Traditionally Energy-Savvy, Japanese Business Turns Attention to Global Warming

Traditionally Energy-Savvy, Japanese Business Turns Attention to Global Warming

Since they experienced two oil crises in the 1970s, Japanese firms, especially manufacturers, have made enormous efforts to save energy. As the result, primary energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product has been reduced, and the country now a world leader in energy efficiency. This spirit has been passed to modern businesses in their efforts to curb global warming, and positive results have emerged.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in February 2005, Japan is required to achieve its target of a 6% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Japan's GHG emissions in the base year 1990 were 1,237 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, which needs to be reduced to 1,163 million tons per year during the first commitment period (2008-2012) in order to achieve the targeted 6% reduction. However, since the amount of emissions in 2003 was 1,337 million tons, 8.3% higher than in the base year, a 14.3% reduction is actually needed to reach the target.

Let's take a look at some anti-global warming initiatives taken by Japanese companies.
  • Fuji Xerox Co. Ltd., which had emitted a total of 145,000 tons (CO2 equivalent) of GHG gases in fiscal 1990 at its domestic factories, reduced its GHG emissions to 111,000 tons (23% reduction from 1990) in fiscal 2003. Furthermore in April 2005, it eliminated all GHGs except CO2 from the production processes at its Japanese factories, including those of affiliated companies.

  • Toshiba Group has been carrying out various projects aimed at achieving, by fiscal 2010, a 25% reduction of energy-originated CO2 emissions per nominal production volume, as compared to fiscal 1990. The group aims to reduce annual CO2 emissions by about 500,000 tons, equivalent to 25% of its estimated emissions in fiscal 2010.

    Not only striving to reduce GHG emissions from its own companies and plants, Toshiba also focuses on the development of energy-efficient products to reduce CO2 emissions. (Electricity used for refrigerators typically accounts for about 20% of total electricity consumption at home. As their energy efficiency has improved in the last several years through the initiatives of manufacturing companies, many types of refrigerators consume only one-third to one-sixth the amount of electricity compared to those of ten years ago.)

  • Regarding the dishwasher/dryer, which recently has become common in Japanese homes, Hitachi Home & Life Solutions, Inc. released the industry's first dishwasher/dryer that uses what it calls "nano-steam" technology. Compared to washing by hand, the appliance uses less electricity, gas or water, resulting in a reduction of CO2 emissions by 65% per year (equivalent to washing 60 dishes, or dishes for seven people).

  • Fuel cell cogeneration systems, which provide both electricity and hot water to homes, have been developed and installed in growing numbers. In 2005 Tokyo Gas, among other companies, started to install these systems in households and to collect operational data necessary for subsequent large-scale implementation.

  • Aiming to promote appliances that help reduce CO2 emissions, the Development Bank of Japan, in collaboration with power companies, launched a new loan program in April 2005 to facilitate the leasing of energy-efficient home appliances, water heaters and automobiles. This is because it is important not only to develop such energy-efficient appliances, but also to offer programs and systems to promote their adoption, if we are to reduce the environmental impacts of society as a whole.

  • In January 2005, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) revised its Municipal Environment Protection Ordinance and mandated large businesses to establish their own CO2 reduction targets. The TMG has also decided to promote several projects in collaboration with corporations, including a cooperative delivery system where supplies are delivered by consolidated delivery agents to multiple department stores in Tokyo. When all of the 15 Tokyo-area companies (with 30 stores) belonging to the Kanto Department Stores Association participate in this project, in fiscal year 2005 the number of delivery vehicles on the road will be reduced by up to 50%, easing traffic congestion and reducing CO2 emissions by 4,000 tons per annum.

  • Yamaha Motor Co., the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer, introduced an "Eco-Commuting" system for its employees in December 2004. This was preceded by several years of Yamaha's involvement in an ecological accounting bookkeeping campaign, which revealed that huge fuel costs were being paid by its employees for commuting. In January 2005, the company began issuing a monthly allowance of 1,000 yen (about U.S.$9.71) to employees who walk and/or ride a bicycle more than two kilometers to commute to work. An allowance was also instituted for employees who use public transport "Park & Ride" services. The frequency of company commuter bus services was also increased. Introduction of the new system has encouraged 60 more commuters to walk part of the way to work, and the new allowances apparently led to this favorable reception.
This article has described how environmental activities of companies are facilitated by their own initiatives as well as municipalities' policies. It should be noted, however, that the emissions cut by over 14%, needed for Japan to meet its Kyoto commitments, would require a major shift in taxation and other institutions, including the introduction of a carbon tax and the compulsory purchase of power from renewable sources.

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This column has been excerpted from an article published by Japan for Sustainability in the organization's November 2005 newsletter. The article was written in collaboration with Japan for Sustainability staff writer Kiyoshi Koshiba.