Exchanging Ideas with Experts (Respecting Biodiversity)

Exchanging Ideas with Experts (Respecting Biodiversity)

To strengthen and promote the Company's initiatives to respect biodiversity, we established the Mitsubishi Electric Group Biodiversity Action Guidelines and created a chart to help people understand the impact and consequences of our business activities on biodiversity. We are also considering whether or not it would be appropriate to establish special indices that numerically evaluate product environmental performance, the impact of the supply chain and other activities. We invited Ryo Kohsaka, Associate Professor at Nagoya City University and advisor to the executive committee of the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10), to exchange ideas with respect to these initiatives. The following is an overview of our discussion with Mr. Kohsaka.

photo: Exchanging Ideas with Experts

Activities Are Based on Feelings, and upon those Are Actions Based on Logic

Mr. Kohsaka: I would like say something before discussion begins. I believe there are two levels from which we can approach the preservation of biodiversity.

The first level is feelings, the feeling of being connected to other living things. Many people feel that living things are cute or that they should be taken care of or protected. These feelings link us to these living things. The feeling that living things should be taken care of is itself a first step toward respecting biodiversity. Starting out with an awareness of these feelings will result in a much deeper understanding of the need to reduce CO2 and waste.

The second level is logic. We objectively recognize that businesses and everyday people receive various benefits from the ecosystem, and at the same time business and people impact the ecosystem in various ways. Based on this awareness, changing our actions on a person-by-person basis is linked to highly effective activities. It is from these two perspectives that I want to discuss the many initiatives you are engaged in here at Mitsubishi Electric.

Advice on the Mitsubishi Electric Group Biodiversity Action Guidelines

Mitsubishi Electric: We are currently formulating biodiversity action guidelines. What advice can you give us?

Mr. Kohsaka: The basic principles of management, actions and business contributions proposed in your plan represent the basic elements necessary for corporate biodiversity initiatives, and I think you are headed in the right direction. In particular, I commend you highly for your actions in terms of fostering environmental awareness and communicating the importance of protecting the ecosystem. These actions reflect feeling, which is the basis of respecting biodiversity.

Taking this idea a step further, I think it would be even better to promote these activities with the cooperation of regional communities. The cooperation of knowledgeable specialists and local citizens is indispensible to understanding the impact of your efforts on biodiversity. Based on your guidelines, for example, collaboration with an NPO engaged in environmental protection in each region would be a good way develop a solid base for regional activities.

Advice Regarding the "Impact on Biodiversity" Chart

Mitsubishi Electric: We are in the process of creating a chart entitled "Relationship between Business Activities and Biodiversity". What advice can you give us?

Mr. Kohsaka: I think looking at the overall relationship between business activities and biodiversity is an excellent idea. However, looking at the basic chart, it appears that you have given equal weight to the procurement, design & production, shipping & sales, use & storage and recycle & product waste stages of the lifecycle. You should probably give more weight to raw materials procurement in the manufacturing supply chain. The reason is because many people are concerned about the kinds of materials products are made from, and how they might impact biodiversity. This has to do with the feelings I mentioned previously.

For example, if you asked the average person how they would want Mitsubishi Electric to contribute to environmental conservation, they would probably say that they want you to make products that don't use a lot of electricity. However, if you asked the same question in respect to biodiversity, I think they would say that they want you to carefully consider materials procurement. This is because their image of Mitsubishi Electric is a large corporation that manufactures products from materials and resources procured from around the world. Manufacturers place a lot of emphasis on design and production when considering biodiversity, but the average person approaches this issue from a logical level. It is important that actual activities begin at the feeling level in order to create understanding.

Supply Chain Considerations

Mitsubishi Electric: With respect to the supply chain, specifically, the acquisition of resources and materials, how far back do we need to go in considering impact on the ecosystem?

Mr. Kohsaka: All products have parts that are interconnected with the ecosystem. The questions of how far back you should go and what actions you should take are critical, but I think a visual awareness that our lifestyles have an impact in this area on the environment in other countries is an important first step.

Using the paper industry as an example, many European companies have their own forests and they use wood from their own trees, making the connection easy to see. With Japanese companies, that connection is difficult to see. However, with the destruction of ecosystems in various places around the world, there are definitely connections with the activities of Japanese companies. It is important that we understand the limits and impact of those connections.

One other perspective, the contribution to other people, is important. This is missing from discussions about biodiversity across the globe. Although we have protections for orangutans and gorillas, little thought is given to the people who live in those same areas. However, education, hygiene and poverty levels are all an extremely important element of respecting biodiversity. When these conditions worsen, slash and burn and other detrimental types of farming have a higher probability of occurring. It is important to view contributions to biodiversity as critical to providing a stable and sustainable lifestyle to people in these regions.

Regarding the Establishment of Numerical Indices

Mitsubishi Electric: Do you think indices quantifying life cycle assessment* and voluntary standards are effective for respecting biodiversity?

Mr. Kohsaka: It is easy for companies to promote initiatives when they are represented numerically in indices, and I think it is an effective method in terms of creating objectives and measuring improvements. However, there are more than a few cases where the creation of indices is actually done simply as a means of disclosure. At present, there are various indices created by various countries, and I think these should be viewed with caution. Also, with respect to individual indices, there is a possibility that only certain numbers are presented. I don't think this type of activity is an appropriate methodology. For example, by focusing only on the reduction of CO2, the degree to which resources are being used effectively might get ignored. I think it is necessary to position the various activities from the perspective of sustainable corporate management.

For this reason, I don't believe it is necessary to create more indices in support of biodiversity initiatives. Indices established for improvement efforts toward the creation of a low-carbon society are frequently a plus for biodiversity. Rather than creating a new index, I think it is more important, for example, to conduct manufacturing with consideration for the impact of resource extraction.

  • * Life cycle assessment is a method of quantitatively and comprehensively evaluating a product's environmental impact as it passes through the product lifecycle, from resource extraction, design, production, shipping to use and disposal.

Expectation for Mitsubishi Electric

Mitsubishi Electric: What are your expectations for us in terms of realizing a sustainable society?

Mr. Kohsaka: The top page on your [Japanese] corporate website uses photographs from The Beauty of Nature taken by Mitsuaki Iwago, and conveying the beauty of nature to the visitors to your website is a highly effective means of inculcating positive feelings about biodiversity. I think the next step will be critical in terms of how you will connect that feeling to the next level, which is logic. I think making that connection successfully is both an action item and an opportunity for Mitsubishi Electric.

For example, if you do create an index, making the objectives clear both within and outside the company, employees and consumers alike will see the link between your corporate activities and biodiversity. I would like to see you promote initiatives that make people aware of your efforts in this area. On this point, your strength lies in making products with a wide range of everyday uses. I hope that you will maximize on this strength and lead Japan in biodiversity-related efforts.

Idea Exchange Participants


photo: Ryo Kohsaka

Ryo Kohsaka

Associate Professor, Nagoya City University

Executive Committee Advisor, The 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) Guest Researcher, United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation

  • photo: Michio Hiruta

    Michio Hiruta
    General Manager,
    Corporate Environmental Sustainability Group

  • photo: Kanji Ota (Energy-Saving Specialist)

    Kanji Ota (Energy-Saving Specialist)
    Chief Engineer,
    Corporate Environmental Sustainability Group

  • photo: Motohiro Tanaka (Eco-Design Products Specialist)

    Motohiro Tanaka (Eco-Design Products Specialist)
    Strategic Planning,
    Corporate Environmental Sustainability Group

  • photo: Hiroko Higuma (Chemical Substance Regulations Specialist)

    Hiroko Higuma (Chemical Substance Regulations Specialist)
    Strategic Planning,
    Corporate Environmental Sustainability Group

  • photo: Yasuro Toba (Procurement Specialist)

    Yasuro Toba (Procurement Specialist)
    Planning Group,
    Corporate Purchasing Division

  • photo: Junko Tawada (Social Contribution Specialist)

    Junko Tawada (Social Contribution Specialist)
    Philanthropy Promotion Section,
    Corporate Administration Division

After the Idea Exchange Meeting

photo: Michio Hiruta

Michio Hiruta
General Manager,
Corporate Environmental Sustainability Group

From a corporate perspective, biodiversity is a difficult topic to grasp. We of course understand its importance, but how to go about addressing it was a bit elusive until our meeting with Dr. Kohsaka. Thanks to his insight and ideas, we have a deeper understanding of biodiversity. It is very helpful to understand the two levels of initiatives in respecting biodiversity, and how to apply them to our own activities.

The Mitsubishi Electric Group aims to foster environmental awareness among all employees through initiatives such as the Mitsubishi Electric Outdoor Classroom and woodland preservation activities, and recognizes the importance of feeling with respect to all living things. Also, through making the link between business activities and the ecosystem more visible, we felt that it is possible to help each employee better understand our activities focused on creating a low-carbon and recycling-based society as promoted by Environmental Vision 2021; this is an important step in helping each employee change their actions.

We will take Dr. Kohsaka's ideas to heart and continue to promote Mitsubishi Electric Group initiatives to respect biodiversity.