In the year when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is finalizing its most somber assessment report yet, voices expressing concerns for the future of the natural environment are growing louder. The reasons are not hard to find. Growing cities, already home to over half the global population, are placing immense stresses on everything from transport to water supply and air quality; demand for energy is growing at a faster rate than ever, and with it greenhouse gas emissions; and changing weather patterns appear to be generating more powerful, dangerous, and more frequent typhoons and hurricanes.
Many of the problems we face are man-made, and their solutions must also come from us. We need to channel our ingenuity into creating a better future, and a better environment.
Toshiba is taking on this challenge. In the words of Hisao Tanaka, its president and CEO, “We aim to become one of the world’s foremost eco-companies…by integrating business management and environmental management.” This is no new posture for the company. Toshiba has promoted voluntary in-house environmental plans since 1993, and the current fifth plan runs to 2015. Each version takes the company closer towards reaching the targets of its Environmental Vision 2050: improving product eco-efficiency by a factor of 10 against 2000, for a world where people live affluent lifestyles in harmony with the Earth.
A good benchmark of the progress Toshiba is making is the company’s annual Environmental Exhibition at its Tokyo headquarters. This year’s was held at the end of August, and was a potent reminder that the company’s stated goal of being an “eco-leading company” is no idle target. In all areas of business, from large products to small, in all sorts of ways, Toshiba is proposing environmental innovations and solutions.
That was immediately clear in the Energy space, the first exhibition area, and an eye-catching display of an advanced ultra super critical thermal plant. The latest technology and components ensure that an 800-megawatt plant operates with 14% more efficiency than today’s sub-critical plants, cutting CO2 emissions by 540,000 tons a year. Other technologies featured in the space included residential photovoltaic systems offering the world’s highest energy conversion efficiency, and a CO2 capture and utilization system that can capture CO2 from incinerator flue gases and use it as a biomass resource.
In all there were 50 products and technologies on display in six areas: Energy, Community Solutions, Lifestyles, Healthcare, Electronic Components and Storage. Twenty of them were what Toshiba calls “Excellent ECP”, Excellent Environmentally Conscious Products—and that doesn’t simply mean they are something the company takes pride in. Excellent ECP’s are benchmarked not just against industry standards, but the very best products in the market, and to get the coveted Excellent ECP label have to be the best-of-the-best in environmental performance. As a result, any utility company using Toshiba’s 72/84kV solid insulated switchgear can be confident that it completely eliminates sulfur hexafluoride, a greenhouse gas nearly 24,000 times as strong as carbon dioxide. And the customer buying an RAS-402GDR room air-conditioner knows that it not only costs one yen an hour to run, about a cent, it can also capture invisible PM2.5 particles that cause respiratory ailments. No wonder it won the Green Technology Award at nano tech 2014.
Just a short look at all of the exhibits required at least an hour, and really getting to grips with it much longer, so it is impossible to describe all them all. To offer a brief sampling: there was the Smart BEMS (building energy management system) that has cut CO2 emissions from Toshiba’s Smart Community Center Building by 54%; residential heat pumps that make electric water heaters obsolete; advances in radar technologies, including breakthrough phased-array weather radars; Cyclone vacuum cleaners that uses 52% less energy; environmentally and cost efficient installation of medical equipment; power semiconductors that improve the performance of hybrid and electric vehicles; cloud storage systems that are smaller, cost less and consume less power; and a digitized learning management system that not allows anytime study but significantly reduces the cost and environmental loads of employee training. It was a display of products, systems and processes that are contributing to a better environment.
What was impressive was the depth of thought and detail that goes into all the products, and how small changes can make a big difference. For example, for a combination microwave and high temperature steam oven, the main concern is obvious, to cut energy consumption. Toshiba achieves that with a high efficiency microwave magnetron and design improvements, but doesn’t stop there. The oven also has an internal nanoparticle ceramic coating that is highly stain resistant, reducing the need for detergents and solvents that are used in cleaning—and that then go down the drain and into the water supply.
The same attention to detail could be seen in packaging for printed circuit boards. Once made, PCBs have to be transported to the plant, and the usual way of doing it is in antistatic sacks in one of various sized cardboard boxes, which have a life of 10 journeys before disposal. The plastic boxes that have replaced them are adjustable and much tougher, with a three-year life. In fiscal year 2013, they also cut waste by 54.4 tons a year, and saved the equivalent of $815,000.
The final section of the exhibition was not about technologies or products, but how Toshiba’s companies and production facilities, and their employees, are promoting biodiversity and volunteerism. For example, at the Himeji semiconductor plant, efforts are being made to protect an endangered fish and to cultivate an endangered plant, while Kaga Toshiba sponsors “Kaga Toshiba Forest”, a sanctuary where people can experience nature for themselves. In Vietnam, Toshiba Industrial Products Asia Co. Ltd. gets people involved through diverse activities, including a slogan competition. It was a fitting close to the exhibition, a strong reminder that people, all of use, are the ultimate guardians of the environment.