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Manufacturers Marketing Green Products

June 2, 1997

This new engine should help to save gas and the environment. (Photo: Toyota Motor Corp.)

Numerous major Japanese manufacturers have recently begun the development and sale of a variety of products designed to lessen the burden on the environment. In bringing their products with an environmental emphasis to market, these companies have gone beyond the research and design stages where their efforts had been concentrated so far. The Japanese industrial world is making moves to actualize its pro-environmental strategies.

Earth-Friendly Car Hits the Market
One product that has attracted global attention as a major earth-friendly product is the "hybrid car" to be marketed within the year by one of Japan's top automakers. The car features both a 1,500-cubic-centimeter gasoline engine and an electric motor running on a nickel-hydride battery. It runs on the battery-powered motor during ignition and at low speeds, when it would be inefficient to use the gasoline engine. At normal speeds the vehicle is propelled mainly by the gasoline engine, with the electric motor as a backup source of power. The car also recharges its own battery while running, eliminating the need for recharging from an external source. All it needs is gasoline.

But not very much: This car gets 28 kilometers to the liter (66 mpg), mileage twice as good as that of models in its class running on gas alone. It also produces only half as much carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming, and only a tenth as much of the other harmful exhaust components such as nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide. The manufacturer is aiming to keep the cost within 150% of current car prices. This maker has centered its efforts at decreasing carbon-dioxide emissions around improvements to existing engines and the development of partially and fully electric cars, but until now the engine improvements had been the only measures to make it to the mass-production stage. With the production of this new hybrid car, this maker is taking its emission-control efforts to a higher level. Its competitors in the auto industry are pushing forward with their own schemes to lessen the environmental damage caused by their products; the industry as a whole seems to be moving from a focus on safety features to competition in the field of earth-friendly engines.

Moves Afoot in Many Industries
Cars are not the only products being retooled to be more friendly to the environment. This spring one of Japan's top brewers began distribution in the Tokyo area of a beer bottle 20 percent lighter than its previous version. The new bottle is 1.7 millimeters narrower than the old one, but is reinforced with ceramic elements so it suffers no loss of strength. Test-marketing of the new design had been carried out in the Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Kyushu regions, where it was well received. The brewer then made the decision to bring the new bottle into the high-volume Tokyo market. With this lighter bottle, trucks are able to carry more units per load, thus reducing the levels of energy consumed and exhaust produced in transporting the beer. The company ships 570 million bottles annually; although its bottle-making costs will be slightly higher, it calculates that the environmental and energy-conservation benefits will be far from small.

A major detergent manufacturer has also begun efforts toward reducing the burden on the environment. Since the end of last year, it has been selling its product in refill form; the containers use 70 percent less plastic than the old bottles and can easily be collapsed to take up only one-eighth of the space when discarded. Only 30 percent of plastic refuse is recycled; the remainder ends up either incinerated or in landfills. Plastic is not biodegradable, it takes up a lot of space, and its recycling costs are high, making it a difficult material to dispose of. The company's new refill container is designed to reduce the impact of these problems.

The disposable camera, a hit product of film and camera makers, has seen a long and steady growth in its recycling rate. One maker of these cameras that recycled 70 percent of its products in 1992 has stopped using screws in the body of its models, refashioning them so that their parts are fastened together with catches. This has made it easier to automatically break the cameras into their separate components by machine, and the company's recycling rate now stands at 90 percent for its new models. The maker recycles 2.5 million units a month.

What's Good for the Earth is Good for the Company
Companies are beginning to bring this succession of new products with a green focus to market for a number of reasons. First of all, their efforts in researching and developing the products have begun to bear fruit. There is also the fact that consumers' environmental awareness is on the rise, as evidenced by the growing "green purchasing" movement that opts for products with as little negative impact as possible on the environment.

On the global environmental front, this June will see a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on environmental issues, held in order to ascertain the progress made on the "Agenda 21" plan for environmentally sustainable development, formalized at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In December, Kyoto will host the Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where goals for reduction of greenhouse gases after the year 2000 are to be set. These major events should make 1997 a banner year for issues related to the global environment.

Japanese industry is working hard to stay ahead in this global atmosphere. Companies are becoming more aware of the importance of improving their environmental track records, with respect to both their management and business operations, in order to stay afloat in the face of increasingly international competition. This drive is expressed in the statement of the president of the company making the hybrid car described above: "We intend to continue focusing our energies on environmental issues. This is the future of the automobile industry."

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Trends in Japan 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.
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