Hiyoshi Corporation offers total support for various environmental projects, from measurement and analysis to supplying industrial chemicals, facility management and environmental conservation. Having shaped the environmental business for almost 70 years, today, amid unprecedented challenges brought about by climate change and environmental degradation, Hiyoshi’s work is more important than ever, both from the environmental and social perspective. We spoke with president Hiroshi Murata to learn more about Hiyoshi’s role in supporting the shift to a carbon-neutral world, as well as the company’s vital CSR work.
Can you give us a brief introduction to your company?
For 67 years, since its establishment in 1955, Hiyoshi has consistently operated on the basis of principles in non-manufacturing business fields. Although, Hiyoshi’s activities to address the issues and problems in Japanese society are small, limited, and unobtrusive, the company's fundamental strength lies in the fact that it continues to take on challenges year after year and this has been Hiyoshi's creed.
After the end of World War II in 1945, public health became a major social issue during the reconstruction of Japan. In particular, municipal solid waste disposal and human waste disposal are closely related to daily life, and to solve these problems, Hiyoshi started the waste collection business.
Since then, Japan has made rapid progress in economic development centering on the manufacturing business, but the price of this development was that pollution problems such as water pollution and air pollution and environmental problems occurred throughout the country. Pollutants and toxic substances were created as industrial products were manufactured, and these substances were discharged or disposed of in the water, air and soil without being treated. The air pollution caused "Yokkaichi asthma" and the organic mercury drainage caused "Minamata disease", which was truly a disastrous experiment on the human body. A number of laws and regulations were enacted in the 1970s to address these problems.
As a response to these problems, Hiyoshi's environmental analysis project was launched in 1975 to visualize the actual situation by scientific means. Visualization through analysis and research enabled precise measures to be taken, and these efforts resulted in the operation and maintenance business in Hiyoshi, which includes wastewater treatment facilities, waste treatment facilities, water supply facilities, sewerage facilities, roads, and rivers. In addition, the supply of chemicals necessary to optimally maintain these environmental infrastructures, the cleaning of facilities, and the construction of facilities became new Hiyoshi businesses. In order to engage in these businesses, it is necessary to obtain business licenses and qualified personnel. Hiyoshi currently has 95 business licenses and a total of 2144 qualified personnel licenses of 229 types.
The experiences by Hiyoshi have led to measures and solutions for social issues and problems, and as a result, Hiyoshi's business activities are social contribution activities. These ideas and actions have been called Mécénat and CSR in the past and are now called SDGs worldwide. As more and more of our activities which are low profile and unobtrusive, have been spotlighted, we have received many social recognitions from various quarters. We have received more than 35 commendations from ministers and governors, and more than 120 letters of appreciation. These recognitions have been a source of encouragement for our frontline workers.
SDGs are something in the spotlight all the time. We had the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in December 2021, where they finalized the agreement as to how countries will be held accountable in their transition to carbon-neutrality. The former prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration said that Japan must reduce carbon emissions by 46% compared to 2013 levels. He put a hard deadline on this change for 2030. What is your assessment of Japan’s transition to carbon neutrality and what role would a company such as yours play in that transition?
Since the oil shocks of the 1970s, Japan has had the advantage of having already begun to address resource and energy conservation earlier than other countries. This is because Japan is a resource-poor country. Japan also has a culture of "MOTTAINAI," which impressed Ms. Wangari Maathai, the first Kenyan woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in the environmental field, when she visited Japan in 2005.
In Japan, the Basic Law for Establishing a Recycling-Oriented Society was enacted in 2000, and 3R activities such as thermal recycling, waste reduction, recycling and reuse of resources and products have already been established.
Hiyoshi has long believed that environmental human resource development is necessary for all people on the planet to engage in environmental conservation.
Shiga Prefecture is the birthplace of many large companies such as ITOCHU, Marubeni, Wacoal, and other Omi merchants, and has a history of expanding its business throughout Japan based on the idea of "sampo yoshi”. The meaning of "sampo yoshi" is "good for the seller," "good for the buyer," and "good for the society," and Hiyoshi has added "good for the next generation" to the concept of "sampo yoshi" and has actively provided environmental education, etc., mainly to students and young adults in Japan and abroad. This is Hiyoshi's approach to environmental human resource development.
As for specific carbon neutral efforts, Hiyoshi has large special work vehicles, etc., and 70% of its CO2 emissions come from these vehicles. More than 10 years ago, we started working on BDF in an industry-academia collaboration. We were able to obtain very efficient and high quality BDF. However, although the technology was established, it has not been put into operation in Japan due to major issues such as securing a stable supply of waste oil and legal restrictions. Currently, BDF is used as fuel for sightseeing boats in Halong Bay, Vietnam, through a university partnership. In the area of vehicles, we are working on the introduction of hybrid vehicles, hydrogen cars, and electric vehicles.
In Japan, dioxin became a major social issue in the 1990s. Hiyoshi was one of the first to address this issue. In particular, we focused on the field of measurement to visualize dioxin emissions and pollution. The bioassay method called the CALUX method was developed. Compared to the traditional method, which is called HRGCMS, the CALUX method is a rapid, sensitive, and inexpensive method. Hiyoshi compared the emission of CO2 for both the methods and found that the amount of CO2 emitted by the CALUX method is one-seventh of that of the traditional HRGCMS method.
Can you explain why CALUX is superior to other conventional methods? It is cheaper and easier to do, but why do you believe that it’s the ideal method for you to do water and other environmental based testing? Can you elaborate on its competitive advantages?
CALUX is a very unique dioxin analysis method. It is a bioassay method called a reporter gene assay. It uses live cells with recombinant genes. In Japan, it became an official method approved by the Japanese government in 2005. It is used not only for high-concentration environmental samples, but also for low-concentration food samples and biological samples and has already become an official method in the United States, the EU, and Taiwan. The method is now being worked on for international standardization (ISO). Once standardized, the CALUX method will become the international standard method for dioxin measurement, and we expect that it will be widely used in Asia, including Vietnam and India, where economic development is remarkable. The reporter gene assay method can also be used in various other fields, such as for dioxin and other hormone-like chemicals. Hiyoshi already has more than 15 different cell lines in commercial use.
Returning to the topic of carbon neutrality, we have actually been able to achieve a paperless system together with the spread of awareness of the CALUX method. We have digitized the reporting of the results of analysis and measurement. CALUX reduces the amount of paper to one-fifth of the conventional paper-based media. Other than CALUX, we have also made it possible to order analysis online, and to view and download the results online for the first time in Japan. In addition, we offer a service called “Anarepo” (Analysis report), which can automatically create tables and charts to assist clients in creating annual reports. This has reduced the amount of paper used for reports and has reduced the cost and CO2 emissions associated with sending reports. Japan has a long-established seal culture, and it is still difficult to go electronic. However, with the spread of telework due to Corona Disaster, we expect that the paperless office environment will be further promoted in the future.
You currently hold seven patents, have more than 120 analytical devices, more than 95 licenses and have a history of collaboration. In the future are you looking for any more partners to fill in any gaps in your business, especially overseas?
We have facilities in India and the United States. We used these locations to conduct market research and to train and secure human resources. We have also attempted to implement mergers and acquisitions (M&A). However, nothing has been finalized on M&A yet; our first approach with M&A was to find a partner that shared the same perspective and understood our philosophy. Unfortunately, we could not find such a company quickly enough, so we had to change our strategy. We have invested heavily in the Chinese market in terms of budget and time. We set up two joint laboratories there in cooperation with a Chinese national institute and a national university. The project worked to some extent, but due to conflicting political and territorial issues it had to be terminated. There was also a JICA project in Myanmar that was progressing well. Due to political unrest, the project had to be stopped immediately. As a small company, working abroad involves greater risks than we can foresee. There is really not much we can do about such matters. Becoming an overseas partner is challenging in terms of overcoming political risks. Our overseas target partners would be those who want to use our services as well as hardware providers who can offer what we currently do not have. Especially in developing countries, the services we provide are maintained and organized by local governments and universities. The timing for collaboration is very important and finding the right time to collaborate is not easy.
You have been president now of your Indian operation since 2011, and more recently in the United States too. Can you tell us more about the advantages of those particular innovations for your business?
By having local offices, there’s no time difference when you do business, in addition to being strategically good locations. The two locations are very different, however, especially in terms of economic power.
The possibilities for human resources, human resource development, capital management, business collaboration, new markets, and new technologies within the Hiyoshi Group will be expanded. Both countries have large populations and so we can continue to receive human resources in the future. In addition, since both countries have different ways of doing business and vary in terms of rationality, education, religion, and lifestyles, I believe we can objectively utilize the Japanese methods and make them better.
I believe that Hiyoshi has the potential to take advantage of the time difference with India and the excellent local human resources, introduce advanced American technology and management philosophy, increase the overall value of the group, and produce benefits that can only be obtained by a company engaged in international business.
Your company is seen as being very cosmopolitan, taking on trainees from more than 36 different countries. What advantage does having such an international workforce bring to your business and are you looking to recruit similar workers in the future?
It was in 1988 when Hiyoshi decided that it wanted to work on environmental conservation around the world based on its experience, technology, and achievements in sanitation, pollution, and environmental issues in Japan since its establishment.
As a result of the water quality conservation efforts at Lake Dongting in China and Lake Biwa in Japan, and with the idea that "environmental problems have no national borders," Hiyoshi accepted Chinese government engineers for technical training necessary for water quality conservation.
Since then, we have accepted a total of more than 1,000 people from 36 countries, including Taiwan, India, Vietnam, the U.S., and Brazil, and have provided opportunities to train environmental experts from around the world.
In addition, since 1990, we have also provided on-site guidance on analytical testing and environmental conservation technologies and lectured at environmental seminars in India, Vietnam, Iran, Thailand, China, Taiwan, and other countries. We have also dispatched environmental engineers to 10 countries, including India, Vietnam, Iran, Thailand, China, and Taiwan, on a total of more than 20 occasions. Since 1995, we have sponsored and annually held a speech contest for students in India to raise environmental issues in India.
In 2007, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-India Cultural Agreement, we established the "Hiyoshi Environmental Award" to recognize scientists, researchers, university students, and faculty members who are conducting research on environmental conservation in India and are committed to fostering environmental human resources in the country.
Our direct advantage stems from our ability to seamlessly create a global network. If you take our Indian operation as an example, those employees received training in Japan. Having connections to those trainees is now bearing fruit. We are contributing to the skills and education of the workers and businesspeople of the next generation. Ensuring sustainability for the future.
Japan is not so well known for environmental technology manufacturing and transitioning to carbon neutrality. Europe, on the other hand, has a great appreciation and long history for using renewables. Japan is somewhat lagging behind in that respect and yet many defenders state that this is largely due to the Japanese government's lack of historical support. Do you agree with this sentiment?
Since the 2000s we have been bidding for international projects. When we discuss criteria and matters, competing foreign firms have always received government support whereas Japanese companies are solely private entities with no government support. The situation is now changing, however. Today, the Japanese government has changed its approach significantly. For example, the government is now promoting Japan's strengths in environmental infrastructure overseas. This benefits Hiyoshi in the fact that we want to promote sewage and wastewater treatment. Traditionally Japan has had smaller water purification tanks and with that smaller size has come much more effective wastewater and sewage treatment. If you have a central sewage system, an earthquake may cause the pipes to break or get stuck, preventing the facility from functioning properly. By having multiple smaller sewage tanks, you are able to conduct purification much more cheaply and efficiently.
Hiyoshi is also involved in several other projects such as JICA's "Project Development, Feasibility Study, Demonstration, and Business Development Project", the Ministry of the Environment's "Asian Water Environment Improvement Model Project", the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's "Team E-Kansai", and Shiga Prefecture's Shiga Water Environment Business Promotion Forum.
For instance, in 2018, JICA's Overseas Feasibility Study Project for Small and Medium Enterprises conducted a Feasibility Study for Holistic Management System of Sewage Treatment Plant with Remote Monitoring Technology in India. Also, under the Asian Water Environment Improvement Model Project of the Ministry of the Environment, we conducted the "Water Quality and Facility Operation Improvement Project for Wastewater Treatment at a Fishery Processing Plant" in Danang, Vietnam from 2016 to 2018.
Combining the wastewater treatment facility management technology that Hiyoshi has developed over many years of experience with the latest ICT and IoT, "comprehensive maintenance management technology for domestic wastewater treatment facilities using remote monitoring systems," we provided the same level of maintenance management technology locally as in Japan and worked with local partners and personnel to improve the local water environment while reducing costs and ensuring cost competitiveness.
One issue faced by the sustainability industry is a lack of cohesive communication. As someone who has been working in the field of sustainability for decades, how important is communication to you in order to achieve those sustainability goals that you’re striving for?
Communication is very difficult, and we have faced many failures and challenges but also experienced success. One approach we take when teaching about environmental issues in elementary school is to work together and collect household garbage with the principal and teachers of the school. We ask them to come together to collect garbage for the day, and then speak about their experiences in front of the children. As we are not experienced in speaking in front of elementary school children, it’s better to have those who are more used to communicating and supporting behind the scenes to give out our message. In addition to this, we also visit the schools with our garbage collecting truck to teach the children about the environment. So, when we initiated our environmental education for elementary children, our purpose was to convey the importance of garbage separation from children to their mothers. Japan has strict rules on garbage separation, and unfortunately, those rules are not always followed. By communicating with children, the importance of garbage separation and how it is done properly, we can have the children then convey that message to their parents, and as a result, parents will be more careful in the future. Additionally, by educating children on the mass consumption society we live in, we can have them think about the kind of lifestyles they can pursue in the future to create a more sustainable life for themselves and generations to come. After these talks, we had the children draw a picture based on what they learned. We take those pictures and print them on the side of garbage collection trucks. As the truck goes around town the children can see it and is a constant reminder of what they learned.
Welcoming overseas trainees can be difficult. Obviously, there initially is a language barrier, but we also have to consider cultural barriers too. We conduct speech contest for Indians who are interested in the environment, one in English, one in Japanese, and two in Tamil, which is a national Indian language. The four winners of different language categories come to Japan for two weeks of environmental training. The winner of the Japanese speech contest becomes the interpreter and so it’s easier for us to communicate with all the four speech contest winners during their training in Japan.
Communication will become more and more important as we live in a society that will increasingly have to live with climate change, pandemics, chemical substances, and so on. However, no matter how times change, as long as people live and industries operate, we want to continue our efforts to preserve a comfortable living environment and optimal industrial activities. This is the reason why we practice our company motto ("Society-driven company, technology-driven company," "Watch for signs and prepare for the flow") and philosophy ("Work is in the law," "Each and every employee is a manager").