Mary Kon-Sun-Tack
Founder - Journey Makers (Former Asia Customer Experience Director, Sustainability Ambassador - Lyreco)
Mary’s introduction

Mary has founded Journey Makers to support organisations in their online presence blending customer experience and employee experience. She was previously in charge of Customer Experience for Lyreco Asia and worked on accelerating Digital and Marketing activities. In 2020, she was appointed sustainability ambassador as well for the region, as the topic was becoming a strategic one for the company. Thriving to drive the change internally and externally, she launched a Green Team that she co-led with her colleague.

Prior to this role, Mary had made her career essentially in the hospitality industry at global and regional role, from trade marketing, sales to Digital marketing. Before moving to Singapore in 2015, she was based in Dubai, UAE and France.

Can you tell us more about Lyreco and how sustainability is embedded in the company?

Lyreco is a B2B distributor with a large offer range from office supplies, cleaning supplies, pantry items to personal protection equipment for industrial workshops. Lyreco was founded in 1926 and has been in operation ever since, with our headquarters being in France. In Asia, we are located in South Korea, Hongkong, Malaysia, Thailand and here in Singapore.

Our initiative to strengthen the company's sustainability has several origins. Lyreco has a long history of embracing Corporate Social Responsibility. To name a few, we have a green product methodology assessment and a CO2 monitoring policy that have been in place for nearly ten years.

In 2020, our newly appointed CEO signed off a pledge with all managing directors: The Lyreco Circular Economy Pledge, towards zero-waste workplaces. This pledge is built on five pillars:

- Be the 1st company in our industry with a full range of recycle-ready items

- Provide end-of-life collection and process back used-materials into the manufacturing chain

- Remove all non-circular packaging from the products we sell

- Ban single-use or non-circular plastics from all our offices

- Develop a circular economy standard for the workplace industry with the European stakeholders

This year, the group's executive team and CEO developed a new strategy, with one of the strategy's enablers being sustainability. One strong "backbone" is how we can ensure that in 5 years, in 2026, we will have developed sustainability offers for the market, particularly in compliance with our carbon neutrality target. There is unquestionably a strong commitment and leadership from the Top management.

How did you define and implement the Asia Roadmap and what were the processes involved?

When it comes to the Asia sustainability roadmap, it is a combination of Lyreco’s worldwide strategy as well as our local input. Both my colleague, Karine Pennetier, and I are driving the Asia Sustainability roadmap based on concrete internal and external actions. She is bringing along not only her deep knowledge of sustainability but also her financial experience which is critical to launch innovative solutions in the region. Our different profiles are blending in nicely to support project management, the GoToMarket as well as the internal communication.  

The role of our Zone Managing Director for Asia is key as he provides his utmost support and focuses on fully anchoring sustainability in the company, through communicating our actions both internally & externally to quicken the shift in mindset on sustainability.

We are part of an exciting journey as first, we are acting concretely for a change and we all know that, once regulations are in place, Asia can go faster than the Eurozone. This means that all efforts made now will be massively amplified, putting the company at the forefront of the topic.

How do you bring the team together on a long term basis? What is your approach within the group?

In order to infuse the Sustainability strategy within our team, we wanted to empower them by having local representation. As a result, Lyreco Asia has a Green Team at regional level, which is quite unique in the global organisation. This Green team is composed of local team members from Human Resources team and also Quality Safety and Sustainability. This is our Core Asia Green Team.

This team uses the Asia Strategy roadmap as a backbone of its initiative. We exchanged regularly, at least a month for updates and ideas to share. We also have some ideation sessions to work on new projects or also push boundaries in terms of employee engagement.

This does not prevent us to work with Satellite teams. For instance, our green tree product assessment is done in collaboration with the Marketing team and the QSS team.

With this way of working, we really make sure that Sustainability is dealt across the board. It also makes everyone responsible of his own topic shift. This means that everybody has a chance to the impact his actions can have into the day to day operation, the customer satisfaction and the company sustainable strategy.

Tell us more about your internal processes and assessments for your Green Products line? What are the challenges you are facing to develop your green line in South Asia?

It is our customized methodology, and there are variations per category. We have 16-18 categories and sections, which represent different products, and, according to the category, we assign different weights to each criterion.

Every year, we re-evaluate specific SKUs using this internal scoring system.

We are currently reviewing the methodology internally for Asia with each country's Product Manager. It is a lengthy process with approximately 5000 SKUs per country. We usually begin with the simplest category such as paper and then progress to general office products before moving on to other categories. We do not scan everything at once, we do it category by category.

What is complicated is we do have suppliers that carry many different labels, typically FSC, CFC, the European ecolabel... along with their own claims. A self-claimed characteristic is the most difficult to evaluate because we have to carefully look at the composition of products and score them accordingly. We build trust with our suppliers and we try to be as thorough as we can on what they mention to us. This detailed exercise enables us to provide a range of eco-friendly products to our customers that they can buy with full confidence.

Lyreco Green Products' Logo

As for the challenges, Singapore and Asia as a whole have a competitive advantage in terms of agility and quickness. However, there are some drawbacks.

The objective of the majority of companies in the region has clearly shifted to go greener, but most decisions in companies are still centralized based on pricing and convenience, especially with such products as office supplies.

Asia is still on its way to sustainability, therefore we need to have a lot of discussions and meetings and we must persuade and educate people, not only from our sales teams and within our company, but also with our customers and their management.

The other point is more related to the ecosystem itself. There is a desperate lack of recycling facilities in many Asian countries. The current situation provides very few possibilities in terms of end of life product management. As a result, it becomes a major challenge for our circular economy strategy.

Lyreco is not only selling products but also services. How do you ensure sustainability is taken into account in your services?

In Europe, Lyreco offers recycling services. Clients have some Lyreco boxes (made themselves in recyclable material!) placed in a corner of their office where people can simply drop their belongings, and once full, customers can give us a call for us to take the boxes. More than 10 product categories are covered: Laser and Ink Jet Cartridges, Batteries, Light Bulbs, Electrics & Electronics, Paper, Cardboard, Cups, Plastics bottles, Aluminium Cans & Coffee Capsules…

We have started in Asia with toners and cartridge recycling in Hong Kong and South Korea.

We are looking into implementing such a process in Singapore, especially given the 2030 Green Plan which pushes greener initiatives. One of the constraints is the complication of cross-border issue, as some materials in toner and cartridges can be considered dangerous.

Furthermore, our customers want to know how much we collect from them and how much is truly recycled so that they can include those data in their own CSR report. Therefore, we need to find partners who can report to us the whole recycling process. It is yet a fragmented industry with many intermediates so finding the right partner can be a challenge.

But we know it is the future and our responsibility to offer such services as the circular economy implies to fully recycle all products.

Other services we are looking into are to offer refillable and circular loop products, such as we do for water supplies.

What are the specificities of the South-Asia market when we talk about sustainability? What are the initiatives you have tested or deployed in ASEAN?

We begin to develop our own initiatives for Asia. For example, we are helping to raise wellness in the office, particularly in the pantry. What we know works well in the pantry offer are biscuits, coffee, milk, and so on. So one of the offers we are promoting is to have healthier options, such as healthy snacks like nuts, or providing fresh fruits that differ from traditional snacks. This is something we are pushing in Korea and Hongkong.

We initiated projects around circularity and "loops", such as with eco-friendly cleaning and hand sanitizing solutions or reusable food containers. We tested the subscription models to deliver monthly supplies in an eco-friendly and waste-free solution.

Clients understand the intent of subscription models, and it works well for water dispensers, so we hope to extend it to other products.

It always takes time to adjust to a new model, from a sales team or from a customer point of view. The sales cycle is short when selling paper or notebooks, it is a market driven primarily by volume and margin. Changing the way of working requests time, work and continuous effort to be adopted. This is part of our 2026 strategy, and we hope to be able to move the needle by 2022.

How do you handle your double assignment as Customer Experience Director and Sustainability Ambassador?

The two jobs are very much related to each other and this is why I decided to be the sustainability ambassador in 2020.  

I see Sustainability as the future and a good opportunity to create a whole ecosystem in which we can embark our customers. 

I think it goes beyond the product itself, beyond what we are simply doing everyday. We need to talk with our customers about our sustainability efforts, about carbon efficiency in deliveries, how we recycle our products.... It’s a whole experience. At the same time we have to launch new products, put sustainability at their core, and explain their sustainable aspects when we sell them to our customers. 

So Customer Experience and Sustainability are deeply linked and this is why I love this double-job assignment. 

What are you most proud of?

I am very proud of the Sustainable community we have created in Asia with my colleague, Karine. This is a very unique set-up in the company as we do have one or two ambassadors to lead the sustainability topics locally. They are fully empowered and involve many different roles into their initiatives, creating the right internal emulation. To me, the most important is to create those regular catchups during which we can share not only the status on projects but also ideas. Even what can be seen as small actions are source of inspiration for the whole community. As a result, we really do feel that we are building commonly with the various local challenges.

What would be your top 3 pieces of advice to The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?

The 3 pieces of advice that I will have are:

  • first to bring methodology in your roadmap. It all comes back to your SMART objectives and the way you are going to report them
  • second to create a strong green team with different profiles and people that are willing to drive the change internally
  • third to ensure there is a strong buy in from the management and a very good way to do so, is to make sure that the sustainability objectives are very much linked to your business ones.
How could you help The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?

I will be very happy to help TMI users in:

  • crafting their sustainability roadmap locally, especially if there is a global one already existing
  • helping to build a green team
  • providing suggestions to create a green office in place

Mary kindly accepts to answer your questions.
If you need additional insights, you can send her a message.