David A. Thompson, Director of Environmental Affairs at Panasonic Corporation of North America, returns to Green is Good to discuss his nearly 30-year environmental journey with the company. In the past, Thompson has worked on initiatives on recycling batteries and curbing the growing e-waste problem. This has led to an increased focus on green education.
John Shegerian: This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.
John Shegerian: Hi, this is John Shegerian. I never could have imagined when we started The Green Is Good Radio Show back in 2006 that it would grow into a big podcast called, The Green Is Good Podcast. And now we’ve evolved that podcast to the Impact Podcast, which is more inclusive and more diverse than ever before. But we did look back recently at some of our timeless Green Is Good interviews and decided to share some of them with you now. So enjoy one of our great Green Is Good episodes from our archives. And next week, I’ll be back with a fresh and new episode of the Impact Podcast. Thanks again for listening. I’m grateful to all of you. This is John Shegerian.
John: Welcome to Green Is Good. Raising awareness of each individual’s impact on the environment and helping to create a more beautiful and sustainable world. Now. Here’s John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International, and Mike Brady.
John: Hey, welcome to today’s edition of Green Is Good. Mike, it’s so great to see you here on another show.
Mike Brady: You know, I look forward to it every week because I think the biggest part about this, John, is I look forward to learning something new and being able to amaze my friends. They say, “Where’d you learn that?” “Just picked it up on this little radio show called Green Is Good.”
John: I’m with you on that. I was driving over here and I was thinking we have a unique day today. What was the first television set? Do you remember the first television set in your house growing up?
Mike: Yeah, I hate to tell you this but it goes way back to the days when the screens were about yay big and and all rotary dials. Of course, it was black and white but I knew it. It was in a cabinet. It was like a lovely piece of furniture.
John: It was a piece of furniture.
Mike: Yeah, with doors on the front and you open it up and here’s this little tiny maybe 9 inch screen that everybody sits around and goes, wow, amazing.
John: What was the brand? Do you remember?
Mike: I want to say that it was an RCA.
John: Okay, got it.
Mike: I want to say.
John: In my house, in the living room, my parents had a DuMont.
Mike: DuMont. Okay.
John: And then my first television that I got in my bedroom, which was big time back then, [crosstalk] was a Panasonic.
Mike: Wow. Panasonic.
John: The reason I bring that up is as I was driving over here, I’m thinking about brands and televisions. Our first brand that we’ve ever had in the electronic manufacturing division is on today. We have Panasonic joining us.
Mike: Outstanding, boy. You talk about a huge global company.
John: It just has so much to do with our lives because you and I grew up in the television generation era.
Mike: Absolutely. Now I will tell you that the very first television I bought, myself, was a [crosstalk] Panasonic.
John: Was it?
John: And so much of what we’ve seen, just of recent times. When we were growing up, our grandparents and our parents held on to their television for how many years?
Mike: Oh, forever.
John: Forever. And now, our kids’ generation and our grandkids’ generation, we have these flat screens that have come out. And right behind that, Mike, we’ve seen already, and it’s not priced yet for everyone to purchase, but the 3D televisions are already coming out.
Mike: Yeah, that’s going to be an amazing technology. And like you said, it’s not for everybody right now, but by the time it gets to a price point, which most consumers can [crosstalk] afford, it is going to be absolutely amazing.
John: All of us. Television revolution. I understand that that same technology is going to be transferable to our cell phones, our laptops. So literally, as the next couple of years are in front of us, 3D is going to be the new platform. But that brings us back to Panasonic in that they’re one of the great leaders of this television revolution, and they’ve also taken the lead on being one of the leaders in the Green Revolution.
Mike: Okay. I knew there was going to be a Green tie-in somewhere.
John: So we’re going to have Dave Thompson, who is a friend of mine, but he’s also been heading up the corporate environmental department since the mid 90s. He’s going to come on today and explain to us the importance of Environment and Sustainability to their core mission.
Mike: I think this is going to be a great show. I can’t wait to get Dave on the phone. So let’s do it.
John: Let’s go. Today, we’re so honored to have Dave Thompson on the phone with us from Panasonic. Dave has been a friend of mine for years since I got into the recycling industry. He’s been with Panasonic for twenty-four years. Since 1995, he’s headed up their corporate environmental department. And he’s in charge of everything green and everything, environmental compliance, all the environmental marketing strategies, and all that other kind of stuff. Not only does David do that, but he also serves as the president of the Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management company, which is also known in the industry as MRM. Dave’s skills and his reputation in the industry are second to none. Dave, it’s really an honor for Mike and I to have you on Green Is Good today. And thank you for taking the time to join us.
Dave Thompson: John, thank you for that very gracious introduction. I look forward to talking to you and your guests throughout the course of the show.
John: Well, David, you and I have spoken at events before and you do such a tremendous job of representing Panasonic and representing the electronic manufacturers in all different types of settings, because not only does Panasonic talk the talk, but truly, Panasonic really does walk the green walk. And so I’m going to start with why don’t you bring us up to speed? I just reviewed some of Panasonic’s information online and some of their environmental performance over the years. Bring us up to speed on what Panasonic is doing right now to protect our global environment. Bring our listeners up to speed.
Dave: Sure. Thanks, John, for the opportunity. Panasonic has long been committed to a social responsibility platform from our very foundation in the 1930s, when we announced a credo, saying that our goal, our duty, our responsibility as manufacturers is to contribute to the betterment of world society through our products. Building on that very long tradition, in the early 1990s, we came out with probably one of the first environmental declarations made by electronic manufacturers. In that declaration, pledging to use the Earth’s resources responsibly and to be a good environmental steward. In 2001, we developed a Green Plan 2010. It had a very extensive set of programs and goals for our company that included almost anything and everything that we touch or do. Goals for our products, in terms of energy efficiency, goals for our products in terms of material content, recyclability, designed for the environment, life cycle assessment, goals for our factories, in terms of waste reduction, recycling, air emissions, water discharge, improvements, waste, minimization, for example, energy efficiency, and then training programs for our people. Then finally, in 2007, in order to maybe revitalize this 2010 program, we launched into what we call an Eco Ideas Initiative. And what this is, is building on our corporate slogan of Panasonic ideas for life, we came up with Eco Ideas, and we’re trying to make sure that our customers, all of our stakeholders, our customers, the environmental community, our employees, our government regulators, our business partners, such as yourself, that we focus on eco ideas for our products or our manufacturing facilities, and for our people through a program called Eco Ideas for everybody everywhere.
John: So Mike and I talk about this all the time on our show, the three basic rules of sustainability: People, planet and profits. So you’re basically saying your approach to making your products has sustainability written all over it. It’s in the DNA of Panasonic to protect its people and also preserve the environment while you also run a profitable company. Is that what I’m hearing here? Mike and I are understanding?
Dave: I think it’s a very fair summary, John, in that, if you go back and look at Panasonic, the founder of the company, a gentleman named Kōnosuke Matsushita, literally was almost regarded as the Thomas Edison of Japan. He thought that before you can build products, you have to build people. And he set out to do that through his own particular type of management philosophy that really did focus on developing our personnel from a skill set point of view, as well as a vision point of view. We all need a vision of what we want to be as a company in order to operate in the type of business climate that we do today.
John: It’s obvious that you guys are a huge leader in everything green, and that they made you, back in ’95, the head of corporate environmental, compliance, and marketing. So environment was a huge deal before it ever became cool to be green, which was just in recent years as you and I know, and also probably imposed to be green. You guys were way ahead. Panasonic was way ahead on this issue. And thinking about it years ago.
Dave: I think we were. We looked at this issue, the growing concern around the world for environmental issues, the need to address those issues, and look to see if there wasn’t going to be some sort of opportunity for us through the greening of our company and our products to address the concerns and needs that people have had and are starting to express much more strongly in today’s climate.
John: So when you talk about the Eco Ideas approach, explain what that means for how you take care of your employees and how they then also enjoy making products that are greener every year for us to consume, enjoy, and make our business and personal lives more interesting and more connected.
Dave: Sure. This initiative, Echo Ideas, for our products, our manufacturing, and for everybody everywhere, really comes down to a focus on products, where we want to make our very best efforts to design truly energy efficient, world leading products. We want to eliminate hazardous materials that have been so traditionally associated with electronic products. We want to make sure these products are easier to recycle at the end of their useful life. With respect to manufacturing, we consume resources that society literally owns, we consume those and we use them to make products that people hopefully will value and seek to purchase at a fair and reasonable profit. These factories generate emissions. One emission of great concern today is Co2 emissions. So we want to make sure that we’re focused on eliminating or reducing as much as we possibly can of these types of emissions from our factories. We have a clean factory program to guide our factories in that direction. And then with respect to our employees, one of the things that we did last year that I thought was really novel and interesting was that we had a worldwide Eco Relay. What we did was require every Panasonic facility around the world to undertake, with its employees, some sort of volunteer initiative in the fall of 2008. We timed it in such a way that it literally was like one Panasonic group in, say, North America, for example, or Europe, or South America, or East Asia, or the Middle East, or Southeast Asia. Kind of handing a baton to the next group. We went around the world in one circle. And during the course of those two weeks, we engaged in about 342 environmental volunteer events in 39 different countries. It was truly an effort that the employees embraced and I think learned from and are really looking forward to repeating again this year.
John: Well, David, I mean, Panasonic’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship obviously is second to none. And with 290,000 employees around the world, that baton passing type of initiative and that greening of all of your employees and tying them to that program sounds amazing.
Listen, we’re going to now take a commercial break. And on the other side, we’re going to come back and talk about all the great things Panasonic is doing for your recycling initiatives across the country and around the world. And we’re going to talk about some of the new products that you’re coming out with soon for our listeners to buy.
Speaker: If a little green is good, more is even better. Now back to Green Is Good with John Shegerian and Mike Brady.
John: Hey, welcome back to Green Is Good. We’re so thankful you’re listening today, and we’re so thankful to David Thompson for being our guest and talking about TVs and Panasonic, the great brand that he works for.
David, when we left for the break, we were going to come back and talk on the other side about some of the things that Panasonic is doing here in the United States and around the world. We were just talking about your commitment to your employees and how you bring them into the process of being green, so they could even feel more excited to make green products. Tell us about this new Eco House that you mentioned earlier and what does that really mean? And what does that mean for the consumers and the listeners out there?
Dave: Well, John, thank you. It means two things. I think, one, it’s an opportunity to showcase Panasonic products and technologies that we’re in the process of developing for a better environmental and sustainable lifestyle. And secondly, it’s an attempt to envision what a zero Co2 emission home life would look like. So if you look over time, for example, if you take 1990, which is a very important year in greenhouse gas emission discussions, baseline, and set that at 100. By the year 2009, we had reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 53% in this house through a combination of product, energy efficiency improvements, and then about another 10% through, I guess, insulation and building type of improvements. So those two developments have really netted us about 53% energy efficiency improvement, 43% from the products and then 10% from the installation.
Dave: We think that over the next few years, maybe 3, 4 years, we can get another 7% reduction through improvements to products, and 5% through additional building design types of activities, LED lighting, for example. So that would get us down to 35%. This improvement is based on a host of Panasonic products and energy efficient designs. But also that 35% still remains. This is what I’m really excited about. It is futuristic, but it is exciting to me. To get that last 35%, Panasonic is now in the process of introducing into the Japanese market, a home fuel cell. So this particular product would allow the homeowner to take natural gas from the city and create their own electricity in their own home in a much more efficient fashion that we’re currently doing through our distributed power generation systems.
John: That’s amazing.
Dave: If you look at distributed power generation, we lose a lot of that energy through the feeding sauce when we burn coal or oil, for example, and then when we transmit the power to individual homes. By the time that unit of energy that was burned to produce a unit of electricity gets to the home, you’re talking about maybe 35-40% is actually being realized as real electricity in the home.
John: So that’s not very efficient at all, David.
Dave: No. A lot of it is lost. A fuel cell concept brings that energy efficiency up to about 65 to 70%. So it’s an enormous improvement in the way we use energy.
Mike: It’s amazing too because the big talk right now in the automotive industry is about fuel cell technology. So I think people basically kind of get the concept of fuel cells, but to take it a step further to meet the energy needs of a typical household, that’s a great leap.
Dave: It is a truly unique product offering that we’re in the process of developing and testing right now.
John: Are you going to be the first to do this?
Dave: We’re a leader in the field. We’re not the only company but we are a leader in the field.
John: What you just said is fascinating for our listeners. And actually Mike and I are sitting here and our eyes are wide open. Is this how Panasonic usually does it? You test a new product in Japan first and then you bring it over here? Is that typical of what happens?
Dave: That’s typical of most companies, corporations. If you look at companies that are located around the world, they tend to have grown up in a certain area, whether it’s Europe or the [crosstalk] United States or Japan or China.
Dave: They tend to grow up. And in that process, nourish, develop in-house technical resources.
Dave: So I would say it’s a pretty fair statement that most companies really develop their newest technologies in their home market.
John: Yes, absolutely.
Dave: As they succeed, they figure out ways to enter the world market.
John: That’s fascinating. That’s wonderful. So the Eco House is something you’ve developed with your team, and you’re real excited about.
Dave: Yes, we are. And that’s not the whole story because it will have a solar cell component. A fuel cell doesn’t quite get us that last 35%. So this house will include a solar power generation component as well as a new lithium ion battery storage facility, so that any excess electricity that is generated can be stored and used at night.
John: When will that paradigm be set up, that our listeners will be able to look at online and see?
Dave: They can see information on this online right now.
John: Okay. Give our listeners where they could see it because that’s very important. Our listeners like to go and do that, look online at what our guests are talking about.
Dave: I’m going to struggle with that for just a second.
John: No worries. But all the green initiatives we’re talking about are going to be seen. Our listeners can go see at www.panasonic.net/eco/environment.
Dave: John, we can do a little bit better.
Dave: Sorry for the delay.
Mike: No worries.
John: No worries.
Dave: But it’s panasonic.co.jp/ecohouse. So panasonic.co.jp/ecohouse.
John: That’s amazing. And I’m sure our listeners are going to love to see that basically you’re saying they’re going to be looking into the future when they go look at what you’re doing with…
Dave: I believe they are.
John: That’s great. Good for you, David. So tell us now, in the United States, our listeners are so excited about hearing about recycling, because we all hear that we’re not supposed to throw out our cell phone or throw out our washer and dryer, that everything can be recycled now. Tell us about the status of television recycling and what Panasonic has done in that regard, and also the other large organization that you head up, the MRM organization. What are you doing with regards to electronic and television recycling in the United States?
Dave: Well, Panasonic has been a leader in that particular area, as have you, John. We have looked at the design of our products, tried to make them easier to recycle. If you look at our plasma TV lineup, think back in time a little bit and think about what you deal with every day at your recycling facility. A 36 inch CRT television contained about 3.5 kilograms of lead in the glass. Seven and a half pounds.
John: That’s right.
Dave: The first generation plasma television that we made contained about 70 grams of lead in the glass. So we went from 3500 grams, 3.5 kilograms to about 70. In 2007, we became the first TV maker to introduce a lead free plasma display panel and have gone literally from 3.5 kilograms of lead in the glass to about virtually zero. These new Panasonic Plasma TVs have about 2 grams of LED mainly in the electronics and solders.
Dave: So I think that that’s going to make these products much much easier to recycle in the future when they start coming into your facility.
John: Got it. And then how can the listeners across the United States avail themselves of what recycling programs you’ve worked so hard to set up?
Dave: Recently, Panasonic along with Sharp and Toshiba established a joint venture company called MRM. And you were very kind to introduce that earlier. It was established as a platform for manufacturers to collaborate in developing and offering, hopefully, ever increasingly convenient recycling programs to consumers in the United States. We started out in Minnesota. We’re now working in Oregon and really across the country, with several different manufacturers. We are now offering about 310 drop-off sites across the country that are supported by several manufacturers. People who have an opportunity can go to mrmrecycling.com.
Dave: Click on the map of the United States that you’ll find there and then hopefully find a recycling location that’s convenient to them near their home. But we’re looking forward to continuing to work with the recycling community and expand this program to offer what will be a comprehensive and convenient recycling program for U.S. citizens, where citizens can be assured that these products will be collected and recycled safely.
John: That is just so commendable. Really, our hats are off to you because this is so important. The more that we recycle in this country and the more that we bring the public and the residents of this country into being part of the solution that you’ve worked so hard to set up, I think it makes everyone feel great about living in this country and preserving the environment and being part of the solution, instead of just being blamed for doing the wrong thing. I think consumers are excited to actually have a call to action. And what you’re doing with MRM is definitely giving them the opportunity to be part of the solution. So David, hats off to you and Panasonic, and to the other great brands that have joined in with what you’re doing. Let’s talk about consumer demand. You’ve been with Panasonic for twenty-four years and you’ve been running the environmental division since ’95. What have you seen in the shifts in consumer demand based upon now the high visibility of the environment and the Green Revolution? What does that mean for Panasonic and how you make new products? And also energy efficiency because energy is such a critical issue. How does that consumer demand drive what you’re doing?
Dave: It means light weighting products. It means making them more recyclable, less hazardous, as we’ve talked about.
Dave: And finally, it means making products that are more energy efficient. We’ve talked a little bit about plasma televisions. I’d like to continue in that vein.
Dave: TVs currently consume about 4 to 5% of a home’s electricity usage.
Dave: And as we move to larger and larger televisions, we recognize that those power consumption needs are going to increase over time. You’re going to get much much more of a picture for this power consumption. But with larger and larger sets coming into the homes, our consumption will likely increase over time. We have been very focused on how we can redesign these products so that they’re more energy efficient. And I’m pleased to tell you and everyone that’s listening that our 2009 lineup of plasma television models are about 30 to 50% more energy efficient than products that were used just a couple of years ago.
Dave: For example, a 42 inch plasma TV, Panasonic plasma, now consumes just about 173 watts on average. And if you were to watch this TV for five hours per day and you think about your average cost of electricity nationwide, which is about 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour, consumers watching a 42 inch plasma TV for five hours per day, would spend about 10 cents on a daily basis to meet the energy needs for that particular television viewing experience. And when you think about it…
John: 10 cents. That sounds like a good bargain to me.
Mike: No kidding.
Dave: Sounds like a bargain for a display that is high definition, handles motion, fast motion, fantastically and gives you more and more colors than you’ve probably ever imagined seeing. It’s a beautiful picture in this industry, and Panasonic has been able to bring it to consumers across the United States.
John: Well, I know because I’ve listened to you many times before in public settings, and when it comes to energy, Panasonic is definitely a leader in the industry. Haven’t won the ENERGY STAR Award 7 years in a row or something like that?
Dave: Yes, we have been recognized by EPA for 7 consecutive years. And I think we were the only consumer electronics product manufacturer to be so honored. It was a great pleasure to work with them in that particular capacity.
John: And David, we have about a minute left for our listeners. I want you to wrap up with anything you want to share with them, with regards to the greening of the United States and the world, with regards to Panasonic. Go ahead. I want you to share any last pearls of wisdom to our listeners before we’ve got to wrap up here.
Dave: Thank you, John. I hope this conversation has demonstrated the commitment that we have to environmental stewardship, and has given your listeners information on many, many activities that we’ve undertaken to both improve energy efficiency, to eliminate, reduce hazardous materials that are contained in these products, to design them so that they will be easier to recycle in the future, and to then show people how they can be recycled to play a positive role in actually getting them recycled. We are trying to envision a new lifestyle where our home lives will be rich and abundant, as well as energy efficient. I guess, in closing, I would just say that manufacturers are stepping up to address environmental concerns that people have made known over time. And we would hope that that would be recognized by our environmental and regulatory community as we move forward into the future.
John: Well, David, you are such a wonderful and gracious guest. Mike and I are so thankful for your time today. We know how busy you are. And you’ve again proven that not only does Panasonic talk the green talk, but Panasonic walks the green walk. It’s part of Panasonic’s DNA.
David Thompson, thanks for being our guest today and you are living proof that green is good.
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