Panasonic is well aware of how big its impact is on the environment. The firm is currently producing around 110 million tons (Mt) of CO₂ emissions per year across Scope 1, 2 & 3 – the emissions it’s directly responsible for plus the ones produced through its entire value chain. This amount is equivalent to 20 million homes' electricity use per year.
This puts the company in a position where the effort it takes to reduce its environmental impact could make a real difference to the global fight against climate change. By 2050, Panasonic is aiming to reduce and avoid over 300 Mt of CO₂ emissions, which equates to approximately one percent of total global emissions.
The Japanese electronics manufacturer is tackling this challenge in two ways. First, by bringing down its own Scope 1&2 emissions – the firm is giving itself just over six years to get these down to net zero by 2030; and then Scope 3 by 2050. The second aspect is contributing to society’s carbon neutrality via its business and technology.
As a global enterprise, there are many different areas where Panasonic can make an impact in society, and the firm is taking a multi-pronged approach. This includes efforts to reduce e-waste in its Toughbook division; decarbonizing its factories; and developing clean energy options, such as heat pumps, fuel cell technology and EV batteries. Kathrin Schlangenfeldt, Manager of Sustainability and Environment Communication at Panasonic Europe, explains:
Panasonic sees itself in a position to contribute to avoiding emissions in society. It’s closely tied to our business strategy, and to our future progress and future development within the company. Obviously clean energy is the challenge of the century and de-carbonizing society. With our business and our technology, we can make an impact there.
The 2030 and the 2050 targets for de-carbonization are high-level goals, but Panasonic also sets itself more precise, shorter-term targets as well, which are enshrined in the firm’s Green Impact Plan. Schlangenfeldt says:
We always have such a plan for the next three consecutive business years. We are now in the Green Impact Plan 2024, and here we have very precise targets to bring down our CO₂ emissions and towards using renewable energy, but also targets for resources and circular economy.
Under the 2024 plan, by FY2025, Panasonic is aiming to reduce its Scope 1,2 & 3 emissions by 16.34 Mt, and its CO₂ contribution to customers and society by 38.3 Mt, compared to 23.47 Mt in FY2021. Over the same period, the firm will increase use of recycled resin to 90Kt over a three-year period, up from 43.3Kt in FY2021; while the recycling ratio of factory waste will be 99% or more, compared to 98.7%.
Setting and tracking these targets for a company the size of Panasonic is no mean feat. The firm uses an information system that gathers data from factory locations monthly, which is also connected to other data systems where specific data is being held, for procurement or product data, for example. Panasonic declined to share further, specific details on the system, but Schlangenfeldt acknowledges that gathering the internal data is very complex and a huge challenge:
This is a challenge for all kinds of companies, but especially for large enterprises like we are with so many different business areas, and above all, we have very complex and long global supply chains. We already provide information publicly on our website and also on the Sustainability Data Book.
Nevertheless, this is a key challenge for us where we need further work on, especially when it comes to our Scope emissions. This will be something that will keep us very busy over the next years, to have more comprehensive and accurate data. But we are already quite advanced.
Anne Guennewig, GM of Corporate and Brand Communications at Panasonic Europe, adds:
When I started many, many moons ago at Panasonic, somebody told me depending on what you're counting, we produce between 10,000 and one million different products. If you count all the different small components like resistors, capacitors, this makes the core equation even more difficult in counting emissions.
One of the main activities that will help achieve its environmental targets is de-carbonizing its factories. Panasonic has around 250 factories worldwide, and has established the Zero CO₂ emission factory concept.
In 2021, Panasonic had seven of these factories globally; by this March, there were 28, including facilities in Brazil, Costa Rica, China and Thailand, and accounting for more than 10% of the company’s global factories; by FY2025, Panasonic is aiming for 37 Zero CO₂ emission factories. Schlangenfeldt adds:
These will be expanded more and more, and as quickly as possible. One factory that we have in Japan is the fuel cell factory, where we apply our own technology with regards to fuel cell generators, portable generators and storage batteries to make this factory run on 100% renewable energy.
This is one of the strengths of Panasonic with this technology that we have, this is also where we will expand our business further. Not only for our own operations, but more and more we are looking into applying this particular technology here in Europe, but also other regions in the world.
Another key focus at Panasonic is circular economy. In order to push and accelerate the transformation progress, Panasonic has launched a global circular economy project, which is led through a team in Europe. This covers areas like product development, making products upgradeable and repairable, for example through the Toughbook Revive scheme. (More on this to come in a follow-up article.)
Panasonic is also looking at the bigger picture, and has recently opened its third smart, sustainable town in Japan. Suita is located near Osaka, the site of Panasonic’s headquarters, and joins Fujisawa, 50km northwest of Tokyo and Tsunashima, south of Tokyo near Yokohama. All three have been created on the grounds of former Panasonic factories, and were developed by Panasonic together with partner companies and local government institutions.
Fujisawa is a residential site, with predominantly detached houses and everything equipped with photovoltaics - as Japan is earthquake intensive, backup power is important.
Tsunashima was built close to a train track that goes straight into Tokyo, with sustainable mobility as one of the priorities. Some of the energy that has been generated for home there is via Panasonic's hydrogen fuel cell technologies, combining heat and power.
The town is near the University of Yokohama, so academia and private business as well as government institutions are working closely together. Apple also built its Japanese R&D center in Tsunashima. Guennewig says:
It’s not as residential-focused, but a bit more industrial. It still has apartments and a student dormitory. A big energy center is included where further technologies are being trialed when it comes to hydrogen and energy core generation with heat and power combined.
The latest location, Suita, is aimed at being one of the first cities in Japan to be 100% powered by renewables, as soon as green hydrogen is available at the required quantities. Guennewig adds:
What's also important is the social integration, because this is where elderly generations are located. The elderly nursery home is closely located to the kindergarten, purposely meaning that the little ones meet with the elderly in the same building. All of these smart cities have an energy concept, but also social concepts and mobility concepts.
Panasonic has tried to bring this sustainable town concept over to Europe, but the continent doesn’t have many empty spaces anymore. Instead, it has focused on building its vision into an existing environment, seen in Future Living Berlin in Germany. Guennewig says:
A new residential area was created, using Panasonic's photovoltaic HIT panels, our heat pumps and an energy management system. Working together with a green energy management company, this makes sure that the town works predominantly with self-generated energy and purchases green energy when and where needed, in case of winter time when not as much solar power is being generated.