Integrating Environmental Education into Technology with Panasonic’s David A. Thompson

May 10, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and today we’re so happy and excited to have on with us my good friend of many years, David Thompson, who is the head of Corporate Environmental at Panasonic and David, you’ve been on Green is Good before, but I welcome you back now that we’re on Sirius XM, and I’m just thrilled to have you on. DAVID THOMPSON: John, thank you very much. I congratulate you on the new show and I want to recognize the friendship that we’ve had over the years and all the good work we’ve done together in the area of promoting Green is Good and electronic product recycling in particular. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you. You’re the leader in that and we’re just happy to support Panasonic and the great brands that you’ve put together at MRM so we’re just thrilled. You know Dave, you have a long history at Panasonic. You’ve done so much great work and before we get into talking about some of the most recent initiatives you’re working on, can you share your journey a little bit at Panasonic and all the things you’ve touched and worked on over the years? DAVID THOMPSON: Sure, thank you. I’m not sure it’ll be all that interesting to people that’ll be listening in the audience but I started in Panasonic in 1984. I have a Japanese Studies background and I was one of the first American or foreign non Japanese nationals to be selected as a management trainee, spent two years working with Panasonic in Japan as an assistant to a managing director member of the board. It was a very, very interesting experience and I thought I had before me the opening of a wonderful business career and then lo and behold, a state in the United States, Minnesota, passed a rechargeable battery collection law and this individual said, ‘Why don’t you, Dave, take a look at this and try to figure out what we should do?’ so I came back to the United States and started investigating these take back laws that were being passed with respect to rechargeable batteries and then recommended that we create a joint venture company with other battery manufacturers to collect and recycle rechargeable batteries and lo and behold, we created the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, I think, in 1993 and then I took a temporary leave from Panasonic and headed that up to get it started. It has been fairly successful. It’s still around. We’re still collecting and recycling rechargeable batteries across the country in Canada in a substantial way. After I came back from Panasonic, I was asked to head up our Corporate Environmental Department and began working on e-waste in about 1995. We began collecting voluntarily in 1999. States began to look into this and pass laws to increase collection, level the playing field, and then in 2007, Panasonic joined together with Sharp and Toshiba and created a company called The Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Company. It’s a mouthful but we call it MRM for short and we’re in the process of trying to work with other manufacturers, we’ve dealt with about 30 manufacturers, and create a national recycling program for electronic products so it has been a long and interesting journey for me in the environmental field but I have to confess that it was one that I never anticipated taking and it’s been I guess a quirk of fate, if you will, that got me involved in it but it’s been quite rewarding. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, for our listeners who don’t know, David has not only been involved with it but he’s been the leader of it and I learn more from Dave Thompson than anybody else. I met him, literally, as one of my first friends when I got in this industry in early 2005 and I’ve learned more from David and all the great work that he does at Panasonic and he’s been leading this whole e-waste effort across the United States, if not the world, and he’s considered the leader of it here in America so we’re so thankful for that, David, for all the great work in sustainability and good environmental stewardship when it comes to the important issue of electronic waste recycling. I thank you again but today is about Panasonic and all the other great initiatives that you guys do. You do so much there and recently, I’ve been reading some press releases and stuff about the educational element of what you’re doing with regards to the next generation, the students, and can you share some of the environmental educational activities and how it interrelates with students and what you’ve recently initiated? DAVID THOMPSON: Thank you, John, for the opportunity. I appreciate it very, very much. We have a corporate goal of making educational materials and opportunities available to students around the world. We’d like to reach out to about 500,000 students in the United States and we’ve undertaken two things: One is, I will call it the Eco Effects Video Sweepstakes and the second is a partnership with a gaming app developer named Green$treet Commons and with respect to the Eco Effect Video, let me just back up a little bit. Kids are the next generation. We feel it’s very, very important- I’m sure everyone recognizes this- to educate, invest in the next generation because they’re going to really determine how sustainable our future is, I think, and what they decide will depend on the type of education they receive and we’re very committed to that and so what we’ve done is we have a program called Kid Witness News. We started it in 1989 and we provide video production equipment to elementary and middle school children around the country. Since the program’s inception, about 139,000 kids have participated and every year, we ask them to make a series of five minute videos on certain themes and we started asking them to make environmentally themed videos about a couple of years ago. Then every year, we judge those and have a big awards ceremony, bring them to New York City, give them a tour of the town, take them out for dinner, and then acknowledge those schools that have made the best videos and present them with prizes or other incentives to keep them going. This past year, in addition to the five minute videos, we went out and asked the kids to make a short public service announcement type of video, 30 seconds to a minute, and we got those back. We looked at them and I’ll tell you, there’s some amazing talent out there and it’s reflected in these videos, how cute they are, how clever they are, and how informative they are but we chose what we thought was the best five and we created a website and it’s called EcoEffectsVideos.com and we’re asking really anyone to come, visit the website, to sign in and register, answer a couple of simple questions (for example: Do you know where to go to recycle e-waste? Do you have an Energy Star product in your home? That type of very simple question, just three of them) and then once they’re registered, we ask them to watch the videos and choose their favorite and if they do that, they will then be automatically enrolled in a sweepstakes opportunity to win some pretty significant prizes. The first prize is a smart Viera 55 inch Panasonic class GT50 series full high definition 3D plasma television. It’s a great prize. The second prize is a high end Lumix G5 16 megapixel compact camera system and then we have 25 third prizes, which are DJ style headphones. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What are the age groups? For our listeners out there who have children and for the young kids out there that are listening, what is the age range for these students that you want to get to participate? DAVID THOMPSON: That’s a great follow-up question, John. Thank you. What we’re trying to do is anyone is welcome to come watch the videos and vote on them and help us rank them but if you are a student 13 to 21 years old, you will be registered in this sweepstakes and be given an opportunity to win and then we also have a tell a friend feature so the students can vote every day and choose their favorite and get an additional sweepstakes entry and then we also have a tell a friend function, where they can tell friends and if they do that, they also are given additional sweepstakes entries but what we’re trying to do is get kids to watch these really clever, creative, informative videos, learn a little bit more about some of the environmental issues that we face and what they can do to help and then help us choose the best one and once we’ve done that, we intend to go back and acknowledge the school, the Kid Witness News school, that made that video and recognize them again. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. What a great program. DAVID THOMPSON: I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to watch the videos but they are truly, I thought, creative and informative. The kids did a great job. I hope people will recognize them by watching the videos. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How long is this next contest open for? When does it close? DAVID THOMPSON: It closes May the 19th so it’s coming up quickly and you know, if it looks like it’s a viable way to provide educational materials to kids and people about our environment, we intend to run it again in 2013. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hold on one second, David. For our listeners out there, I’m so happy you’ve joined us today. We’ve got David Thompson. He’s the Corporate Environmental Director of Panasonic and he’s talking about the new initiatives that Panasonic has taken on, environmental educational initiatives with regards to students and he’s talking about this specific one, EcoEffectsVideos.com. It’s an amazing contest. It’s for students 13 to 21. Get involved now. It closes out in May and this is going to be just really great. Get your kids involved, get your students involved, and spread the word. I just wanted to get that out, David. Go on. I’m sorry. I interrupted you. DAVID THOMPSON: Thank you so much. That’s exactly what we’d like to do. We’d love to see the kids watch the videos and hopefully they learn something and we learn something about how to better educate the next generation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. You’re doing it from the ground up. You’re getting their voices able to be heard. I love it. I think it’s so important. What’s the next one you’re working on? What’s the other thing I’ve been reading about, this Green$treet Commons? David, share with our listeners about that please. DAVID THOMPSON: Yes, I’d love to. It’s a fantastic gaming opportunity that attempts to marry up, if you will, ecological education with economic education and the idea is that we can be both ecologically smart and economically smart at the same time. We want to promote that concept and we’ve teamed up with an organization called Green$treet Commons and launched an Apple based game called Schmutz Happens. I don’t know how much people will understand what Schmutz is but if you’re from New York, you know, I think, or if you have a Jewish background but it’s an old Yiddish word that essentially means dirt and it’s not the kind of dirt you find in your backyard, unless that dirt is on your clothes or on your glasses or something and causing a problem so it means stuff that shouldn’t be where it is or out of the ordinary, kind of needs to be cleaned up and the idea is that we have the game. It’s a wonderful little game. The Creative Director was Tom Hester, who did Shrek. I’m sure your audience would recognize it, beautifully done, cute as heck characters, well integrate, really educational, I think, but Schmutz is this character and he’s a blobby, slobby, purplish character who goes around messing up stuff, your yard, your garden, your house. Then the idea is that kids, who we all want to learn about economics and finance and chores and being better kids and citizens, they then are kind of tasked with going around and cleaning up stuff after Schmutz. Schmutz is a metaphor for stuff that needs to be rectified, cleaned up, and how we all have to try to work together to do that. What the kids do is they focus on cleaning up Schmutz, whether it’s in the garden or the yard or the house, but they also, in the context of the game, are attempting to rescue and provide for endangered animals so they create a budget and if they clean up the Schmutz in the garden, the Schmutz in the yard or the house or whatever, they can earn virtual dollars, I suppose, to apply to rescuing their endangered species animal and they can purchase shelter for that animal, for example. They purchase food. They can purchase playthings for the animal and kind of earn money and then apply it to rescuing this animal and taking care of it. They can even receive email postcards from the animal during the course of the game. We’re sponsoring this with Green$treet Commons and we just want to get the word out, let people know that there’s a free gaming download app available to their children. It’s really more targeted at younger children, I think, and then hopefully get them to play it and learn a little bit about household budgets, finances, and then cleaning up around them in their home and environment and creating a better environment for themselves and their families. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When did you launch this? DAVID THOMPSON: This came out March the 29th. It’s out there. It’s available from Apple iTunes Store to download and it’s also available through our website here, GreenStreetCommons.com. We’ve teamed up with Neale Godfrey, who is the Chairperson of Green$treet Commons, and she is an amazing individual, award-winning New York Times Bestselling Author for Children’s Financial Education. She’s got 26 books to her credit and she has taken up a leadership role in developing educational materials and activities focused on children’s ecology and economics. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. I’m on the site now. It’s a wonderful site, this Green$treet, and for our listeners out there that want to get their children involved and interested in how to get rid of Schmutz, it’s GreenStreetCommons.com. It’s a beautiful website and Schmutz is cute with the green eyes and everything, come on. DAVID THOMPSON: It’s an amazing little character. I’ve come to like him. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I like him already. I think he’s really likeable so Dave, these are two great initiatives you’re doing, the Eco Effects and the Green$treet Commons. I really love it. We have only about three minutes left and I want to make sure you hit upon some important initiatives that you’re working on in terms of your corporate environmental stuff with regards to recycling or anything else you want to talk about that are important. I know there’s so much you’re doing and so much that you touch so why don’t you share in the last couple of minutes some of the other things that you’re doing over at Panasonic right now? DAVID THOMPSON: Thank you, John. We’re also working very hard to develop a collection infrastructure for electronic products and make sure that they’re collected. We want to work with reliable recyclers, which is the organization that you manage, and then get these products collected and recycled properly and we now have a network around the country of about 1,800 collection sites where people can take old electronic products and we will ensure that they’re recycled properly so we work very hard at that and we have information on our website, Panasonic.net/eco. We have a website called MRMRecycling.com and while it’s not written here on some of the paperwork that we’ve shared, there’s also a website called GreenerGadgets.org where people can go and get information on proper electronic recycling so I do want to try and encourage people to before they throw away an electronic product, to look at the different websites and make sure that they’re turned in for proper recycling and we, on our end, will work with reliable recycling organizations, such as the one that you manage, Electronic Recyclers International, to make sure that they’re recycled properly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m not going to let you go without saying again, another congratulations, another award. Panasonic won its third consecutive Energy Star Award and I just want to say that’s, again, another win for Panasonic, all the great work that you guys do. DAVID THOMPSON: Thank you. Energy Star is a significant environmental program and logo in itself. I would encourage people, when they’re purchasing products, to look for the Energy Star logo because it does represent significant energy savings and as we all know, energy savings equals reduced greenhouse gas emissions so just through our efforts in the past year in selling Energy Star Certified products, our contribution to greenhouse gas emission reduction has been about 35 million tons across the world. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s amazing, and Dave Thompson, we’re going to have you back again on Green is Good. You’ve been an amazing guest as always. For our listeners out there, go to EcoEffectsVideos.com or GreenStreetCommons.com. Dave Thompson, you are a great friend and a visionary environmental evangelist and leader, and truly living proof that green is good.