“Consumers want to associate with environment-friendly products”

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Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer Panasonic is one company implementing the green initiative quite seriously in India. It plans to become the No. 1 green innovation company in the electronics industry by 2018. And as part of its global campaign, it will reach out to its customers in India for recycling of electronic items.
Manish Sharma, director-marketing, Panasonic India, speaks to Uma Bansal, executive editor at EFY, about the urgency for going environment-friendly and green design practices that could be followed. Excerpts…


MANISH SHARMA, DIRECTOR-MARKETING, PANASONIC INDIA
MANISH SHARMA, DIRECTOR-MARKETING, PANASONIC INDIA

MARCH 2011: Q. For electronics manufacturers, how important is it today to become environment-friendly in their products and operations?
A. Green production is a business strategy that focuses on profitability through environment-friendly operating processes. Proponents of this management philosophy believe that green production is a sensible course to follow not only because of the benefits it bestows on the environment but also because of its fundamental strategic soundness.

Manufacturers are being motivated to go green by spiraling energy costs, growing concerns about the future of non-renewable resources, surging consumer demand for eco-friendly products and processes and environmental sustainability.

Q. As there has been a mounting pressure from green watchdogs, how successful have been companies in phasing out toxics from their products?
A. The greatest environmental challenge facing our industry today is the presence of toxic substances such as arsenic, brominated flame retardants, mercury, phthalates and polyvinyl chloride in products. Although most countries still allow use of these substances, companies are working with their manufacturing partners to eliminate them from products. We all have to understand that designing greener products means considering the environmental impact of the materials used to make them. From the glass, plastic and metal in our products to the paper and ink in our packaging, our goal is to reduce or eliminate environmentally harmful substances.

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Panasonic, in general, feels that a concerted effort needs to be undertaken for drastic GHG emission reduction and innovative technological development must be achieved in a timely manner to tackle global warming and stabilise the GHG concentration.

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Q. What challenges do they face while going green?
A. As the world’s population grows, the living standards improve and the economies develop, the biggest global challenge is to do all this in a sustainable manner instead of impacting the environment.

Many organisations want to turn green as an increasing number of consumers want to associate themselves with environment-friendly products. Green technology requires constant R&D and innovation. Firms cannot aspire to be flexible if they did not innovate. Continuous innovations in terms of product and marketing strategies will raise the stature of the organisation in the market.

Yet, while companies are trying to meet this need, a very serious challenge is on the consumer side, as many distrust the credibility of green products. Therefore to ensure consumer confidence, marketers of green products need to be much more transparent and refrain from breaching any law or standard relating to products or business practices. Another problem faced in developing markets is costs for such products.

Q. What are the green manufacturing techniques being followed by the companies?
A. Many firms are going in for green technologies—from techniques to generate energy to non-toxic cleaning products. Some companies are interested in technologies that eliminate lead; some others go in for those that recover material from the product during processing. To comply with social responsibility and profitability factors, companies are also developing electronic components and systems that are very low on electricity consumption and are aptly called energy-saving gadgets. Interestingly, the production of energy-efficient appliances is somehow costlier than other products.

At Panasonic, we had introduced ‘eco ideas’ Factory, model facilities. The ‘eco ideas’ Factory in Singapore will play a crucial role in achieving Panasonic’s green commitments in the Asia Pacific region to manufacture eco-friendly products and develop sustainable industry practices and, more importantly, raise the level of eco consciousness in the community.

Q. How are they managing their end-of-lifecycle products?
A. Going green may sound complicated and confusing but what all of this boils down to is that in order to make your manufacturing operation green, you need to find a way to design your products more efficiently. Many manufacturing companies accomplish this by taking what is referred to as the three lifecycle approaches to product design.

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The first of the three lifecycle approaches to product design is to design a product for reuse. In some cases, this means that a product is made with recycling capabilities in mind. Other ideas include that newer models can be created not by the creation of an entirely new product but by adding to the existing product, thus eliminating waste and unnecessary product costs.

The second approach involves developing products such that they can easily be taken apart. When a product part is no longer functional, that one part can be removed and repaired, rather than needlessly replaced. Also, different parts of the product can be removed and either reused or recycled in the manner that is best fitting for that part of the product.

The third approach is developing products such that the parts can be used in different products. The product can be returned and parts recreated from the original materials.

In a proactive move to address the issue of e-waste in India, Panasonic has initiated a scheme for voluntary ‘end of lifecycle’ (EOL) product recycling in a phased manner in collaboration with a government body called e-Parisara. As part of this scheme, we encourage consumers to give back their old and defunct products to the recycling unit. This scheme for e-waste is available in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru.

Q. What could give a bigger boost to green practices?
A. To become a sustainable initiative, green practices need to be an integrated part of the business plan of any company. Also, every promotional activity should be innovative and participative to educate the customers and stakeholders. A habitual environment awareness programme should be conducted for various stakeholders across age categories. The only key to make any green practice successful is to integrate it into the company’s business plan. Else, it will become a lip service.

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Coming to Panasonic, what initiatives have you taken towards green electronics?
Panasonic had announced the ‘eco ideas’ strategy in October 2007, and our initiatives have further strengthened since then. By 2018, the 100th anniversary of our founding, we aim to become the No. 1 green innovation company in the electronics industry. To achieve this, we have made ‘environment’ central to all of our business activities and further promote our environmental sustainability management.

In India, we have created ‘eco ideas for manufacturing,’ where our factories also comply with processes for reduction in usage of water, energy, plastic and metal waste in manufacturing. Green logistics are followed to reduce CO2 emissions. There is also a training programme run for the staff on environmental initiatives.

We also follow ‘eco ideas for products,’ developing environmentally-conscious products from three aspects, such as prevention of global warming, effective utilisation of resources and chemical substances management.

Then we have ‘eco ideas for people,’ where regular environment awareness programmes are conducted for various stakeholders across age categories. Nationwide CSR programmes have also been held in schools, and through the Panasonic Global Eco Learning Program we support employees and teachers at schools to implement environment-related educational activities by arranging special factory tours and lessons at educational facilities.

Q. Your plans for the future?
A. We have established ‘green indexes’ and ‘global excellence indexes’ with specific targets to realise our vision for our 100th anniversary. We aim to become the industry’s No. 1 in green indexes as a whole, which consist of contribution to reducing CO2 emissions, contribution to recycling resources, increasing the size of the energy systems business and achieving a higher sales percentage of eco-conscious products.

By 2019 we aim to reduce our CO2 emissions by half from the estimated amount. We also aim to increase the ratio of recycled resources used to total resources used to more than 12 per cent and to increase the recycling rate of waste at plants to 99 per cent or higher.


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