Dec 26, 2023

Generating Sustainable Impacts / Feature Story


Panasonic Life Solutions India: Strong Legacy of Environmental Action

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), seven million people die prematurely every year from exposure to air pollutants such as particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). In fact, the WHO estimates that 99 percent of the human population breathes air that exceeds its air quality criteria. One of the most challenged countries is India, which as recently as 2018 accounted for 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities.

In light of this situation, what are the key environmental issues that consumers and companies in India are most concerned about? In this latest installment in the PGI in Action series, Panasonic Newsroom Global interviewed Manish Sharma, Chairman of Panasonic Life Solutions India and South Asia, to explore the progress being made on Panasonic GREEN IMPACT (PGI) initiatives in India.

National priorities demand tailored approach to environmental issues

Sharma recently attended the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) as a representative of the Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Industry Coalition (RECEIC), an industry-led global initiative dedicated to promoting resource efficiency and achieving circular economy principles across industries worldwide that was launched this year during India’s G20 presidency.

“The government’s priority is to ensure balancing between energy security, food security, and improving the lives of people and the priority of corporations is to align their products and their processes with what is needed for India, and therefore customization of products and solutions and processes is extremely important,” said Sharma.

He firmly believes that addressing environmental challenges in India requires a clear understanding of how people grasp the biggest challenges that the country faces: contaminated drinking water and air pollution. “Let’s fundamentally divide India into two parts: the rural and the urban. Contamination of water—the availability of clean and safe drinking water—in rural areas continues to be a major challenge, while the challenge for urban India is air pollution,” said Sharma. “Awareness of waterborne diseases in India is quite high. Unfortunately, awareness and understanding of airborne diseases, pollution-related diseases, is still very low because quite often the impact on a person’s life only becomes apparent later in life.”

Sharma acknowledged that not all solutions are going to work in India—for example, cycling may be a viable option for public transportation in Europe, it may not be an option in the hot and humid climate in India—but noted that there are many other means by which people can contribute, adding that the government is creating an atmosphere in which companies that adhere to global standards are being recognized by consumers. 

Setting the standard for green initiatives in India

Panasonic has embarked on various initiatives in India to foster a greener and more sustainable society, focusing on three key areas of responsibility: processes, products, and promoting awareness among stakeholders.

In terms of processes, Panasonic Life Solutions India was responsible for building the first washing machine factory in the country—and the world—to use air rather than water to test products for leakage. Since washing machines use water, the traditional approach had been to use water to check for leaks, but Panasonic India decided to use air as a way to conserve water; in the ten years since the factory began production, millions of liters of water have been saved. The use of air is now an industry-wide standard.

Photo: Manish Sharma

In addition to washing machines, he also cites air conditioners as another example. “Air conditioners consume a lot of electricity so the impact of the air conditioner industry on energy consumption in any country is high. For this reason, energy consumption of air conditioners has to align with government mandates—such as energy efficiency ratings.”

But Panasonic didn’t stop there. After Europe began enforcing restrictions on the use of hazardous substances in products, Panasonic began using materials that were Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) compliant even though this was only mandated in Europe and not in India.

Here again, Panasonic was an innovator within the industry. But innovation isn’t enough if no one is aware of what the company is doing and why it matters,” said Sharma. “Along with processes and products, promoting awareness among stakeholders is essential. Being RoHS compliant added a layer of cost, so Panasonic conducted initiatives to educate consumers and create awareness about the choice the company made and the benefits of using products made from these materials.

Back in 2008, when responsibility for the environment was not very clearly communicated by many companies, we were in the vanguard. Panasonic clearly aligned itself with the environment, and we have been talking about it for the past 15 years—on a country and a global level,” explained Sharma.

Today, companies are being called upon to demonstrate how they are contributing to addressing and resolving issues related to the global environment—especially at a time when momentum for the transition to a circular economy continues to grow.

Engaging Indian employees to promote sustainability

Panasonic Life Solutions India actively drives environmental initiatives throughout the year. To commemorate World Environment Day, the company initiated Panasonic Harit Umang, an environmental awareness program which aims to drive the adoption of sustainable lifestyle, including responsible disposal of e-waste, promotion of zero plastic waste, and energy conservation. To commemorate International E-waste Day, the company runs #DiwaliWaliSafai, a campaign to raise awareness on responsible disposal of e-waste. In line with headquarters’ Global Eco Relay concept, Panasonic Life Solutions India also conducts the “Plant it Forward—Panasonic Tree Plantation Drive.” To date, the company has planted close to 300,000 trees, which symbolize its commitment to well-being of the planet and future generations.

We have also recently started an initiative to reduce food wastage in our company,” said Sharma. At headquarters, food is served to employees in the canteen, but the company can easily end up wasting a lot of food if too much has been prepared; meals may be prepared for 100 people on a particular day, but if fewer people end up consuming the food, it goes to waste. “I’m hopeful that in the next six months to one year, we’ll create sufficient awareness among people to minimize the food wastage—not only at headquarters, but across every facility where we provide food to our people,” he said.

When asked about the key to encouraging employees to take action, Sharma said, “I think consistent communication is central to any social behavior change. Communication should be consistent and leaders should lead by example.” He added, “Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita believed that to build a successful organization, you must first build a team and the right environment to support employees. ‘Vibrant Panasonic’ is a platform for employees that enables culture creation across the Panasonic organization in India.

“The program has three objectives: learn, live, and achieve. We want people to consistently learn within the organization and consistently evolve into better professionals and better people. But communication is central to raising awareness about a particular topic or creating a specific culture within an organization, so we have various modes of communication under this program. Some are very simple, such as posting a particular message in places where people gather together or carrying out team lunches and promoting conversations.”

Sharma also regularly hosts employees in groups of 15 to 20 people to have a one-hour “free wheeling” session. These sessions allow people to speak freely and share their honest opinions, while also providing Sharma with the opportunity to deliver messages that raise awareness of a particular topic.

Photo: a one-hour “free wheeling” session in progress

Pursuing sustainability guided by the founder’s words

When asked to reveal the quote by Panasonic’s founder that guides his work at Panasonic India, Sharma replied: “One of my favorites is his belief that every resource essentially comes from the planet and people and society, so the sum total of whatever you give back should exceed what you take.

He went on to add: “He also said that we should devote ourselves to the progress and development of society and the wellbeing of people through our business activities, and this is something I often share with external stakeholders. Our vision for a sustainable future has instilled in us the values of reduce, reuse, and recycle, which we are actively promoting among consumers.”

Panasonic Group’s PGI initiative, which seeks to cut emissions by more than 300 million tons—or approximately 1% of current global emissions—by 2050, embodies Panasonic’s comprehensive approach to carbon emission reduction. Panasonic is committed to working each day to enrich people’s lives and help move society forward and will continue to pursue new ways to fulfill this mission.

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