March 31, 2004



Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.19 (March 2004)
Staff writer Kazunori Kobayashi

Japan disposes of some 400 million tons of industrial waste annually (3 tons per capita), of which about half is recycled. The country faces serious problems, however, with rampant illegal dumping, and the remaining disposal sites are said predicted to be filled to capacity in 3.9 years (as of April 2001). With the dwindling capacity of disposal sites, the cost of disposing industrial waste is soaring and becoming a headache for many companies. In this context, one firm is showing the way by advocating "appropriate production" systems that produce in just the right quantity for the market and by recycling resources, as an alternative to mass production and mass disposal. AMITA CORPORATION is a provider of environment-conscious solutions and has been at the forefront of the resource-recycling business in Japan for the past 25 years. The company was founded in the 1970s with the aim of creating a recycling-based society, at a time when industrial pollution emerged as a major social issue here. AMITA has developed its core business around resource recycling, achieving sales turnover of 4.6 billion yen (U.S.$43 million) in 2002 with just 64 employees.

In 2001, one of AMITA's business areas received the Good Design Award for establishing a "recycling supply chain" that incorporates recycled resources into production processes. This award, issued by JIDPO (Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization), is unique in Japan as a comprehensive design evaluation and award that judges not only on the basis of "beauty of form," but also "good quality," "safety," "functionality," and "consideration for the usage environment." In this issue we bring to you the activities of AMITA, and its efforts to create a sustainable society through its main business operations.

An "Environmental Platform" for recycling waste as derivative products

AMITA initially started with the resource recycling business. It saw industrial waste as a resource, and began recycling in its plants in order to resell them. AMITA developed technologies and recycling channels. For instance, alternative fuel was made from fluid waste that was previously being disposed such as waste oil and oily sludge, and cement materials from solid waste including oily sludge, sludge, soot and dust.

In the course of recycling industrial waste, the company found that there were two important aspects to consider. The first was the supplier side, which needed to secure recycling channels that could provide the best disposal service at appropriate prices. The other was the demand side, which needed to purchase safe recycled materials, at low cost, and with stable supply. To fulfill these two needs simultaneously, the company promoted broad-based alliances with both sides of the equation, and set up an "environmental platform" that brought together the production plants and an information network covering the needs of both sides. Through this platform, the now company recycles about 4,000 types of waste, including disposed plastics, alkaline, and glass. Its recycling operations support the overall recycling activities of companies and government, handling about 600,000 tons of industrial waste annually, and helping to improve the recycling efficiency and cost-cutting of more than 1,000 firms.

Transformation from a Waste Market to Environmental and Recycling-Based Society Markets

That is the story of how AMITA developed the waste market starting in the 1970s. Meanwhile, with the strengthening of regulations in recent years and the rapid increase of companies introducing ISO environmental management systems, a so-called "environmental market" has emerged in Japan. The company foresaw the growth potential of this market and was ready to provide two major "environmental risk management" services to reduce corporate risk to its customers. One is the "verification agent" service, which helps companies reduce risks by ensuring that waste disposal tasks are conducted properly--if not done properly, illegal dumping and improper waste disposal by waste disposers can result in companies paying high penalties or suffering damage to the corporate image. The other service is the "recycling-assurance product service" to ensure at a product's point of sale that it will be recycled. Eisuke Kumano, the founder and president of AMITA CORPORATION, believes that a larger market for recycling-based society will emerge after 2010 and he has started to develop the Recycling-Based Society Management project targeting this market.

One such initiative involves efforts to revitalize the Keihin Waterfront Manufacturing Area in Kawasaki, which used to be a symbol of pollution problems, into an eco-friendly industrial community. AMITA and the Kanagawa prefectural government are jointly calling on 16 companies, including JFE Holdings Inc., Orix Corporation, Nomura Research Institute, Ltd., Kokuyo Co. Ltd, and Ebara Corporation., to establish a project taking advantage of processing and production technologies developed by local manufacturing businesses that are concentrated around the waterfront area. Two recycling-oriented projects have already started to get in operation. One is the Eco-Design Project to use recycled materials for developing and marketing well-designed furniture and office equipment with reusable parts and materials after the end of the product's life. The other is the Refurbish and Meister Training Project. The project consists of two parts: refurbishing used industrial products such as personal computers to reduce environmental impacts, coupled with value-added by redesigning the products to sell; and training human resources, or "meisters," for the repair and recycling of the products. For example, a used car can be sold with added value, after being upgraded to comply with the latest Japanese or overseas vehicle emission standards to reduce environmental impacts, and the body redesigned to suit the customer's preference.

AMITA also is participating in practical testing of a decentralized energy supply system with alternative energy sources in Kyoto. This project is cosponsored by an independent organization, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), and joined by Kyoto Prefecture, Yasaka Town (the town will be merged into Kyotango City in April 2004), and five private corporations. The project is to conduct research and development of a stable power supply system that is adjusted to meet demand, combining renewable energies such as wind and solar power with new energy sources such as bio-gas power generation and fuel cell or secondary storage batteries. The group aims to establish a power supply system over the five years from 2003 to 2007 to meet the energy demand of the local city offices and hospitals in a stable and adequate way, by setting up power equipment that can generate a total of 850 kilowatts. AMITA is to engage in the procurement, management and operation of bio-gas power generation.

Creating Solidarity in Industry

The company may appear to be launching different projects, but all pursue the same goal of establishing a true environmental business by putting the needs into tangible form with combined expertise and creating solidarity. Mr. Kumano says, "We used to have solidarity in industry. In traditional Japanese society, work had two aspects--'making money' and 'contributing to the community.' No matter how much a person earned, he was considered incomplete if he was not able to contribute to his community, for instance, by helping build and repair public structures such as temples and roads. A wise person knew that active involvement in the community would also increase one's earnings." He adds, "People back then developed the economy within their living environment. When winter came, a grandfather would often tell his grandchild to go gathering firewood on mountain and he always said, 'Don't take too much, or the mountain god will get angry.' People knew that the economic functions would be ruined if the living environment was ruined."

Mr. Kumano goes on. "A grandfather in an industrialized society may collect a lot of firewood by himself and show it off to his grandchild. When the living environment and economic functions are separated, people are not so concerned to see mountains that have no connection with their lives devastated. People lose a sense of solidarity in an over-industrialized society. They stop helping each other, and consequently, lose trust in society. Is it so difficult to develop a society of solidarity and trust? It was possible in the past." "To bring back the solidarity and build a trust-based society, we can try to establish a system in which the living environment and economic functions are well balanced. For instance, by optimizing the use of renewable energy sources in the living environment, such as wind, solar power and biomass, and by building a lifestyle and economy based on the capacity of the energy sources, people may be able to enhance their solidarity with nature. At the same time, it is essential to establish resource-recycling systems in order to be resource-independent. Conventional models of industrialized society, based on mass production, mass consumption and mass recycling, will not create that solidarity. We need a fundamental change in our value--from just recycling unneeded things to making things recyclable right from the start."

Industrialization has helped building a materialistic civilization in which contentment comes with possession. In the twenty-first century, however, we need to establish a more spiritual civilization in which contentment comes with use. This is where Mr. Kumano thinks that Eastern values can play a major role. "Japan has a history of placing value in what is called 'shogyomujo,' (meaning 'all is vanity,' things always change and nothing stays the same), a teaching of avoiding attachment to anything, being sensitive to nature, and 'wabi' and 'sabi,' as the true spiritual satisfaction." AMITA CORPORATION is run on the principle that spirituality is part of "software," and combines it with "hardware" to continue its efforts to design a self-sufficient industrial model.