons. Because of this genba method, Kao accumulated various findings. For instance, washing hair is different from person to. The result of this study is the creation of wash technologies that assist keep beautiful hair in good condition and also ingredients that offer the best hair maintenance.

“Age-related issues like gray hair can make people feel older, but we’ve observed that those who are habitual about coloring gray hair , and washing hair each day are more likely to have greater mental health,” says Nagase. “One of my goals for the near future is to contribute to resolving the issue of a healthy life expectancy for people who are aging through hair care research.”

Genba is a method that is designed to reflect real-world scenarios

In the course of developing and researching hair care product, Kao has always listened to the feedback of customers and enhanced its refill pouches. For instance, numerous customers said that conditioner has an extremely high viscosity, which causes some residue to be left in the refill pouches. As well as reducing plastics, Kao has also focused on improving the quality of packaging including the processing and shaping technologies for the ease of making and pouring. Refill pouches sold in Japan today sell more than four times the amount of bottles of shampoos and other haircare products.

“If the usage of refills becomes widespread and is widely accepted, it could cause a significant impact on the environment,” says Shuhei Matsumoto who is the group leader of the Kao Packaging Technology Research Laboratory.

“Japan is among the very few countries that have the “mottainai spirit” of reducing waste is deeply embedded and the culture of refilling has taken root. We believe that simple-to-use refill pouches that are developed in Japan are widely accepted throughout Europe as well as America, United States, and elsewhere.”  

Recycling is a different challenge.

“We have established an experimental plant for recycling refill pouches as well as other products in the Wakayama Research Laboratory, and are conducting studies,” says Keiji Seto director of the RecyCreation Project. “We are currently looking at commercialization.”

To reduce the waste of packaging, which typically is contracted out to a specialist firm, Kao set up an in-house facility that was tested and then carried out extensive study. This is a sign of Kao’s unwavering determination to promote social progress. Kao is of the opinion that the Genba method is directly connected to sustainability.

For instance the hot water used for washing hair is the primary carbon dioxide emitter resulting from manufacturing processes for hair shampoos and conditioners, as per Nagase. Over the years, Kao has improved the components of its products, and also raised awareness of how to clean hair so that it can be rinsed using less water.

“Maintaining its quality products is the primary concern for refill pouches. However, I’d like to see recycling efforts to be more commonplace and result in greater reductions in environmental impacts,” says Seto. “If we could package our expertise and export it along alongside our goods, this could become the difference in promoting refill pouches as well as the associated culture in other countries.”

“The SDGs include a variety of issues, like making sure that no one is left behind, and ensuring that everyone has access to the standard of living,” says Matsumoto. “I would like to see us continue creating container refills that can be simple for anyone to utilize.”

“For us, looking at the everyday life of our customers is the first step towards innovation,” says Nagase. “There are ideas that are sown. Humans’ lives are constantly changingand, even using the same data new insights and knowledge can be learned. I’d like to treasure the discoveries made by the genba method.”

Kao is committed to the development of a sustainable society through being a thorough observer of the life of the consumers.

Co-Creation at Kao

Reversing the traditional usage of throwing items away after usage

Kao is a proponent of the concept in “RecyCreation,” which is the combination of creation and recycling. In order to create a participative and co-creative recycling system Kao has conducted research on refill packs, invented recycling technologies and launched pilot projects to increase the public’s awareness of.

As part of a partnership by people from Kitami City, Onagawa Town, Ishinomaki City, Kamakura City and Kamikatsu Town Post-use refill packs were cut and washed and then shaped into pellets which are synthetic resins that is granules in form. The material is then recycled in blocks, which make them simple to put together and reuse. Kao is determined to present its principles in a manner that communicates the concept of recycling.

Kao has also expanded its relationships with other businesses that are aligned with its mission including Lion Corporation, a company operating in the same sector as Ito-Yokado, Welcia Yakkyoku, and Hamakyorex. More than 200 kilos of refill packs were gathered by ItoYokado’s Hikifune Store in 2021. Additionally, around thirty Welcia Yakkyoku outlets in Tokyo and Saitama are collecting refill packs as well. The methods of collection differ based on the size of the store, however employees from Kao along with Welcia Yakkyoku exchange information about how to promote the campaign.

“RecyCreation is not achievable through a single entity,” says Seto. “To create the whole system, including legislation and recycling distribution networks to create a community infrastructure we need to collaborate with local residents, not just but also local governments as well as other businesses. We are determined to alter the habit of throwing away things after they have been used. We’ll do our part to ensure that recycling is enjoyable and not stressful.”

Refilling refill packs can be a challenge because of differences in the material and residual. This is why Kao takes its containers after use and conducts experiments to ensure the best results from recycling. Kao does not just collect its own products, but also other containers, including those from other companies.

A message via Kao R&D

Kao was founded in 1887. It began manufacturing and selling soap for the consumer market Kao Soap in 1890. Based on the idea of promoting clean living, Kao initially addressed the issue of social hygiene and cleanliness in Japan. As Japan advanced, Kao built up its R&D capabilities and applied technology to address social problems through various products designed for use in daily life.

This is the underlying philosophy that forms the nature of the DNA Kao has passed to the next generation and has maintained since its beginning. Kao’s aim was to help support the advancement of the daily needs while tackling social problems. Additionally, Kao now conducts a wide range of R&D regarding environmental problems, the global food issue, as well as controlling the spread of viruses. While doing so the desire to collaborate with the community to tackle society’s problems through Kao’s products and services is evident in its efforts to make use of the most advanced technology to improve the lives of 8 billion inhabitants.

Through this article series, Kao presents some of the innovative technologies that enrich everyday life across the globe. Kao hopes to also meet like-minded people and help make the world more sustainable.

This is the second article installment in the series “Ambitious for A sustainable Future Co-Creation To Innovate” about the ways in which Kao is working to address food, environmental, and other issues using exact interfacial technology. Through this method, Kao is bringing about breakthroughs that could transform the world.



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