Panasonic means business with ambitious sustainability targets

The global electronics firm recently announced that it will make its products and manufacturing processes more energy efficient such that it will save a potential 8 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2016.

Manufacturing companies have long pursued greater efficiencies for their products, but when a company publicly declares increasingly stringent emission reduction targets to achieve this, consumers know they mean business.

This is what electronics multinational Panasonic Asia Pacific has set out to do through its Eco Declaration Framework, a global initiative in which the company announces a set of environmental sustainability targets for a three-year timeframe that it will adhere to. 

Each time it announces new targets, it also publishes results on how it fared in achieving previous ones.

In its latest declaration in June, the company’s Asia Pacific office pledged that by March 2016, its range of eco-friendly home appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, microwave ovens and televisions in Southeast Asia and Oceania will cut carbon emissions by 8 million tonnes across their lifespan.

The company will meet their targets by enhancing the energy and resource efficiency of individual products, such as increasing the energy savings of air conditioners by 65 per cent, and making washing machines 45 per cent more efficient.

This will be achieved by harnessing Panasonic’s Econavi sensor technology, which monitors factors such as human activity in rooms, or laundry load quantities in washing machines. The technology controls power and water consumption based on this information to use energy and resources more efficiently. 

In total, enhancing the energy efficiency of its products will help users achieve 15 billion kilowatt hours of electricity savings across the products’ lifespan, which amounts to almost 1.3 per cent of Southeast Asia’s annual residential energy requirements, said the company.

By 2016, Panasonic Asia Pacific’s manufacturing practices will also be streamlined to reduce a further 700,000 tonnes of emissions versus business-as-usual levels – that is, level of emissions projected if Panasonic’s manufacturing practices did not undergo any improvements since the fiscal year ending March 2006.

Globally, the entire Panasonic group of companies recorded 3.13 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions for the financial year ending March 2013.

Under the Eco Declaration initiative, the company’s regional offices set targets appropriate to their specific region. In Europe, for example, the firm has also pledged to cut carbon emissions by 10,000 tonnes across its European manufacturing sites, achieve 99 per cent recycling rates in its operations and deliver a 5 per cent reduction in waste amounts relative to production. The company aims to meet all these targets by 2016.

Panasonic Asia Pacific managing director Junichiro Kitagawa said setting such ambitious targets was necessary to help reduce energy consumption, especially in rapidly developing Southeast Asia.

By 2035, electricity consumption in Southeast Asia will be almost three times of that in 2011, he noted, citing a recent Southeast Asia Energy Outlook Report published by the International Energy Agency.

“The strain on existing resources has also led more governments to formulate and strengthen environmental legislations, particularly in the area of energy efficiency”, he said.

“To meet this growing energy demand, Panasonic  aims  to  power  eco  lifestyles  with  our  innovative  energy  management  technologies, comprehensive products and integrated sustainable solutions”, he added, saying that the company would also expand the range of available energy-saving consumer products.

New opportunities through sustainable innovation

Kitagawa told Eco-Business that not only does pursuing these targets help Panasonic fulfil its environmental commitments, it also helps the company accrue cost savings and create new business opportunities.

“By setting performance benchmarks, we are able to constantly challenge ourselves to do better. Strengthening our environmental activities not only helps to reduce cost through energy saving measures in our manufacturing operations, but also contribute to the development and growth of specific businesses like business-to-business and business-to-government solutions, consumer electronics and housing”, he said.

By being accountable to our stakeholders and the general public, we aim to maintain the trust they have in the company and engage them in our sustainability efforts. The Eco Declaration also serves as internal targets to bring our employees together in the sustainability cause.

Junichiro Kitagawa, managing director, Panasonic Asia Pacific

Indeed, Panasonic’s innovations in energy efficient electronics have led to collaborations with other businesses and governments on projects that make cities smart and sustainable through the deployment of technology, products and solutions, and the provision of technical advice.

These include contributing to the Low Carbon Society for the Iskandar Economic Zone in Malaysia, and the Smart Home Energy Pilot feasibility study in Singapore. 

The former is an initiative by the Malaysian government to develop a green corridor in the state of Johor by implementing a slew of sustainability initiatives.

The Singapore project, jointly conducted by the country’s Housing and Development Board and Energy Market Authority, is a year-long study that assesses the feasibility of energy efficient technologies such as home energy management systems which provide energy usage data to residents.

This is Panasonic’s second Eco Declaration since the programme was launched in 2009. The company exceeded the targets set for the previous declaration which was made in April 2010.

For example, the company’s green manufacturing practices achieved 638,000 tonnes of carbon emission reductions versus business-as-usual levels between April 2010 and March 2013, surpassing their original target by 38,000 tonnes.

Panasonic also set up three more ‘Eco Model Factories’ in Singapore, Vietnam, India and Philippines in recent years to showcase sustainability efforts in the manufacturing sector. This is in line with the company’s vision to set up one ‘Eco Model’ factory in each country with manufacturing facilities.

Students can also learn about the company’s green industrial practices through visits to these Eco Model factories. About 280,000 youth have benefitted from these programmes, exceeding Panasonic’s target of 200,000, it said.

Clear and open communication

The combination of internal innovation and external outreach through the Eco Declaration Framework has helped Panasonic establish an open and clear communication channel with the company’s stakeholders, the public, and even Panasonic’s large employee base, said Kitagawa.

“By being accountable to our stakeholders and the general public, we aim to maintain the trust they have in the company and engage them in our sustainability efforts”, he shared. “The Eco Declaration also serves as internal targets to bring our employees together for the sustainability cause”. 

In addition to public trust, Panasonic’s emphasis on accountability to its stakeholders has also been rewarded with greater business growth.

“The response from our business and government partners has been positive”, said Kitagawa, referring to the new partnerships that the company has clinched in both these sectors.

“On the consumer side, there is already an uptake in eco products, from 49 per cent to 80 per cent between April 2010 and March 2013. We hope customers will continue to switch to save,” he added.

Kitagawa told Eco-Business that he hoped that Panasonic’s sustainability benchmarking would spur other global manufacturers to follow suit.

“We hope this can spur other global manufacturers to join hands in the eco endeavour”, he said.  

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