Businesses in the Chugoku region move towards decarbonization


Takamitsu Kato, who leads a okonomiyaki (Japanese-style savory pancakes) in Hiroshima, has chosen to do its part to achieve net zero emissions – even if it means increasing its utility costs.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make during the coronavirus pandemic, but Kato, 32, is among a growing number of business and business owners in the Chugoku region who are proactively joining in. the global trend towards decarbonization.

“Do you know what this is?” Kato asks his customers over the hot plate. On the table is a “carbon neutral” certificate with a wooden green logo, which is given to companies and other organizations that use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Cost of profit pursuit

Having worked for a large local manufacturer, Kato has a keen interest in international business. Concerned about the climate change crisis, he introduced LPG to his store last November. “We are already seeing climate change due to companies looking for profit rather than the environment,” he said.

The use of LPG is labeled carbon neutral because the fuel’s emissions are supposed to be offset by credits earned through overseas environmental projects.

Kato’s restaurant’s LPG supplier is Hashimoto Nenryo, based in Hiroshima City. Kato was his first customer, but Hashimoto Nenryo’s now has around 100 customers, including restaurants in the Hiroshima metropolitan area.

Yu Hosokoji, 40, president of Hashimoto Nenryo, says he feels a change of mindset among his customers. “Business has been particularly tough for restaurants during the pandemic. But we still managed to get so many contracts, partly because of the growing interest in decarbonization,” he said.

The LPG charge is ¥10 per cubic meter higher than town gas. If 100 cubic meters are used per month, the cost will increase by ¥1,000.

Kato’s restaurant television broadcasts daily news about the Ukrainian crisis, often prompting its customers to discuss the problems inherent in Japan’s energy supply. “I’m sure my customers’ interest in decarbonization will eventually increase along with other energy issues,” Kato said, adding that he soon plans to also switch from the store’s electricity to a carbon-neutral option. .

In fact, consumer interest in energy-related issues continues to grow. According to a survey of about 2,000 residents of Hiroshima Prefecture by the research arm of Hiroshima Bank, about 40% of respondents said they have decarbonization in mind when engaging in activities. The percentage was higher among young people.

Actions taken towards net zero emissions are spreading from large corporations to small and medium local businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Such initiatives, which can have an impact on the local reputation, are particularly relevant to the food industry and retailers who deal directly with consumers.

Local production for local consumption

Some regional companies are also moving towards the use of renewable energies. An example is Mam Heart Holdings Co., which operates supermarkets in Okayama and neighboring prefectures. Based in Tsuyama, Okayama Prefecture, the company last year began installing solar panels on the roofs of its stores.

The holding company, which also has an electric power branch in its group, had already been producing solar power under a feed-in tariff (FIT) system for some time, but has now installed panels to its own electricity consumption.

So far, the company has installed signs in six of its supermarkets. Total generation is 1,000 kilowatts and any shortfalls are supplemented by utility purchases.

An official from Marui, the group’s main supermarket company, said: ‘We started this project to reduce CO2 emissions and prepare for power outages in the event of a disaster. But with utility rate hikes, it’s becoming more and more important.

Lower electricity bills also benefited consumers, as the company was able to reduce prices for some of its products, the official said.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine adding to concerns about the stability of energy supplies around the world, the move towards renewable energy is set to intensify.

Chairman Tetsuyuki Murai of Kairos Co., a Tokyo-based renewable energy consultancy that counts Mam Heart Holdings among its clients, said the trend to both produce and consume energy locally is set to grow. develop further.

Kairos is a subsidiary of JHS Co., a solar power company based in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, which proposes to introduce small solar power generation systems for private business consumption.

“Japan has lagged behind Europe in its decarbonization efforts, but we are seeing a major shift in our mindset,” Murai said.

Zero initial investment

Based in Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture, Kaihara Corp., the country’s top denim maker, started using solar panels at its Sanwa factory last June in response to calls from customers to decarbonize.

At the Sanwa factory, shimmering blue solar panels adorn the gray metal roof. Inside, weaving machines produce denim. More than 10% of the plant’s electricity is supplied by the 6,156 roof panels.

Kaihara’s customers include big names such as Fast Retailing Co., operator of clothing chain Uniqlo, and Levi Strauss & Co. of the United States. “We responded to our customers’ requests,” said Yasuhiro Terada, 46, a manager at Kaihara.

However, the transition to renewable energy has not been easy. The company has taken environmentally friendly measures, such as replacing heavy fuel oil with LPG as boiler fuel at its four national plants, including the Sanwa plant. But Terada acknowledged that the company was hesitant to adopt solar power even after several years of consideration due to the high cost of panel installations.

The solar project was ultimately realized through services provided by Tokyo-based Orix Corp., which allows for zero upfront investment. Under this program, Orix installs the solar panels at the Sanwa plant and then offers maintenance and management services, while Kaihara purchases all the electricity produced at the plant. With the introduction of solar energy, the plant’s CO2 emissions have been reduced by approximately 10%.

Kaihara also plans to install the panels in three other factories in Japan. However, all are old and unlikely to support the weight of the panels. “If we can’t put them on rooftops, we can put them in vacant lots,” Terada said. It is possible that the overall costs will increase, but he considers this to be a necessary expense to meet customer demand.

The dynamic towards a low-carbon society is forcing manufacturers to change their production methods. They are encouraged to change not only the raw materials they use in production, but also to switch to new sources of energy to run their machines.

Shibase Kogyo, a straw manufacturer based in Asakuchi, Okayama Prefecture, is another company taking the initiative on renewable energy. In September 2020, it joined Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s renewable energy plan, becoming the first company under the plan in which all electricity is generated by a prefecture-run hydroelectric plant.

Combined with its own solar power, the company makes plastic straws using carbon-free electricity. “We would get a lot of media attention if we were to be first,” President Takuya Isoda, 62, joked, but is serious about embracing renewables.

Isoda has made efforts to save energy and reduce costs. He even made it mandatory for his employees to file demands when reducing their air conditioning settings in offices and factories. Chugoku Electric’s renewable energy plan is one yen per kilowatt-hour higher than its conventional plan. Even so, Isoda decided to buy into the plan to continue its plastics manufacturing business model.

In search of lightness

From April, companies that supply large quantities of plastic straws to customers are required to charge a fee or switch to another material. The use of paper straws is already spreading. Isoda, however, is committed to making plastic straws.

“Plastic straws are water resistant and last a long time. The amount of plastic used in straws is negligible, so they can be disposed of properly,” he said.

The company has developed equipment to control the subtle variations in diameter caused by temperature fluctuations. With its technology to reduce the thickness of plastics to 0.1 millimetres, it has extended to other fields, such as industrial pipes.

“If the use of lightweight straws becomes widespread, the amount of oil used will decrease accordingly,” Isoda said, adding that he wondered if stopping the use of plastic straws would really reduce the load on the body. environment.

Isoda knows the business faces headwinds. But to move his business forward, he continues his decarbonization efforts.

This section introduces topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original articles were published on March 17 and 18.

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