Sep 19, 2023
Generating Sustainable Impacts / Feature Story
PGI in Action: Panasonic Europe Sees Opportunity as Focus on Responsible Companies Increases
How should companies be perceived? Do consumers expect more from companies like Panasonic in exchange for showing interest in or aligning with what a company stands for? Today, consumers expect more from a company than just a reliable product or service. The concept of “social license to operate (SLO)” refers to society’s acceptance of a company’s overall business practices and operating procedures. Under this concept, companies are expected to act responsibly and be held accountable for what they do. For many, an SLO is closely related to sustainability, with many people consciously choosing companies that can offer sustainable products.
For Panasonic, high public awareness around sustainability and sensitivity to climate change is a clear indication that sustainable products and actions are essential to staying competitive. More importantly, changing times mean that simply promoting pure green credentials is no longer sufficient—companies are being called upon to redesign their business models. Organizations must embrace sustainability and contribute positively to this critical challenge.
Panasonic Newsroom Global interviewed Kathrin Schlangenfeldt, Manager Sustainability-Environment & Communication/Decarbonization and Sustainability Communications, and Markus Reichling, General Manager Green Transformation (GX), in charge of global Circular Economy promotion at Panasonic, to explore the key Panasonic GREEN IMPACT (PGI) initiatives that Panasonic Group is implementing in the European region to support the advance toward a more sustainable society.
Pursuing Lasting, Meaningful Change for European Customers
Please explain how Panasonic’s PGI initiative is responding to the changing needs of society?
“European stakeholders expect companies to act responsibly, and this means taking meaningful action on climate change,” said Kathrin. “Panasonic GREEN IMPACT is an important step because it demonstrates the Group’s clear, strong commitment to decarbonizing its entire value chain.”
Europe is pivoting away from fossil fuels, especially in the mobility and building sectors, which respectively account for 25 percent and 36 percent of current total CO2 emissions in the region.
“Prioritizing sustainability in these sectors of mobility and buildings can remove a big chunk of CO2 emissions,” said Kathrin. “Panasonic is already providing products and solutions for the transformation to clean energy and electrification.”
In mobility, Panasonic is recognized as a leading supplier of cylindrical lithium-ion batteries for EVs and electric bicycles. In the building sector, Panasonic has been investing in Europe to meet growing demand for air-to-water heat pumps, which collect and use heat from the air and replace conventional combustion heaters that use fossil fuels. Heating represents the biggest part (approximately 80%) of a household’s energy consumption, making this a key area for avoid emissions in people’s homes.
“Panasonic’s contribution to a decarbonized society through more sustainable mobility and buildings is what is known as ‘contribution impact’—avoiding emissions by replacing inefficient technologies with sustainable alternatives,” said Kathrin.
Are there any PGI-related businesses or initiatives unique to the European region?
“From products that help reduce CO2 emissions, to measures for environmentally-friendly factories, to employee sustainability initiatives, there’s a lot going on at Panasonic in Europe,” said Kathrin.
“As a business, Panasonic is investing in air-to-water heat pumps, committing €145 million to expand our plant in the Czech Republic. As an organization, Panasonic in Europe has been driving its own green transformation for many years—for example, through the Green Factory Task Force.”
This task force was established with the goal of reducing emissions from manufacturing facilities and making them more sustainable. Green Factory (GF) activities reduce environmental impacts at factories by introducing energy management systems and, importantly, reducing energy consumption, bringing emissions close to zero.
Panasonic Europe also encourages employees to promote sustainability. Some initiatives raise awareness of issues such as climate change and plastics, while others emphasize hands-on experience. The Green Economy Project combines awareness-raising activities with practical experience on green or sustainability topics related to product packaging, among others.
When it comes to promoting PGI related activities, what are Panasonic’s key strengths and weaknesses?
“Our Panasonic GREEN IMPACT initiative has taken sustainability to a whole new level within the Group,” said Kathrin. “Sustainability needs to be integrated into every aspect of our company and understood and supported by everyone. The journey ahead is challenging. But we can’t lose sight of the opportunities that will emerge from this challenge.”
Kathrin continued: “Panasonic is huge, but scale also means synergies. Our core strength is the ability to conceive and then develop innovative new technologies. Let me give you an example: At our Headquarters in Japan, we are currently developing a versatile new type of photovoltaic technology called perovskite. In addition to traditional rooftop installations, perovskite technology is so flexible that it can be installed on outer walls, balconies, and other surfaces of homes and offices to generate energy. I look forward to the new technologies that will emerge to enable the transition to sustainable society.”
Turning Challenges into Opportunities as Circular Economy Fundamentally Changes the Rules of Business
Why should global companies like Panasonic care about circular economy businesses in the EU?
“Circular Economy” (CE) describes an economic system aiming at the most efficient use of material resources along their lifecycle. CE puts the focus primarily on product durability and longevity, extended reparability, upgrades through hardware and software, shared use, reuse, refurbishment, and remanufacturing. Waste should be minimized, and recycling should allow materials to be used again and again. A circular economy is different from a “linear economy,” in which the product is basically just sold once but not returned to the producer for extending the product lifetime or utilizing the material in a different way.
From a legislative perspective, the EU is taking the lead globally through its circular economy action plan (CEAP), a cornerstone of the European Green New Deal, which seeks to make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent.
“Circular economy measures help increase resource efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions, especially scope 3 emissions, a key aspect of PGI,” said Markus Reichling, who leads Circular Economy initiatives in the EU region and globally. “At the heart of our action plan is a proposal for a new approach to more environmentally sustainable and circular products. The Eco-design for Sustainable Product Regulation (ESPR) of the European Union will introduce an extensive list of legal requirements for product and material circularity. So, we need to work intensely on this subject.”
ESPR will also require companies like us to be transparent about our products, using a digital product passport that allows our customers to see every operator in the supply chain, the materials being used, how these materials need to be handled, and which materials can be extracted and reused.
“It is very fascinating. Circular economy aims to fundamentally change the way companies do business. The goal is to use products and materials as long as possible, so companies have to change the way they do business,” said Markus. “The circular economy is a transformational challenge.”
“We’ve been focusing on linear sales, selling a product once and never seeing it again. Under a circular economy approach, we want to get the product back so we can update or refurbish it or reuse the material or device a second or third time and extend its lifetime. This means focusing on durability and longevity, making products easy to repair, and extending repairs as much as possible.”
What are the key CE challenges and opportunities for Panasonic in the European region?
“I see two main challenges,” said Markus. “The first is the timeline for complying with the new legal requirements. We have three to seven years to make fundamental changes to product design. We need to start now. I’ve been working with our businesses, and we are seeing some good initiatives being implemented.”
“The second is to become a more circular business. This isn’t just about a company like ours. We need to make sure that the change is also understood and actively supported by our customers. We would like to encourage them to also embrace this new way of doing business. As an industry, we have started to communicate the purpose and value of the changes we should collectively pursue, making it a journey that we can all embark on with our customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders along the value chain.”
Embracing circularity can make the Group more sustainable, increase its contribution to decarbonization, and strengthen relationships with customers, reinforcing the Panasonic brand.
“Circularity allows us to be in much closer and more frequent contact with our customers,” explained Markus. “For example, if we lease a digital camera to a photographer for three years, and after three years they return the camera, we have the chance to be in touch again, learn about how the camera has been used, and find a new model which fits the person’s changing needs. Based on this, we are able to lease them the newest model, creating a cycle in which the customer can access the latest technology. At the same time, we can offer additional features and services that will help the photographer to focus on creativity for the perfectly composed photos. We get to know the customer and their needs, and the customer gets to know Panasonic and the support we can provide.”
Promoting Sustainability in Our Daily Lives
What small actions are you taking every day to promote sustainability?
“If you take your work on sustainability seriously, you begin to behave more sustainably yourself,” said Markus. “For me, this means discussing sustainability with my family, especially with my daughters. Our house has solar panels, and next month we’re getting a heat pump. We try to set a good example by living sustainably at home. But we also consider sustainability when planning a trip—where are we going, can we avoid flying, and if we fly how do we offset the CO2 emissions?”
“Every action can have a positive impact,” said Kathrin. “The key is to consciously include sustainability into your life. I use my e-bike every day—to commute, visit the city, and go grocery shopping. Rain or shine, I’m on my e-bike. I love cars, but my personal challenge is to commit to using my e-bike instead. My kids also challenge me on sustainability. At the request of my daughter, our lifestyle has become more vegetarian, so we’re eating less meat. These small steps can make a difference.”
At Panasonic Group, we believe our most important issues are tackling global warming and reducing CO2 emissions across our operations and within society. As individuals, as businesses, and as Panasonic Group, every action that we take to promote sustainability is a step toward our ultimate goal of realizing a better life and a more sustainable global environment.
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