Among the many business lessons to emerge from the nuclear disaster in Japan is the need to have an energy conservation plan that can help their operations continue, or at least restart quickly, in the event of power shortages. The actions of the tire and rubber company Bridgestone, which is based in Japan, offer some insight into the advantages that sustainability-minded companies could have when an emergency arises and employees are called upon to save energy.
A National Energy Crisis
As reported by Bloomberg News, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, combined with damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, lead to blackouts and rolling brownouts. Combined with transportation interruptions and other factors related to the natural disasters, the result was a disruption of production at numerous factories. Five of Bridgestone’s plants were affected, but the company was able to restart production at four of them within a week.
Bridgestone and Emergency Energy Conservation
The energy conservation measures that Bridgestone took in response to the emergency required little or nothing in the way of new technologies or equipment. Employees were directed to use stairs instead of elevators, for example. Sharing office equipment and turning off lights were two other collaborative measures that required employee participation to be effective. The company also deployed some top-down measures such as reducing the use of IT systems and shutting down non-essential parts of the company, including billboards and the Bridgestone Today corporate museum.
Developing Energy Awareness
Bridgestone’s reliance on employee-centered actions is of particular interest because it indicates a role for ongoing energy conservation awareness in the business sector. In a state of emergency, when people are focused on pitching in to help get through a crisis, it is likely that participation in energy conservation measures would be high as a matter of course. However, it is probably also helpful to have a workforce that is prepared and educated, enabling employees to take the necessary steps with a minimum need for explanation and reminders.
Bridgestone and Sustainability
Bridgestone has been building a sustainability reputation, and the company was recently featured in a Duke University study on industrial energy efficiency (pdf). Part of the company’s plan deals with improving its efficiency in its operations and its products. Bridgestone has also introduced new green product lines including solar film and electronic paper. Most relevant here is the investment that Bridgestone has made in environmental education. The company is not shy about acknowledging the reality of global warming and the need to reduce human-related carbon emissions.
While Bridgestone’s corporate history may have influenced the ability of its employees to conserve energy on an emergency basis, it is also likely that in the future more manufacturers will invest in onsite alternative energy generation, microgrids and advanced storage solutions, in order to insulate themselves more effectively from the remote effects of major grid disruptions.
Image: Bridgestone tire by goober4life on flickr.com.