Inhabitat: Panasonic already has a rather robust recycling center and seems to be contemplating using more recycled material in its products. In terms of accounting, does recycling materials actually save your company money or is it currently more expensive?
Tomita: Right now, it is not evident that there is any particular financial advantage coming from cost reduction by utilizing recycled materials. PETEC (Panasonic’s recycling factory) was established is be in accordance with the respective Japanese laws on the recycling of home electronics appliances. PETEC is mainly run by recycling fees consumers pay when their electronics products reach the end of their useful lives, and by design it makes neither profit nor loss – it just breaks even. PETEC’s recycled materials are sold to outside companies by a Panasonic Group company. We cannot say that materials recycled in this way are always relatively cheaper than virgin materials.
Inhabitat: How has the Japanese consumer market reacted to energy-saving products? Are they receptive?
Tomita: Energy-saving products are well accepted in the Japanese market. The energy-saving function is very easy for consumers in Japan to understand and they can see a benefit since it will permit them to save on the cost of energy in their households. Often when a new technology is applied, consumers know that there will some sort of higher initial cost, but if consumers see that the additional cost would be offset by the reduction in the running costs over the long run, they will start to make the purchase. There are many such well-informed consumers in Japan.
Inhabitat: Many Japanese people lost power to their homes during this March’s disasters. Did you see a change in consumer mentality after these events?
Tomita: Yes, we saw a big change in the Japanese consumer mentality. Even before the disasters, Japanese consumers tended to accept environmentally oriented products and understood the benefit of energy saving products. However, such products as solar panels paired with storage battery systems systems are still relatively expensive and require a long term to provide a return on the initial investment. Before March‘s disaster, people looked at these systems with a skeptical eye. But since the disaster on March 11, we have seen an increase in consumers’ interest in Energy Creation and Energy Storage products such as solar batteries and lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells as they become more concerned about peace of mind and secure energy.