Dec 08, 2023

Corporate News / Feature Story


“→ Use Forever Exhibition” in Kyoto Fuses Zen with Panasonic Model for Circular Economy

The term “circular economy,” or “CE,” refers to an economic system committed to promoting the most efficient use of material resources throughout their lifecycle. CE will fundamentally change how companies do business. Panasonic is now considering a strategic roadmap based on practical action that can provide the global organization with an innovative and sustainable CE model.

To help people understand the purpose of CE and provide examples based on the Group’s vision for a CE society, the Design HQ of Panasonic Corporation and the Manufacturing Innovation Division of Panasonic Holdings, Inc. held the “→ Use Forever Exhibition” event at Ryosokuin, a historic Buddhist temple in Kyoto, from October 14–22. The one-way arrow in the title of the exhibition, “→ Use Forever,” suggests both an irreversible shift from a disposable culture to a culture of continuous use and a world where “disposable” no longer exists.

Panasonic Newsroom Global spoke with people involved in the recent exhibition, including leader of the exhibit Tatsuo Yamamoto and exhibit lead designer Michael Shadovitz, to learn more about Panasonic’s proposal for a CE model and the background of the event.

“What happens to a washing machine that has served its purpose?”

For an exhibition held at a temple dedicated to the practice of Zen, it was only natural that the event began with a series of questions. “Did you know that an individual will purchase eight washing machines during their lifetime? Have you ever thought about what happens to a washing machine that has served its purpose? Have we been so focused on the new that we never thought about what comes after?”

The organizers of the event sought to answer those questions while encouraging visitors to change their way of thinking from “throw away culture” to “use forever culture.” The exhibit focused on introducing material and home appliance prototypes that have been conceived from the perspective of product design, material development, and reuse/recycling to fit perfectly into a CE model.

Why hold the event at a Temple in Kyoto?

There is a saying that “Japan has more temples than convenience stores.” Convenience stores are symbols of material wealth, comfort, and convenience, whereas temples are places to cultivate inner peace and spirituality. Holding the event at a temple in Kyoto aligns with the Panasonic Group’s overarching goal of developing its business to realize “an ideal society offering material and spiritual affluence”—but that’s not the only reason Ryosokuin was the perfect venue for a CE-themed exhibit.

Ryosokuin practices a Zen calligraphic style known as “円相 enso”—a hand-drawn circle completed in one stroke that celebrates both perfection (a closed circle) and imperfection (an open circle symbolizing the potential for further growth). The practice of enso is similar to Panasonic’s approach to CE, which is to realize spiritual richness through circulation. Toryo Ito, deputy head priest at Ryosokuin, commented: “I think that the originality of the idea behind the → Use Forever Exhibition is definitely relevant to temples. A temple is always thinking about how to preserve its buildings, gardens, and tools for the next generation, so we’re pleased to be collaborating on this project.

Photo: Tatsuo Yamamoto, General Manager of Transformation Design Center

Tatsuo Yamamoto, General Manager of Transformation Design Center

Yamamoto, the General Manager of Transformation Design Center, Design HQ, Panasonic Corporation, explained that while the temple continues to cultivate its Buddhist traditions, it also has a long history of actively opening its doors to new cultures and ideas, and this is what led to the collaboration between Ryosokuin and Panasonic.

About the similarities with Zen, Shadovitz, the Lead Designer of the Business Design Department, said: “Just like the tea house where the exhibit’s concept video was being shown, we wanted to eliminate everything but the ‘necessities.’ For our ideas, we started from zero—our prototypes were transparent, and the exhibit displays were stacked sheets of plywood and cardboard. Placing these elements in a garden so close to nature really allows us to consider what is truly necessary.”

Another key aspect of the transition to a CE society is socializing the idea of “use forever.” About 300 people visited the exhibition during its nine-day run, with nine out of ten saying it was a positive experience. Some of the visitors were from overseas: “They were relieved to find peace and calm among the crowds of Kyoto. This juxtaposition is similar to the expectations that internationals have of traditional Japanese culture versus the hyper-consumerism that is often found,” said Shadovitz.

Photo: Michael Shadovitz, Lead Designer

Michael Shadovitz, Lead Designer

“During the exhibition, we also held a workshop where children could create their own original vacuum cleaners, and the sparkle in the children’s eyes is something I will always remember. We’d like to make this an initiative that will open the door to a new future through practical implementation in society,” said Yamamoto.

Transitioning from a “throw away culture” into a “use forever culture”

This exhibition offered visitors the opportunity to see, feel, and think about the models conceived by Panasonic designers and engineers, extending the limits of what the company alone was capable of achieving through encouragement and criticism to realize a sense of co-creation. The prototypes on display included a “Modular Cleaner” with completely replaceable parts; a “Custom Shaver” that can be adapted to a user’s unique features and preferences; a “Subscription Washing Machine” that can be handed from one user to the next; the sustainable material, “kinari”; and “Appliance Chat,” which supports interaction with home appliances.

Regarding the relationship between “use forever” and “throw away,” Yamamoto thinks that in a world that has transitioned into a culture of continuous use, the concept of “throwing something away” will have practically disappeared. Even if something is used only once and then given away, it’s not being thrown away, reducing its value to zero; its value is being regenerated and it will find its way into someone else’s hands. “In that sense, I think it is important to sublimate the concept of ‘use forever’ from that of ‘throw away,’ and to create a design and mechanism that allows people to comfortably let go [of their appliances] and allow them to circulate,” Yamamoto said. “The initial idea was to call the exhibition ‘Throw Away → Use Forever,’ but we decided to be a bit bolder and start with the arrow to indicate a world where ‘disposable’ no longer exists.”

Koso Matsuno, a Panasonic engineer participating in the project, said: “While engineers quantify many things, designers see things from a different perspective and then verbalize them. I think that in a circular economy, different values work side by side, so it’s important to communicate and acknowledge each other’s value to realize a circular economy. I’d like to see designers and engineers pool their respective talents and, with a focus on exploring and verbalizing value, work together to make circular economy a reality.”

Practical targets moving Panasonic toward its vision for a CE society

Up to 2024, the Group is aiming to maintain a recycling rate of 99% or higher for factory waste, a cumulative 90,000 tons of recycled resin used (2022–24), and a cumulative total of 13 CE-type business models/products. This project’s vision for circular economy is “a society in which the three loops of nature, manufacturing, and service circulate continuously without overabundance or insufficiency.”

Achieving its vision for a CE society will require collaboration within the Group and with like-minded people and organizations. “We’d like to build on this event and expand our circle of friends who are involved in CE. The CE Exhibition was a chance to communicate Panasonic’s vision for CE on a global scale and increase the number of connections and joint efforts with people who share our vision,” said Yamamoto.

As for the proverbial washing machine that has served its purpose, what really does happen to them? At Panasonic, around 90%* of them are recycled into materials that continue to be used in the manufacturing process.

* Source: Ministry of the Environment (Japanese only)

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