Corporate Japan is making strides in sustainable development, slashing the use of lead and other toxic substances in industry, embracing solar energy and making biodegradable plastic out of sugar beets.
Automobiles and electronics, two of the sectors in which Japan floods the world with its goods, have in recent years been at the forefront of environmentally friendly production. Japanese industry is responding both to the pressures from the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark ecological treaty named for Japan's former capital, and to new anti-pollution directives in the European Union, a key market. The Kyoto treaty, which went into effect on February, obliges Japan to slash its greenhouse gas emission six percent by 2008-2012 from the 1990 level. The government is determined to comply and has publicly mulled imposing taxes to whip the world's second-largest economy into shape. But industry opposes the taxes -- and some companies have already gone ahead on their own to help Japan go green. Electronics giant Fujitsu set out as its goal to cut back consumption of electricity, oil and gas by 25 percent in the year to March 2004 from 1990-91 levels. It surpassed its own target with a reduction of 28.6 percent. Another electronic powerhouse, Toshiba, has declared global warming "an environmental issue of fundamental importance to our existence on the planet" and set out targets in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Toshiba, which also makes nuclear reactors, has asked its factories and laboratories to cut back emissions by 25 percent between 1990-91 and 2010-11. As of 2003-4, Toshiba has managed a drop of 10 percent. "I know that Japan is ahead in both its thinking and achievements in this field," Thierry Desmarest, the CEO of the French oil group Total, told a French-Japanese forum on sustainable development on March 28 in Tokyo. "Among industrialized countries, Japan is the leader both in saving energy and in energy efficiency," he said. The Japanese government finances projects for a greener economy under the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), part of the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, with a budget of 2.274 billion dollars in the year which ended in March 2005, of it 1.495 billion for research and development. Japan has made sustainable development the principal theme of the 21st century's first World Exposition, the six-month international exhibition which began in late March in a forest park of central Aichi province. NEDO is using the Expo to show off some of its eco-friendly technology, including a power generation system based on fuel cells and solar energy which runs the host country's pavilion. The Expo is taking place in the fiefdom of Japan's largest company Toyota Motor, which was the world's first automaker to use bioplastics for interior parts of its vehicles. It has set up a factory which will each year produce 1,000 tons of plastic whose base is partly sugar beets, which makes the material biodegradable and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The idea behind the factory is not only the automobile supply line but any sector which is interested. Toyota and its competitor Honda were among the first to make fuel-cell cars which run on hydrogen and methanol and whose sole waste is water vapor, even though the production of hydrogen still causes greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, Japan has more than 292,000 vehicles which run on natural gas, according to a Japanese vehicle inspection association. Japan is also by far the leader in solar energy, in 2004 accounting for more than 51 percent of world photovoltaic cell production in terms of electrical power measured in megawatts, according to the US-based specialized publication PV News. Japan's Sharp was number one for the fifth year in the solar energy production at 27 percent of the world's photovoltaic production, with fellow Japanese firm Kyocera coming in second, according to the journal.