August 25, 2009


Water Sustainability: Suntory Group's "Bringing Water to Life" Activities

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.83 (July 2009)
"Towards a Sustainable Japan -- Corporations at Work" (No. 81)

The Suntory Group's corporate message "Suntory, Bringing Water to Life" and the company's water-blue corporate mark, in pale-blue color, inspire a clear and vivid image of the company as being fresh and refreshing. For the Group, especially, water is indispensable for beer, whisky, Chinese tea, and other beverage product lines.

Since its foundation in 1899, Suntory has been renowned for its Akadama Port Wine (renamed Akadama Sweet Wine), and as the first company to sell an authentic whisky made in Japan. The Group's motto, "Yatte Minahare" (Go For It!), by founder Shinjiro Torii, expresses their willingness to constantly take on new challenges. Now, in 2009, Suntory reaches its 110th anniversary, and that spirit has been carried on to this day.

In 1989, Suntory adopted "Resonating with People and Nature" as its corporate philosophy, and in 2005, the Group created the message "Suntory, Bringing Water to Life" to share it widely with society. This corporate message also expresses the Suntory Group's determination to "live in harmony with nature while protecting water," to "serve as a source of water nourishing society," and to "challenge new themes with the flexibility and dynamics of water, cooperating with employees."

On top of these, Suntory focuses especially on living in harmony with nature while protecting water, as it considers addressing environmental issues as the main pillar of its businesses. Its major themes are to bring water sustainability to reality, to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, to protect biodiversity, and to convey the importance of the natural environment to the next generations.

Aiming for Water Sustainability

In 2003, Suntory initiated a water source protection program entitled "Natural Water Sanctuary Project," with the aim of maintaining sustainable natural water sources. It has been promoting the project mainly in the water source areas of its plants, in collaboration with national and local governments.

Kenji Naiki, director of the CSR Promotion Division of Suntory Holdings, says, "It is not enough to make good use of precious water, the source material for our products. We consider it important to pay attention to the whole cycle of water, as it evaporates from the oceans, falls on the earth, flows in rivers and underground, and then pours back into the sea. We think of the beverage business as being part of this cycle, and it is one of our corporate social responsibilities to protect river headwaters as well as downstream areas." When Suntory began to recognize this circulation of water, a new phrase "water sustainability" was created, following the Group's message "Bring Water to Life."

Since launching the first Natural Water Sanctuary Project in the southern area of Mt. Aso in 2003, the Group has expanded the project to nine locations in eight prefectures, including the Minami Alps in Yamanashi, Akagi and Mt. Komochiyama in Gunma, Mt. Ten'no-zan in Osaka and Kyoto, Nishiyama in Kyoto, and Okudaisen in Tottori.

For example, Okudaisen, in Tottori Prefecture, where a new plant started operation in March 2008, is the third production base of "Suntory Natural Mineral Water," following the southern area of Mt. Aso and the Minami Alps. The plant is located near Daisen-Oki National Park, where Suntory is enhancing 147 hectares of forest around its water sources, jointly with national and prefectural governments and local communities. Okudaisen is one of the few areas in western Japan with heavy snowfalls on vast beech forests, conditions that result in clean and cold natural water rich in mineral content deep underground.

"The Natural Water Sanctuary Project aims to conserve a forest that can recharge the groundwater with more water than we use in our factory," says Masamitsu Takaya, executive general manager of the Environmental Affairs Department of Suntory Business Expert Ltd. "In 2008, we expanded the area of forest in Hakushu, the Minami Alps, from 29 to 209 hectares and the forest in Akagi from 10 to 1,310 hectares. We plan to expand the area of our Natural Water Sanctuary to 7,000 hectares (fourfold the present size) nationwide by 2011." Although it will take 30 to 50 years before Suntory's efforts fully bear fruit, it is steadily going forward to realize water sustainability.

Initiatives to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The Suntory Group set a target of decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from its corporate activities nationwide by 20 percent by 2012 compared to the 2007 level. To realize the target, each division set an agenda to cut CO2 emitted through all supply chain activities, from product development and manufacturing to distribution and sales.

The company is introducing a variety of new environmental technologies, particularly in the production division. It generates its own electricity using natural gas as fuel, and employs cogeneration technology (combined heat and power), which simultaneously uses waste heat generated during the process. This enhances its energy efficiency by up to 70 to 80 percent, mitigating 20 to 30 percent of CO2 emissions. Suntory had also introduced city gas and liquefied natural gas, which emits less CO2 per unit of heat than heavy oil, to all of its major plants by 2008, eliminating 5,600 tons of CO2 emissions a year. It also promotes clean energy such as wind, solar, and micro-hydro generation.

One of the company's more unique approaches used in heavy snow areas is the utilization of snow storage houses. At the Suntory Group's Iwanohara Vineyard in Niigata Prefecture, a snow storage house was built in 1898 in winter to control temperatures for wine fermentation and storage. It was rebuilt in 2009. At its Okudaisen Bunano-Mori Factory, where snowfall reaches a depth of one to three meters, a snow storage house was built based on the design of the one at the Iwanohara Vineyard. It provides water at a cool seven degrees Celsius, for air conditioning and cooling the production facilities, thereby eliminating 10 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

As for containers, Suntory is not only promoting the use of lightweight plastic bottles, but also testing a commercial version of a transparent film package called "Eco Clear Package," which can secure six two-liter plastic bottles of its Suntory Natural Mineral Water, to replace conventional cardboard boxes. The company is striving to reduce a large amount of CO2 emissions through the cumulative effects of these small efforts.

Another initiative is Suntory's "midorie" environmental greening business, launched in 2008. Suntory Midorie Ltd., a Group company, deals in rooftop and wall-surface greening systems, called "green roofs" and "flower walls," respectively. Instead of soil, these systems use "Puffcal," a sponge-like soil substitute developed by the company. It allows rooftop greenery to be installed on buildings that cannot bear greater weight loads of soil. Roof and wall greening is expected to alleviate the heat-island phenomenon and also to (excessive urban heating by heat build-up in cities) serve as insulation for buildings.

Biodiversity Conservation and Environmental Education

Amid growing interest in biodiversity conservation in recent years, the Suntory Group believes that protecting healthy ecosystems is one of its major responsibilities. Before building a new factory, Suntory assesses and analyzes impacts on ecosystems in and around the factory site. Under its Natural Water Sanctuary Project, Suntory is promoting the restoration of complex vegetation ecosystems and conservation of forests that provide habitat for various species of plants and animals.

Suntory started a campaign to protect wild birds as far back as 1973, when it created a bird sanctuary at its Hakushu Distillery in Yamanashi Prefecture. It also established in 1990 the Suntory Fund for Birds Conservation, a public trust, to support organizations working to protect wild birds. As part of the campaign, Suntory has supported activities to restore the population of endangered short-tailed albatrosses by raising funds and providing grants from the Suntory Fund for Birds Conservation. The wild bird conservation campaign has produced significant results. The Suntory Yamazaki Distillery in Osaka Prefecture, on the other hand, is growing rare plants, such as blue mist spiraea and lobelia sessilifolia, on its premises. The Suntory Tomi no oka Winery in Yamanashi Prefecture conducts an ongoing survey of living things on the factory's land, including a butterfly called the Great purple emperor, foxes, and black kites, using the observation method used in the National Survey on the Natural Environment, commonly called the "Green Census." Also in Akagi, Gunma Prefecture, Suntory is making efforts to conserve rare plants and the Japanese firefly in cooperation with local people.

Environmental education is also a powerful way to convey the importance of water and a rich natural environment to future generations. The Suntory Group is engaged in the Suntory Water Education Program, which consists of providing education at its Outdoor School of Forest and Water, and giving lectures at local elementary schools. In contrast to the food education now drawing considerable public attention, water education is a unique and important environmental program that Suntory offers. The Outdoor School of Forest and Water is located at three factories in Aso, Hakushu, and Okudaisen, where its "Natural Mineral Water" is produced. Participants of the school program learn about the importance of water and the importance of the forests that nurture it, through hands-on activities in the natural environment. From 2004 to 2008, the Outdoor School of Forest and Water was held about 200 times, and a total of over 8,500 children and parents participated. The other type of water education, giving lectures at elementary schools, is conducted to teach the relationship between water and life, and water and the natural environment, and targets fifth- and sixth-grade school children. From 2006 to 2008, lectures were given at 194 elementary schools. The lecture program for 2009 is now underway with an expanded curriculum.

As described above, the message "Bringing Water to Life" has been conveyed in various ways to help create a sustainable society where people, society, and the natural environment are in harmony with each other. We would like to continue following the Suntory Group and its efforts to live out the "Go For It!" spirit.

Written by Taeko Ohno