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What kind of impact have the Eco Navi appliances had on the market, and how do consumers feel about them?
This discussion covered these points from the viewpoints of both the manufacturers who are developing the products and the consumers who use them. Yukio Nakashima, Director, Home Appliances and Wellness Products Marketing Division, Panasonic Corporation
Ms. Tamiyo Kusakari, Advertising Character of Eco Navi, Consumer representative
Ms. Ayako Sonoda, President, Cre-en Inc. October 7, 2010
Nakashima: Panasonic is trying to lead the fierce energy-savings competition with our Eco Navi appliances. The appliances actually adapt themselves to each person's lifestyle and usage to provide ecological operation. Their effects have been verified under a variety of situations, and they all went on sale in September 2009. An "Eco Navi Endorsement Campaign" began at the same time, and the new products achieved a 72.3% public awareness rate in only two months. We received endorsements from 150,000 people. Sales hit close to the 4-million-unit mark in a single year. Furthermore, in 2010, Nikkei Business Publications announced that Eco Navi had reached the No. 1 position in its "2010 Environmental Brand Survey," which was another first for Panasonic.
We're also holding a campaign in which Panasonic plants one tree for each Eco Navi appliance sold. In collaboration with an NGO, we have planted trees in 43 countries altogether, including Norway, Malaysia, Kenya and Japan. We're aiming to plant a total of 5 million trees by 2012. This is a new approach to unify the development and sales of energy-saving home appliances with a social contribution program.
Sonoda: Ms. Kusakari, I understand you appeared in a TV commercial for an Eco Navi refrigerator. I'd like to know what that was like.
Kusakari: Well, the purpose of the commercial was for me to tell people what it's like to use the refrigerator in my own words, so I had several discussions with the director in advance to decide what I'd say.
Sonoda: Would you tell us your impression of using an Eco Navi appliance?
Kusakari: Actually, before it was decided that I'd appear in the commercial, I had bought a washing machine with Eco Navi functions. This was because a salesman at the appliance store gave me an explanation of Eco Navi. So now I'm also using an Eco Navi refrigerator. With an ordinary refrigerator, it's difficult to tell when it's saving energy by just looking at it. The Eco Navi refrigerator has a function that prevents over-chilling during the times, like at night, when people aren't frequently opening and closing it. As soon as I heard that explanation, my environmental awareness started to bloom.
Sonoda: Mr. Nakashima, I'd like to ask you about some of the challenges and creative solutions that you've experienced as a development engineer.
Nakashima: The energy-savings competition for refrigerators and air conditioners is especially severe because they use the most power of all home appliances. The power consumption of Panasonic air conditioners has already been reduced to a fraction of what it was 10 years ago. So lowering it even more was extremely difficult. For example, in order to add a function that allows a living room air conditioner to detect people's movements and things that obstruct the airflow, like a sofa or a TV, and adjust the temperature and airflow accordingly, we had to conduct verification testing by installing surveillance cameras in the homes of people who had a variety of different lifestyles. We do this kind of lifestyle research on a massive scale.
Sonoda: Can you share some of the customers' feelings?
Nakashima: Sure, they say things like the running cost for their refrigerator has become unbelievably low. Also, whereas many people used to think that environmental problems were for others to solve, they now realize that these problems are closer to home. A friend of mine was previously opening and closing her refrigerator frequently. Now she says that, since she started using an Eco Navi refrigerator that saves energy especially at night, she tells herself, "It's saving energy for me right now," and this encourages her to not open and close the refrigerator door so much at night. She also said that she installed new lights that turn themselves off when nobody is in the kitchen.
Kusakari: The thing about ecology is that, it's a difficult thing to put into action unless you have a fairly strong awareness of it. What I think is good about Eco Navi appliances is the fact that just living each day surrounding by ecological things makes me aware of how important it is to be ecologically careful. I was very impressed when I was buying a washing machine and the fellow at the store explained how the machine adjusts the amount of water it uses to match the level of soiling in the clothes.
Sonoda: What is it about the Eco Navi concept that has made it such a marketing success?
Nakashima: First of all, product development for the Eco Navi appliances was a unified effort by the Marketing Division and the development and operational business units. Second, in order to add value, we set the hurdles for our own performance criteria very high for deciding the details of our sensor controls and the level for lowering power consumption. The idea of carefully nurturing the Eco Navi concept took on an authority of its own within the company. And third, in order to increase public approval, we linked the development to a social contribution activity. We believe that linking Eco Navi to tree-planting made it possible to receive endorsements from 150,000 people and reach the 4-million-unit sales mark.
Kusakari: The washing machine that I bought was linked to tree-planting in Malaysia. One tree would be planted for the purchase of one home appliance. It made me feel closer to people in other countries and regions.
Nakashima: The campaign to plant one tree for each home appliance purchase itself began in 2007. We added Eco Navi appliances to the campaign in 2009. Next, we're thinking about planting the same number of trees as the number of people who participate in certain events, without even purchasing a product. A variety of companies and organizations are sponsoring tree-planting activities, but the thing that makes Panasonic unique is that we are doing it through eco schools in countries and regions around the world. The NGO that we are working with, the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), is highly acclaimed for combining its tree-planting work with environmental education for children.
Sonoda: I'd like to ask about Panasonic's global strategy for Eco Navi appliances.
Nakashima: Panasonic offers a wide range of products all over the world. The functions that are demanded in kitchen appliances differ due to different lifestyles, so it isn't possible to market the exact same product globally. For this reason, Eco Navi appliances are presently marketed only in Japan, but we believe that a product range based on this concept will appeal to other countries as well. From now on, we'll be conducting lifestyle research around the world, and this should lead us toward a new stage of development.
Sonoda: Could you tell us briefly about the Green Plan 2018 environmental action plan?
Nakashima: Green Plan 2018 has become a kind of bible for Panasonic employees. All employees are working to turn Panasonic into a Green Innovation Company. For example, the Panasonic Home Appliance Company in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, is experimenting with the idea of running its company buses with cooking oils that have been discarded by the cafeteria and employee homes. We're trying everything we can think of, one idea at a time.
Sonoda: Ms. Kusakari, could you tell us what you're hoping to see from Panasonic in the future?
Kusakari: I certainly hope that they'll continue to develop products that take our natural resources into careful consideration, and that they'll keep doing things like planting trees. The way that we're made more aware by the appliances that we use each day makes me feel like we've really entered a new era. In turn, this will make it possible for people to completely change their lifestyles.
Nakashima: Several years ago, it seemed like the idea of living a lifestyle that took ecological activities and the environment into consideration was something that only a small number of highly aware people were doing. Today, all kinds of people are doing it with ease. I hope everyone will give it a try in one form or another.