Green Business Practices in Japan

Hari Srinivas
Case Study Series E-075. March 2015.

Green business practices that maintain and sustain good environmental quality are increasingly becoming a vital component of economic competitiveness.

Consumer awareness of detrimental effects of products on the environment, both direct and indirect, have promted many companies to incorporate environmental measures in the manufacturing, administration, purchase, sale and other stages.

Measures have concentrated on an expanded and inspired version of the original 3Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Design for Environment

Design and development of environmental products essentially aim to reduce the use of restricted substances, minimize environmental impact, and increase the recyclability of the products. Companies have achieved these goals by working closely with their customers and suppliers to exchange information regarding the environmental performance characteristics of their products.

Such programmes incorporate environmental considerations, including facility design materials selection, energy consumption, manufacturing, product use and operation, and final disposition, early in the product development process.

Energy Efficiency

There are many issues that are generally covered under 'energy efficiency'. These include:

  • Utility Cost Reduction
    Companies aim to reduce energy usage and therefore utility costs to the greatest extent possible. Such aims cover, for example, heating, cooling and ventilation, lighting levels and water conservation.
  • Energy Conservation
    Companies first perform an energy audit, covering loads, devices etc. Enabling future improvements, such audits focus on time-of-use, conservation measures possible etc. and propose measures that are both operational and technological in nature. Measures include cost, ease of implementation, energy saved, as well as cost reduction in general.
  • Water Conservation
    Water conservation efforts included the conversion of water cooling systems to closed-loop systems, recirculating the water instead of piping in public-supply water, and the elimination of nonessential processes and modification of piping and timer systems.

Employee awareness and participation are an important contribution to efforts in achieving energy efficiency.

Environmental Building Design

There are many ways in which efficient building design can lead to efficient energy use. Such measures are taken both in the architectural design of the building itself, as well as in the various infrastructure and services that are installed in it. These include: proper building to site orientation, high efficiency lighting, optimized daylighting, oversized low restriction ducts, variable speed drives in the HVAC units, increased building insulation, heat mirror glass, reflective roof coating, occupant sensors throughout the building, and efficient office equipment.

Environmental Management Systems

Environmental Management Systems are tailored to each company's own needs. While the results can vary, self-audit programs focus on company-specific environmental issues, enabling among other things, a high awareness of environmental issues. Implementation of EMS covers areas such as policy, organizational restructuring, marketing identity and standards etc. Companies achieve this by developing checklists, marking realistic environmental compliance targets, encouraging transparency and accountability, and similar measures. Effective communication of such measures, internally and externally, remains critical to better understanding, acceptance and compliance. It also serves as a focus to challenge all involved to develop new approaches to environmental improvements

Environmental Philanthropy

A committed approach to environmental improvement goes beyond mere cost-benefit analyses and concerns broader, universal issues. Many companies do not rule out philanthropy as a means to achieve environmental consciousness. Companies favouring this typically take measure such as access to environmental technology, access to engineering support, free educational classes, staff volunteering in community programmes, information dissemination of activities and measures, and assistance in publishing research and promotional materials. Besides supporting existing environmental efforts and actions, companies are also directly involved in activities such as tree-planting.


Packaging issues have come to the fore due to increasing quantities of municipal waste, with a significant portion coming from consumer goods packaging. This has highlighted the need to both increase recycling and minimize the amount of material used in packaging. This would reduce waste and decrease the use of virgin/new materials.

Most efforts to streamline packaging have focussed on three aspects: (a) using as little packaging material as needed; (b) using recycled material wherever it is environmentally and economically sound; and (c) making packaging as recyclable as possible.

Air Pollution Prevention

Air pollution prevention efforts of companies have generally focussed on both source and waste reduction, and on reuse and recycling. Preventing air pollution within a company's manufacturing processes remains the key approach. Cleaning and processing, switch to non-polluting technologies and materials, reduced generation of waste water, converting hazardous by-products to non-threatening forms, etc. have been attempted in this regard.

Indirect air pollution prevention measures by companies also cover transportation. Examples of such measures include: providing company transportation to employees; offering commuting information and selling public transit passes; and encouraging employees to carpool and use public transportation. Companies have also initiated successful programmes such as the use of bicycles to commute to work, telecomuting, and work-at-home etc. to reduce pollution due to commuting.

Water Pollution Prevention

Measures to prevent water pollution essentially strive to conserve and protect water quality - in terms of its use reduction and disposal, waste water treatment, procedural changes and recycling. Water conservation programmes have also included the substitution/reduction of hazardous materials and the generation of hazardous wastes. Employee awareness, education and training in pollution identification and reduction is critical in achieving successful results.

Recycling and Waste Reduction

Recycling and waste reduction is a recurring theme that is an integral part of most of the above environmental measures taken by companies. Most popular and tangible among these measures have targeted paper. Efficient use of paper, streamlining processes and tasks that need excessive paper, paper source sorting and disposal systems (both in-house and external systems), are covered here. Other wastes such as glass, aluminum, cardboard, wooden pallets, polyurethane and polystyrene foam, furniture etc. have similarly been targeted for source sorting and disposal systems. Besides cost consideration, companies have included waste disposal methods and techniques, recycling efforts etc. as criteria to select trash contractors.

Another measure incorporated by companies is the purchase of recycled materials for office supplies. Products with higher percentages of post-consumer content, reused copy/printer toners cartridges, recycled tissue and napkins etc. have been incorporated in purchasing decisions. Online internet and intranet networks have been used as an alternative to inter-office memos and conventional communication methods. Centralized information, leadership, and a corporate commitment have been found to be critical in developing a culture for the 'reduce, reuse, and recycle' corporate environment.

Resource Conservation

Water, electricity, office supplies, manufacturing and production materials, building materials etc form resources that a company uses. Conservation of such resources is an important environmental measure taken by companies. These include restrictions and reductions in the use of resources, recovery of (re)usable resources from waste products, recycling of resources after adequate processing. Companies also resort to the use of certified products that have had minimum environmental impact, and have been included in a comprehensive resource recovery cycle, including post-production processing. Thus company purchasing decisions are increasingly including environmental concerns in their choice of supplies, materials and refills.

Resource conservation measures have also covered maintaining regulatory compliance, chemical source reduction, emissions control, equipment review and construction support, and product stewardship. Increased 'returnable' content in a product or its packaging has also been used in conservation efforts.

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