kai•zen      kīzən/
noun: a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.

In its 85-year history, the Toyota Motor Corporation has remained steadfastly committed to continual improvement, or kaizen, as a cornerstone of its corporate philosophy and governance.

And kaizen isn’t just observed in the areas of product innovation and business management. It permeates all aspects of Toyota’s culture.

Toyota’s Commitment to a Better World

Toyota’s commitments are perhaps best demonstrated in their  pursuit of exemplary corporate citizenship and creating a better world. To that end, in 1992, Toyota unveiled its Earth Charter, a published agreement to research and develop low-emission vehicles.

In 1997, just five years later, Toyota introduced the first mass-produced hybrid automobile. And while much of gas-guzzling America scoffed at the funny-looking little car, early adopters welcomed the Prius as the Sputnik of pioneering environmental innovation. And  when gas prices began to rise, North Americans began to value the fuel efficiency of the Prius. Toyota began to see the return on its Kaizen investment by bettering people’s lives while improving their environmental impact.

In February 2017, Toyota announced that it had sold its 10 millionth hybrid vehicle, and that it was producing 34 different hybrid models in over 90 countries. 1.5 million of those hybrids have been part of the Prius family. And its fuel efficiency continues to astound, if not confound.

Using Automation to Make Life Better

Automation has played an enormous part in Toyota’s rise to being the world’s largest car producer. But continual improvement to robotics on the assembly line didn’t just yield more efficient and cost-effective production. It opened a whole new gateway in which the company could improve people’s quality of life.

As an example, some 300,000 people suffer strokes in Japan each year. The WelWalk 1000 robotic leg, developed by Toyota, can help stroke victims rehabilitate 60% faster than traditional rehabilitation.

Toyota’s deep dive into robotics and its role in bettering the human condition is just part of a larger kaizen-inspired mission. Through their  ‘Mobility for All’ vision, Toyota aims to apply the company’s rich heritage and passion for research and development to all aspects of human movement.

This mission coincides with Toyota’s announcement to be the sole automotive sponsor of perhaps the world’s greatest display of human mobility — the Olympic and Paralympics Games — through to 2024. And to celebrate the coveted partnership, Toyota unleashed its new vision at the first ever Toyota Mobility Summit, held in the cradle of the Olympics – Athens, Greece.

Toyota’s kaizen approach reminds us that social purpose is a journey, not a destination, and that it can help us think more broadly about our business. What have you learned from your journey?

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