Japan's love affair with the vending machine continues
Though Japan's population is declining, its numbers are holding steady when it comes to vending machines. Over five million are plugged into the grid, about one for every 23 citizens -- the most anywhere.
And these machines vend not only beverages and cigarettes, but also have been known to carry beer, eggs, bananas, rice, video games, adult videos, and one even uses facial recognition to recommend the drink it thinks might be best for you.
Quirkiness aside though, what they have in common as they hum continuously along is all the energy they consume.
A cutting-edge vending machine
That's why Coca-Cola System (Coca-Cola Japan plus its domestic bottling partners) has come up with the "Ecoru/Solar," an eco-friendly vending machine with a solar panel on top that uses 40 percent less electricity than regular machines.
From Hokkaido all the way down to Okinawa, the company has just installed 1,500 nationwide -- with five in Tokyo -- and plans to do the same next year. It has also joined our ranks of quirkiest vending machines across Asia.
Though the total energy savings only amount to a drop in the ocean of all the power vending machines draw, it is a sign of where the country is heading energy-wise.
Solar installations have been on a steady rise in the past few years in Japan, the world's third-biggest market for solar power after Germany and Spain, so it was just a matter of time before big retail got on the bandwagon.
And though it's more a symbolic gesture than a major reduction of CO2 emissions, its main impact for now will be on public awareness.
To make an eco-friendly act visible
"It's a step in the direction of increasing visibility of solar power as a fact of life for people in their everyday lives," says Dr. Terry Peterson, a California-based solar power consultant who has been in the business for 40 years.
Coca-Cola public relations manager Kanako Ogata explains that they took this step because Japanese care more about the environment nowadays. And their own market research found that people crave this kind of thing.
"Most of our customers would like to do something for the environment," she says. "But they feel helpless. So we thought using an eco vending machine could give them the feeling that they are doing something."
The future of renewable energy in Japan
Energy-saving features of the Ecoru/Solar also include light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, a solar-rechargeable battery that provides power for up to 12 hours when there is no sun, and motion sensors that put the machine to sleep while inactive.
Recent green initiatives among mainstream corporations like Coca-Cola System, McDonald's, and Japan's big convenience store chains, which have been rolling out solar-powered, eco-friendly shops across the country, give reason to be optimistic about the future of renewable energy in Japan’s retail sector.
With a few high profile examples set, other companies can more comfortably follow their lead toward cutting power costs, getting a PR boost, and in the long run, making the planet greener.