A Win-Win Situation for Manufacturers
March 31, 1999
More and more factories throughout Japan are pledging that they will not allow a single ounce of non-recyclable waste outside factory grounds. Nearly all these so-called zero-waste factories began their pledges as strategic attempts by businesses to improve their image, taking for granted that their attempts would increase costs. Now, however, serious efforts at environmental conservation have become an essential element for gaining consumer trust. Moreover, the cost of zero-waste operations is becoming competitive with that of such traditional waste disposal methods as landfilling. Waste-free factories provide a glimpse at the recycling economy of the twenty-first century.
Quick Efforts Give Great Boost to Business
Asahi Beer was quicker than the others to seize upon the zero-emissions concept. Starting in the early 1990s Asahi's main brewery, located in Ibaraki (north of Tokyo), began efforts to thoroughly separate all its waste. The brewery pioneered such recycling methods as using the dregs as cattle feed, making carpets out of the plastic bands used for packing, creating bathtub bases out of plastic bags, using bottle tops as construction material, and turning cardboard into recycled paper. All nine of its breweries became waste-free by 1996, ahead of schedule.
Partly as a result, Asahi's main product, Super Dry, became the nation's top-selling brand in 1996, and by 1998 Asahi had the leading share in the total beer market. Total sales in 1998 passed the trillion-yen (8.3 billion U.S. dollars at 120 yen to the dollar) mark for the first time in company history. With ordinary earnings of 50.4 million yen (420 million dollars), an 11% rise against the previous year, Asahi dominated the beer market. While the popularity of its newly developed products played the main role in this success, it cannot be denied that the company's quick efforts at eco-friendly business practices also served to gain the sympathy of consumers.
These environmental measures have come to be profitable as well. The cost of landfilling has skyrocketed, going from 18,000 yen per cubic meter in fiscal 1991 to 38,000 yen in fiscal 1997, a 2.1-fold increase. This means that considering Asahi's landfilling costs seven years ago, the company has reduced costs by several hundred million yen.
Protecting the Environment and Profit Margins
In addition, manufacturers have begun to look ahead to the era of the recycling economy. Manufacturers of one-time use cameras are creating comprehensive collection and reuse systems, and enterprises are accepting waste from other industries: For instance, some steel mills are using waste plastic as fuel for their blast furnaces. With eco-friendly operations linked to consumer trust, competitiveness, and increased profits, it seems that in the future environmental performance will mean business performance.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.