As consumers become more aware about electronic waste, conflict minerals and the overall depletion of natural resources, they will start to focus more attention on electronic gadgets and appliances the way they express concerns over their food and clothing. To that end, Panasonic is shifting its strategy as it moves closer to its 100th anniversary in 2018.
Panasonic is now determined to become the number one green innovation company in the electronics industry. The company, which employs over 360,000 people around the globe, plans on minimizing its overall impact on the planet by driving innovation with the environment central in all of its business activities. Hence the Osaka-based giant has a two-pronged approach: “green life” innovation and “green business” innovation. While most of us in North America grew up with Panasonic with cassette players, CD players, and cutting-edge television sets, Panasonic is a leading home appliance manufacturer in the Asia Pacific region. Panasonic’s drive to push for those innovations, combined with its progress on solar technology and fuel cell development, will drive such changes throughout its operations. The future, as Panasonic sees it, is on display in a prototype house in Tokyo’s Odaiba district–and those homes’ features will be showcased in a co-housing community in Fujisawa, a city of 400,000 that lies between Tokyo and Osaka.
That Panasonic would take the lead in such efforts in no surprise. First you have the legacy of the company’s founder, Konosuke Matsushita, who combined the industrial drive of Henry Ford with a humble style of servant leadership that may remind some Silicon Valley old timers of David Packard and William Hewlett. Add the trauma of this year’s earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima plant horror, and companies on the western side of the Pacific realize they have to step up their efforts on the sustainability front.
Panasonic’s Eco Ideas House channels ancient Japanese construction practices that relied on heat, wind, water and light. Bathrooms showcase water-saving features including a seated spray shower that uses a fraction of the water of a conventional shower–and yes, you still have that iconic Japanese heated toilet seat only it is turned on and off with sensors. Sensors also control both lighting and blinds so that the house stays cool on scorching summer days. LED lights not only turn on and off automatically, but adjust their hues depending on the type of light inhabitants need during the days and evenings. A fuel cell stands in a garden, partially fueled by heat generation from the air. In the living room, a “wind passage tower” draws cool air from under the house and detects people’s movements to offer comfort with minimum energy consumption. Solar panels on the roof adjacent to a garden eliminates the need for fossil fuels and pushes the home’s efficiency towards carbon neutrality.
Features from these homes will find themselves in the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST), which will launch with 200 homes in 2013. Located on a former Panasonic manufacturing site, 1000 homes will generate 30 percent less water consumption and 70 percent less energy usage. Smart grid technologies, or what Panasonic calls a home energy management system (HEMS) will allow homes to contribute energy to the community center and local grid. Electric car chargers will be dotted throughout the development, and open spaces will encourage gardening and outdoor activities.
Will these homes of the future succeed? Panasonic is involved with other “smart communities” across the globe, and the shared knowledge should result in better technologies and innovations that we cannot even picture at this moment. Japan may have had its share of setbacks over the past twenty years, but one thing is certain: Panasonic and its peer companies are looking nowhere but forward. Japan’s penchant for surprising us will not stop anytime soon, whether in the latest gadget or eco-town.
Full disclosure: The costs of Leon Kaye’s trip to Japan are covered by Panasonic.
All photos taken by Leon Kaye.
Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of GreenGoPost.com and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter. He is currently traveling in Japan and Korea.