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INTERVIEW: Inhabitat Talks to Panasonic’s Katsumi Tomita About Greening the Electronics Industry
Posted By Yuka Yoneda On August 7, 2012 @ 1:00 am In green gadgets,Green Products,Green Technology,Innovation,Interviews | No Comments
Last month, we brought you news about Panasonic's decision to completely revamp their company to focus on one goal: becoming the number one green innovation company in the electronics industry. While it's very clear to us (since we write about it on a daily basis) that sustainability makes good business sense, we were very interested to hear about what inspired Panasonic, one of the largest electronics companies in the world, to make such a drastic change. To get a little insight into the thought process that went into the decision as well as what Panasonic is hoping going green will do for its bottom line, we spoke to Katsumi Tomita, manager of the company's Corporate Environmental Affairs Division's communication team. Read on to learn more about how Panasonic intends to reach their ambitious goal, the progress they are making currently and how Japanese consumers have responded thus far to the company's eco products.
Tomita: My title is Manager of the Communication Team in Corporate Environmental Affairs Division, Environmental Planning Group. My role in this organization is to communicate about Panasonic ’s corporate environmental affairs initiatives outside the company through trade shows and other public forums, the Internet, environmental reports and more.
Tomita: This company vision was decided and announced officially by our president, Mr. Fumio Ohtsubo  in January 2010. Global environmental issues, including global warming, are problems of great urgency. As a responsible corporate member of society, Panasonic regards these matters as extremely important. The company’s future growth will be achieved in line with what we can contribute to the environment.
Tomita: In the effort to achieve a sustainable society, any company that is not prioritizing environmental initiatives will not survive. Panasonic  decided to place environmental factors at the core of all of our corporate activities. My division, Corporate Environmental Affairs Division, has not been directly involved in the financial analyses; such analyses would be the function of our corporate planners. However, the decision to pursue this vision was made at the very highest levels by Mr. Ohtsubo.
Tomita: I am not in the position to talk about the situation of other companies. However, speaking for Panasonic, we can say that for a company like ours it might not be possible to survive over the mid- to long-term without eco-responsible products or specific environmental initiatives.
Tomita: Compared to our direct competitors, I am confident that Panasonic is ahead. It’s not just us saying that, too. We have been recognized in the top ranks among companies for our performance in this area by third parties like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index , Carbon Disclosure Project and independent rankings.
Tomita: Panasonic Corporation  is made up of several division companies. Our headquarters uses various criteria to evaluate each division company’s performance and reflect this in terms of compensation. Ordinarily, for us and other companies, those criteria include sales, profit and other indicators of the actual business. Panasonic’s particular innovation is to add the achievement of CO2 reduction by each division company to the traditional factors in performance evaluation criteria. I believe this is a fairly unique approach in this industry as I have not heard of other such examples in the electronics business.
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.
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.
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.
Tomita: As mentioned earlier, energy-saving products are well accepted in the Japanese market. Consumers understand the long-term value in terms of saving running costs over time.
Tomita: Panasonic headquarters designates products Green Products if they meet a certain environmental standard by our own assessment. This year, almost all our products are designated Green Products. Also we recognize products that achieve the highest level of performance in the industry as Superior Green Products. Globally we recognized 338 models as Superior Green Products in 2010. The sales percentage of these 338 Superior Green Products in Panasonic’s global sales amounted to approximately 10% last year. We aim to raise this percentage to 30% by the year of our 100th anniversary in 2018.
Tomita: As we explained to you when you visited our Home Appliance Company in Kusatsu , we believe resource recycling is another important theme in addition to CO2 reduction. In 2010, we started a research and development initiative to process TV tube CRT glass into glass fibers  that can be made into vacuum insulation or can be reused as recycled plastics in a new fridge. As Mr.Takami explained to you in Kusatsu, Panasonic plans to launch new products using some recycled materials in Japan next Spring and is considering launch them in overseas markets in the future.
+ Panasonic 
Photos © Yuka Yoneda 
Article printed from Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building: http://inhabitat.com
URL to article: http://inhabitat.com/interview-inhabitat-talks-to-panasonics-katsumi-tomita-about-eco-electronics-innovation/
URLs in this post:
 Panasonic: http://inhabitat.com/index.php?s=panasonic
 Fumio Ohtsubo: http://people.forbes.com/profile/fumio-ohtsubo/51609
 Panasonic: http://www.panasonic.com/
 Dow Jones Sustainability Index: http://www.sustainability-index.com/
 PETEC : http://panasonic.net/eco/petec/
 recycled materials : http://inhabitat.com/behind-the-scenes-panasonic-shows-inhabitat-how-it-recycles-old-tv-screens-into-glass-wool/
 Energy Creation and Energy Storage products: http://inhabitat.com/photos-inhabitat-takes-a-peek-inside-the-panasonic-eco-ideas-house-in-tokyo-japan/
 solar batteries: http://inhabitat.com/photos-inhabitat-explores-sanyos-5200-solar-panel-clad-kasai-green-energy-park/
 Yuka Yoneda: http://clossette.com/category/clossette-blog/
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