Italian-based Alcantara S.p.A., a major worldwide supplier of Alcantara material used in fashion and high-end automotive, yachting, and aviation interiors, has a major focus on sustainability and carbon neutrality. In recent years, the company has forwarded discussion of sustainability in the auto industry through symposiums with participation by leading automotive leaders, academics, and NGOs. This year’s 3rd International Symposium on Sustainability, Sustainability and Corporate Value, was held in partnership with Nikkei, Waseda University, and Venice International University with the support of the Society of Global Business.
While attending Alcantara’s symposium this year in Tokyo, Japan, Green Car Journal had the honor of interviewing Alcantara’s CEO and Chairman Andrea Boragno.
Mr. Boragno’s message is one of being a ‘good corporate neighbor’ and the brand-building benefits of sustainability, which includes a low-to-no carbon footprint as well as chemical recycling, water and power conservation, and resource preservation. All this, he points out, also has a direct and important relationship to the retention of employees, suppliers, and corporate partners.
The message as such is contagiously compelling. According to Boragno and others, giving back to a community though ‘good’ job creation, care of employees, and related community service is more often than not the key to long-term business sustainability. And, the ‘greener’ the better. In practice, corporate sustainability through improved consumer perception can in fact be as simple as sponsoring the construction of a community walking bridge over a creek or river.
It is interesting to note that in Japan, it’s not uncommon to find companies with 500-year track records that are cornerstones in their respective communities, employing families for generations.
By ‘walking the talk,’ as they say, Boragno has doubled automotive and specialty fabric manufacturer Alcantara’s bottom line in a mere five year period to $180 million, for fiscal year 2016. It did so while living his message of being a corporate good neighbor through sustainable practices, a mantra that rings true not only in Tokyo but throughout our global community.
The fact that Alcantara realized sustainable and measurable fiscal growth at the tail-end of a world-wide recession – all the while retaining staff and facility – is in itself a tribute to sustainable corporate and business practice. That factoid was not lost on this year’s crowded hall of mostly Japanese business leaders and world press members.
Here’s the short story gained from this symposium: At the end of the day, excessive corporate greed and subsequent short-term profit gained at the expense of the worker, the consumer, the ecology, and the world economy is no longer acceptable behavior. In practice, management misbehavior can and does result in the loss of business and good standing in the business community – more often than not at the expense of the consumer and stockholder.
To Boragno and Alcantara, in order to remain sustainable business must be conducted to the benefit of all participating in the manufacturing of a product, its end-users, and their community. From this perspective, it’s a matter of positive intent merging with honest business practice, to the benefit of all principals to the deal.
Furthermore, we live in a world community brought ever closer by the 24/7 informational access of the Worldwide Web. For good or for bad, what happens in Milan, Tokyo, or Standing Rock, Dakota touches the lives of all of us, emotionally if nothing else. Awareness is on the rise and corporations can no longer afford to ignore the obvious – that without sustainable practice, it’s just a matter of time before we run out of resources, both human and capital.
On the car side of this story, today we see major automotive manufacturers embracing electrification. While some say this is simply in the quest for California Air Resources Board (CARB) and EPA emissions compliance, others look at this differently. As reported over many years by Green Car Journal, the reinvention of the car as is much more than that – an awakening as such – stalled temporarily by cheap and plentiful gasoline, in the U.S. anyway. Not so much so in Tokyo, where we discovered that all taxis and the majority of late-model privately owned cars and light trucks are gasoline/electric hybrid. Tokyo is, in-fact, an exercise in sustainability.
OUR TAKE: TOKYO AS A LESSON IN TRANSPORT SUSTAINABILITY
Walking around the rather narrow and zero clearance property-lined streets of downtown Tokyo, we experienced an inner calm generally reserved for a serene wooded environment. Yet nary a tree was to be found. And there it sat, a Vespa scooter shop. Base model Italian Scooters start at an equivalent $5,000 here. They are a luxury.
Yes, there is no shortage of cars and work trucks in Tokyo. However, the majority of personal vehicles are small, most commercial trucks are mini, and bicycles of all shapes and sizes –manually peddled or high-tech electrified – would appear to be the transportation of choice for the Tokyoite who does not opt for public transportation.
In Japan, from what we visually and verbally gathered, the majority does not hold the automobile in awe, as most Americans do. It’s simply a method of getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ — a very expensive one at that.
Here in the home of eight major automotive manufacturers, for the majority of Tokyo residents cars are simply not a financially attainable or fiscally responsible alternative to public transportation, walking, or riding a bicycle. Once off the major boulevards, side streets are horse-cart-narrow with postage stamp building lots that often support structures that boggle the senses as they thrust skyward, competing for sun with ancient two-story structures, some dating back a century or more. There is very little room here for a car on the streets of Tokyo, much less a place to park and maintain one.
THEN THERE’S THE KEI CAR
You won’t see full sized SUVs crossovers or opulent luxo-cruisers plying the streets of Tokyo. Citizens here feel compelled to buy small cars for ease of parking, greater fuel efficiency, and to take advantage of sales tax incentives as high as 50 percent. And then there are the additional considerations of size constraints, government regulatory restrictions, import tariffs and luxury tax.
It’s all part of a sustainability mindset, really. There exists an interesting absence of trash on the streets of Tokyo and the air is clean in Tokyo. As to private car ownership, it comes down to personal acceptance as such, with little-to-no sense of loss of freedom in relationship to personal car ownership.
Looking at Japan’s Kei car, it’s easy to understand the value of Japan’s transport sensibility as it pertains to life in a city of 8 million. The Kei class minicar, brought into the automotive mainstream through government mandate, is simply a logical step up from the electrified Yamaha bicycle parked next to it – both statements of non-compromised sustainability.
At any measure, with an aging population, a dependence on imported fuel, a fluctuating world currency, and a building populace trending toward bicycle, public, or bipedal transportation, it’s predicted by Honda Motor Company and others that when it comes to private car ownership in Japan, the road to sustainability is one of electrified mini-cars and light trucks. This makes dollars and sense to the Japanese people, so perhaps we should take heed. Bullet train anyone?