Theme 5
SDGs and Sumitomo: Environment

 One-point explanation
Climate change is identified as a high-priority issue in the SDGs. Protecting lush forests that act as carbon sinks, absorbing and storing CO2, helps mitigate climate change. And the uptick in ocean temperatures linked to global warming impacts ecosystems, depleting the marine resources that figure so prominently in the nutrition of people worldwide. Thus, in manifold ways, land and ocean resources are intimately connected with climate change. Even as the world reels under the onslaught of COVID-19, conserving the bounty of land and sea, which greatly affects, and is greatly affected by, climate change, remains a crucially important task.
In this context, Sumitomo Forestry’s concept of creating environmentally friendly, timber-intensive urban areas by promoting utilization of wooden structures and materials in high-rise buildings promises substantial benefits as a climate change mitigation measure. Sumitomo Bakelite’s P-Plus® packaging films also have excellent environmental credentials: they preserve the freshness of fruit and vegetables, thereby reducing food wastage, and consequently help curb greenhouse gas emissions because the amounts of fruit and vegetables incinerated are minimized. Interest in these and the many other approaches the Sumitomo Group has devised to mitigate climate change and prevent waste of natural resources is definitely on the rise.

Koichi Kozuka
Director, SDGs Design Center
Nikkei BP Consulting

Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, Limited.

Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank’s first forestry trust in Japan. Protecting Japan’s mountainous environment by revitalizing the forestry industry

Nishiawakura Village in Okayama Prefecture, where Japan’s first forestry trust was launched.

Trust banks are in the business of asset management and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank has been considering how trusts can be utilized to help resolve social issues. In April 2017, the Bank established the Regional Revitalization Planning and Promotion Department, which promotes contributions to the revitalization of Japan’s regions, and consolidated within the new department initiatives previously implemented in partnership with regional financial institutions and local governments. The department has focused on the forestry industry from the perspective of industry revitalization, which led to entrustment of privately owned tracts of forest as a commercial trust in August 2020, the Bank’s first forestry trust in Japan.

Although forests cover two-thirds of Japan, the forestry industry has long been in decline because of diminishing numbers of forestry workers and other factors. With forests up in the mountains abandoned and unmanaged, forest degradation is advancing nationwide, creating environmental problems and also leading to disasters such as landslides and flash flooding. In these circumstances, the Cabinet Office introduced Nishiawakura Village in Okayama Prefecture to the Bank. Having launched the Hundred-Year Forest Scheme in 2008, the village is keen to plow profits from the scheme into forest development as well as other initiatives beneficial to the local community.

Long-term thinking of the order of 50 years is required when embarking on a commercial forestry enterprise, and moreover, it can be difficult to identify ownership of tracts of forest. So, although there are civil trusts whereby forest owners entrust land to family members, the prevailing view was that commercial trust schemes whereby companies manage forests entrusted by forest owners are impractical. Now, however, since tree species, thickness, height, age, and other information can be ascertained for each tree and property identification has become possible thanks to progress in sensing technologies applied using lasers mounted on drones, the first hurdle to commercial trusts has been cleared.

How to generate profit from such schemes is also a tricky issue. Rather than just looking 50 years into the future, the Bank thought this issue could be resolved by operating other businesses alongside the forestry enterprise. Together with Nishiawakura Village, the Bank came up with ideas for creating other businesses and decided the best solution was to stabilize the forestry business by starting a hydroelectric power generation business. The Bank was asked to conduct a survey in 2018 and now has been entrusted with a forestry trust as a commercial trust in Nishiawakura Village, which has long considered introducing such a scheme.

Nishiawakura Village, which had begun surveying the forest ten years earlier under the Hundred-Year Forest Scheme, was able to launch a forestry trust thanks to the availability of digital data on mountain forests.

Under this scheme, individuals who own tracts of forest in Nishiawakura Village entrust those tracts to the Bank, the Bank grants forest management rights to Hyakumori Co., Ltd., a forest management company located in the village, and Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd. provides advice on forest management. Future profits from the forest-related businesses will be returned to the forest owners through the Bank in the form of trust dividends. The Bank says that the thorniest difficulties it faced were in setting up the scheme and coordinating among the interested parties, including the response in the event landslides triggered by torrential rains. The property in trust comprises 10 hectares of land and standing timber (Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress) owned by landowners who do not reside in Nishiawakura Village.

The forestry trust business is an initiative that contributes to several Sustainable Development Goals in that it pertains to natural capital. Although land in the mountains tends to be abandoned when property is inherited, the Bank believes that if forests generate profit, the number of people who abandon such land will decrease, and this will have a beneficial impact on the environment. The Bank will continue exploring the commercial feasibility of forestry trusts.

Sumitomo Electric Industries, Ltd.

Solving water problems with proprietary technologies, POREFLON™ membranes promise a future of pristine water environments

POREFLON™ membrane modules have been in operation at Shixuanzhen Wastewater Treatment Plant, Jianyang City, Sichuan Province, China, since October 2019. In accordance with China’s Water Pollution Prevention Action Plan, pollutant emission controls are being tightened.

With growing populations, economic development, and greater affluence spurring demand for water worldwide, the global market for water solutions keeps on expanding and the issue of water looms prominently in the SDGs. Regarding industrial waste water, demand for advanced water treatment technology is increasing in China, where the desire for improved water quality in waste water treatment has become more pronounced and insistent, as well as in South Korea, Taiwan, where flourishing semiconductor industries require large quantities of ultra-pure water, and Southeast Asia. According to market research firm Fuji Keizai, the value of the global market for water treatment membranes, which enable advanced water treatment, climbed to 108.3 billion yen in 2018 (with industrial waste water and sewage treatment applications accounting for 55.3 billion yen), up 30% compared to 2011.

Sumitomo Electric has developed membranes for water treatment based on proprietary POREFLON™ material technology for filtration modules and is promoting the improvement of water environments through its core business. Industrial waste water or sewage must be purified to satisfy water quality standards using membranes or other materials prior to its release into the hydrosphere or reuse at factories. However, this wastewater often contains organic substances, oil, or various other substances that tend to clog conventional water treatment membranes, leading to reduced product service life because membrane material rapidly deteriorates as a result of exposure to the chemicals used to restore performance compromised by fouling.

POREFLON™ PTFE hollow fiber membrane viewed through a microscope. Bundling these membranes into modules results in a microfiltration device capable of removing minute particles as small as 50 nm in water or other liquids as well as minute oil droplets.

Around 2000, in response to growing global awareness of issues affecting the quality of the water environment, Sumitomo Electric sharpened its focus on POREFLON™, a proprietary material developed in house. POREFLON™ is made of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is porous and highly resistant to chemicals and heat, and offers excellent durability. It was developed in the first half of the 1960s and early applications included filtering of high-purity chemical solutions in semiconductor manufacturing and as artificial blood vessels. Not content with this limited application field, the company sought more expansive business opportunities for POREFLON™.

With the water environment ascending the global agenda, Sumitomo Electric thought that POREFLON™’s strength and high stability might make it suitable for use in water treatment. The company developed POREFLON™ straw-shaped filters—hollow fiber membranes suited to water treatment—and in 2003 commercialized water treatment microfiltration membrane modules consisting of arrays of hundreds of these filters bundled together.

Waste water containing oil before treatment with POREFLON™ (left) and clean water after purification (right)

At first, because the PTFE resin used as the membrane material was expensive and processing costs were high, the POREFLON™ modules did not enter widespread use. But persistence paid off: continuous cost reduction achieved in parallel with performance improvement led to increased take-up of the modules as demand grew centering on China. POREFLON™ modules are currently adopted primarily for water treatment facilities at factories and water treatment plants. Since POREFLON™ is robust when used for treatment of waste water containing oil, in Taiwan it was also introduced at a major oil refiner’s waste water treatment facilities in an area plagued by water scarcity. From now on, by pursuing further cost reduction and collaborating with local partners who appreciate the benefits POREFLON™ can deliver, Sumitomo Electric intends to promote its ever-widening adoption.

Equipped with POREFLON™ modules, Jiabei Wastewater Treatment Plant, Jiayuguan City, Gansu Province, China, can handle up to 35,000 m3/day.

Although POREFLON™ is currently used mainly for industrial waste water and wastewater treatment, since the material can also be utilized for water purification and seawater desalination, Sumitomo Electric foresees an important role for it in the provision of safe, sanitary water for home use, including drinking water. Having already achieved a measure of commercial success in the water treatment market, POREFLON™ is increasingly recognized within the company as a product that contributes to the quality of the water environment and more broadly to environmental protection. Though still in its infancy, Sumitomo Electric’s quest to help resolve pressing global issues by deploying its water treatment technology is gaining traction. The possibilities have scarcely been tapped yet.

Modules consist of hollow fiber membrane bundles.
Submerge type modules
External pressurized type modules

Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd.

Versatile freshness-preserving film is key to total coordination for resolving issues of the fruit & veg sector

The products of plastics manufacturer Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd. find applications in everything from electronic components, automotive engineering, and packaging to medicine and construction. Rather than churn out huge quantities of identical undistinguished items, the company excels at adding distinctive functions fine-tuned for specific applications, often using new technology. Plastics that are essentially functional chemical products are indispensable for contemporary affluent lifestyles and can also make a valuable contribution to the sustainable development of society, provided they are appropriately used, disposed of, and recycled. The mid-term business targets instituted in fiscal 2019 clearly signal the company’s policy of expanding the possibilities of functional plastics while conducting business and product development aligned with the Social Development Goals (SDGs) so as to help tackle issues confronting society.

Food losses worldwide amount to some 1.3 billion tons a year*, which is equivalent to a third of global food production. If even a quarter of the food currently disposed of could be efficiently utilized, it would be possible to rescue some 800 million people from malnutrition.
*Source: Global Food Losses and Food Waste, a study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2011)

P-Plus®, a packaging film that preserves the freshness of fruits and vegetables, is a fine example of this policy in action. The company started developing the product in 1989, decades before the United Nations established the SDGs. Having reached its 30th anniversary this year, P-Plus® keeps on evolving to meet customer needs. By virtue of its capabilities, P-Plus® is relevant to Goal 2 “Zero hunger,” Goal 3. “Good health and well-being,” and Goal 12 “Responsible consumption and production” of the SDGs. It reduces food losses by extending the freshness-retention period. And by cutting food wastage, it reduces malnutrition while curbing greenhouse gas emissions attributable to incineration of waste. The reduction in food losses corresponds to Goal 12 “Responsible consumption and production.”

Over and above the particular SDG-related goals the company specifies for each of its products, it is fully engaged in initiatives to address Goal 14 “Life below water,” which has such an important bearing on a plastics manufacturer. In a recent interview, Kazuhiko Fujiwara, President and Representative Director of Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd., stated, “By 2030, the target year for the realization of the SDGs, we aim to make our SDG-contributing products generate more than 50% of the sales for the entire company.”

The P-Plus® product spec can be fine-tuned to control the amount of oxygen passing through the film’s micrometer-sized vent holes so as to slow deterioration of the quality of fruit and vegetables. The company has a 70-80% share of the market for packaging films for products that rapidly lose freshness, such as pre-cut vegetables and edamame. The size and number of these miniscule perforations are adjusted according to the type, weight, and distribution of the particular fruit or vegetable. In addition to the regular freshness-preserving films, other films endowed with water vapor permeability or mold prevention capabilities are available, and moreover these capabilities can be combined in multifunctional films.

By preserving the freshness of fruits and vegetables sold at supermarkets etc., P-Plus® not only helps maintain taste and prevent discoloration and odor but also makes it possible to expand trade areas and adjust shipping schedules.

As fruit and vegetables packaged in P-Plus® remain fresh longer, the film enhances product value. For example, produce from the Tohoku region can be marketed in West Japan or shipping schedules can be adjusted so that produce can be sold at times when it would usually be unavailable and thus can command a higher unit price reflecting the added value offered.

Rich in functionality that reduces food losses while enhancing product value, P-Plus® has the potential to transform the fruit and vegetable sector.

The supply chain for fruit and vegetables consists of three main parties: producers, wholesalers, and mass retailers. Lack of information flows among these parties is a longstanding issue affecting the entire sector that has prevented each party from resolving its own particular issues. For example, even if producers grow high-quality fruit, it will not be highly prized in the market if it has already lost its freshness. Large quantities of fruit and vegetables are disposed of at wholesale markets. Bulky Styrofoam containers are troublesome for mass retailers.

Through promotional campaigns and the holding of seminars on P-Plus®, the company has been working to help these three parties resolve their issues while at the same time endeavoring to connect the three parties to their mutual advantage. Applying the functionality of P-Plus®, the company has been acting as a valued coordinator in the fruit and vegetable sector.

Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd.’s initiative
“System enhancing value to the mutual advantage of the three parties by utilizing P-Plus® film for preserving freshness of fruit and vegetables”
Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd. has a track record of constructive engagement with producers, wholesalers, retail chains, and other stakeholders through P-Plus®. Several years ago, the company launched a total coordination business in order to resolve longstanding issues confronting the fruit and vegetable sector. The two CS Evaluation Centers—one adjacent to Ota Market of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Central Wholesale Market and the other in the Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Market—are playing a vital role in this respect. Not only do the centers perform comparative tests of packaging and evaluation of taste and aroma of samples packaged using P-Plus®, but they also provide opportunities for visitors to actually experience the effectiveness of P-Plus®. The centers publicize P-Plus® to producers and retailers visiting the wholesale markets while helping them clarify their issues.

In recognition of these efforts, Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd. received the President of the Jury Award in the Food Industry “Mottainai” Awards in January 2019. The company’s role as a comprehensive coordinator in the fruit and vegetable sector was singled out for particular commendation, in addition to its contribution as a developer of freshness-preserving films.

The company received the President of the Jury Award in the 6th Food Industry “Mottainai” Awards.

Neither the market for packaging films nor that for functional plastics is large. But in such niche markets, Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd. aims to secure leading market shares through new product development in combination with sales and marketing aligned with the SDGs. Despite the success of the company products, there has been no slackening in the pace and intensity of its endeavors to achieve resounding success in niche markets.

Sumitomo Forestry Co., Ltd.

Creating environmentally-friendly and timber-utilizing cities through technologies that enhance the value of wood

image: Sumitomo Forestry & Nikken Sekkei
Sumitomo Forestry announced the W350 Plan, a research and technology development concept envisaging construction of a hybrid wood and steel (90% wood, 10% steel), 70-story, 350-meter, high-rise building in 2041.

The history of Sumitomo Forestry is synonymous with enhancing the value of wood, the quintessential renewable and sustainable resource. The company traces its origin back to 1691 when the Sumitomo family began managing forests adjacent to the recently opened Besshi Copper Mines on Shikoku. Although overharvesting of timber ravaged the landscape as Japan’s industrialization spurred demand for copper, an ambitious multi-generational reforestation project, with annual planting peaking at over two million seedlings, restored the Besshi mountains to their original verdant beauty.

Sumitomo Forestry has an extensive portfolio of businesses ranging from forest management and cultivation to distribution of timber and building materials, housing construction, and renewable energy. The company’s R&D includes the application of biotechnology not only for the silviculture of healthy trees as a source of excellent construction materials but also for the preservation of renowned ancient trees.

Timber utilization can be a powerful weapon in the battle against climate change. Trees grow by photosynthesizing with absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. If trees are harvested and their timber is applied as construction materials or for other purposes, the absorbed CO2 is fixed (sequestered) in the timber in the form of organic carbon and not released into the atmosphere. Furthermore, since photosynthesis is most active when trees are in their infancy, systematic planting of seedlings after harvesting of mature trees is highly effective for mitigating global warming.

Sumitomo Forestry announced the W350 Plan in 2018 to publicize the value of wood to the general public. In terms of its concept, the plan, whose target year is 2041, the 350th anniversary of the company’s founding, envisions the creation of environmentally-friendly and timber-utilizing cities transformed through the growing utilization of wooden structures and materials in high-rise buildings. Symbolizing this plan is the envisaged construction of a 90%-wood and 10%-steel high-rise building soaring 350 meters skyward, with 70 aboveground stories. Such a building would incorporate an amount of timber sufficient for 8,000 typical wooden houses constructed by the company, and it would fix approximately 140,000 tons of CO2 as carbon (CO2 equivalent). In terms of the building’s CO2-sequestration capability, it would be like planting a forest in the heart of a city.

In tandem with the W350 Plan, Sumitomo Forestry intends to utilize wood for offices, hotels, and other buildings of 5 to 6 stories that until now have been constructed using reinforced concrete or steel frames. Research indicates that wooden buildings not only improve the physical and mental health of the people working in them but also increase their productivity.

Roadmap for the W350 Plan
W30 is a wooden building 20 to 30 meters in height with 6 to 8 aboveground stories scheduled for execution design in 2021. Through construction of W30, Sumitomo Forestry will hone its technologies and increase the feasibility of the W350 Plan.

The Japanese government aims to increase the country’s timber self-sufficiency rate from 36.6% in 2018 to 50% by 2025. To achieve this, it will be necessary to use approximately 40 million cubic meters of domestically sourced timber each year and reforest the harvested areas. Although Japan has abundant timber resources, stagnation of the forest industry means that more and more tracts of forest suffer neglect or are poorly managed. To remedy this, Sumitomo Forestry is working to revitalize the forest industry and forest regions by, for example, rationalizing seedling cultivation, introducing better machinery for logging and hauling, and developing exosuits for forestry workers.

With an eye to 2041, Sumitomo Forestry aims to become the world’s foremost forestry enterprise. The company does not define global leadership in terms of the volume of timber handled or the extent of forest holdings. Rather, it intends to contribute to people, society, and the global environment by seizing the initiative in technologies that enhance the value of wood.

The new research building completed at the Tsukuba Research Institute in October 2019 as a research base for the W350 Plan. With a wooden structure and built using advanced technologies expected to lead to accomplishment of the W350 Plan, the building also serves as a showroom for promoting wider and more inventive application of wood.

Nissin Electric Co., Ltd.

Rain garden utilizing photovoltaic power generation protects the environment while boosting biodiversity

On the grounds of its Head Office and Works in Kyoto, Nissin Electric has engaged in greening initiatives that boost biodiversity in cooperation with Kyoto City since 2014. The rain garden project, implemented on the grounds of the Nissin Academy Training Center established in 2019, represents a further evolution of these initiatives.

The Nissin Academy Training Center, featuring a rain garden

A rain garden is a garden with a mechanism for temporarily collecting the rainwater falling on roofs, asphalt, etc. in tanks and other receptacles and then allowing it to permeate the ground over time. Since rainwater is prevented from flowing into the drainage system all at once, rain gardens are attracting attention as a means of minimizing the risk of flooding in the event of torrential rainstorms, which have occurred frequently in recent years. Furthermore, rain gardens in urban areas are marshy enclaves providing a refuge for endangered plants and creatures.

As befits an enterprise whose businesses underpin social infrastructure, Nissin Electric has long propounded a philosophy that dovetails with the SDGs. Now, the company intends to fully incorporate the SDGs concept into its new mid-term management plan to be launched in the coming fiscal year. In the current fiscal year, Nissin Electric also aims to obtain Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) certification for its greenhouse gas reduction target for fiscal 2030 and is actively engaging in environmental protection. The rain garden project is one such initiative.

The new training center’s rain garden includes a watercourse abutting a public sidewalk. The rain garden mechanism creates a waterscape by using a pump to circulate approximately three tons of water drawn from underground storage tanks over a period of about one week, ensuring thorough penetration and evaporation of water. Electricity produced by photovoltaic power generation is used to power the pump.

In addition to construction of a water circulation system like the one described above, creating large-scale zones of greenery equipped with full-scale rain garden functionality requires formation of a gravel layer and installation of water-permeable pipes during site preparation. Since there are few examples in Japan of projects incorporating the rain garden concept from the initial design stage, Nissin Electric’s initiative is expected to provide data that will prove valuable in promoting widespread implementation of the concept in the future.

Rare plant species transplanted from the grounds of the Head Office and Works, including Japanese wild ginger, blackberry, and wild chrysanthemums, have taken root and now bloom in the rain garden. Praying mantises and other insects flourish in the rain garden, which provides an attractive habitat for them.

A year after construction of the rain garden, monitoring of vegetation with cooperation from Kyoto University of Advanced Science continues, accumulating diverse knowledge. Data on the cost and labor involved in maintaining the rain garden is likely to serve as a useful reference for companies or local governments that consider creating rain gardens in the future. Although more maintenance work than expected is required, such as in dealing with seasonal heavy weed growth, there is every indication that sustained operation of the rain garden is feasible.

Employees say they feel soothed by sights long missed in the city, such as birds bathing in watercourses and flitting butterflies. Friends and family members from the neighborhood standing in conversation overlooking this green oasis have become a familiar sight. Going forward, the company intends to actively plan study sessions and other activities that will help raise environmental awareness throughout the community.

Greenfinches and other small birds bathe in the watercourses.