No, my name is not like the baseball equipment brand

ichiro-blackichiro-white

What is the difference between these two pictures of Japan’s national treasure, Ichiro? You notice that the color of his bat has changed. His bat is now made of white ash instead of aodamo.

Did Ichiro make this switch for technological excellence? The answer is no.
In a March 2016 interview with Nikkei, Ichiro said “there is just no more aodamo.” [1]

Many Japanese professional players grow up playing baseball with aodamo bats. The aodamo trees, which take 70 years to produce four baseball bats per tree, were grown in Hokkaido, the northern island in Japan. While the depletion of the aodamo forests are primarily due to human felling, global warming has expanded the frontiers for emerald ash borer, a tree-killing pest, up north. While aodamo is a baseball bat raw material specific to Japan, the United States and major league baseball faces a similar issue. “Given enough time, nearly 100 percent of all green, white and black ash will be killed” by emerald ash borer throughout their North American range, according to a 2013 US Forest Service Study. [2]
This poses a serious threat to Mizuno Japan’s primary baseball bat manufacturer. As long as the professional baseball players prefer using wooden bats instead of metal bats, Mizuno would be confronted by a decreasing supply of raw materials. The business opportunity arising from climate change under the current context seems non-existent; unless this limitation on raw material supply invites innovation in utilizing alternative materials to create better baseball bats, there seems to be no upside from the depleting aodamo forests.

How has Mizuno approached this issue, or in a broader sense, strived to be environmentally friendly as a consumer of wood? One generalization for Japanese manufacturers is that they have implemented environmental measures early on in reaction to severe instances of pollution-related diseases from the 1950’s to 1970’s. Furthermore, the Japanese culture frowns upon waste as “mottainai,” a concept that has been prevalent since the post-war period as the country recovered from poverty. On the back of these societal contexts, Mizuno has been undertaking actions to cut the environmental impact of manufacturing since 1991. Some of its earliest initiatives include acquiring the ISO 14001 certification as the first in the sporting goods industry in 1997, simplifying packaging and introducing foldable delivery containers, recycling and using organic solvent in factories, and using recycled raw materials, such as rubber and cotton, in their athletic gears. In terms of baseball bat production, its factory achieved zero emission in 2002, started recycling wood that was not fit for bat production to produce wooden artwork, and has participated in the “Bat Forest” project, planting aodamo trees in Japan to preserve the culture of aodamo bats for the future. To achieve GHG reduction, which is also impacting aodamo forests, Mizuno has implemented measures such as switching the AC/heater from gas to electricity and using electric vehicles at the corporate level, successfully reducing gasoline consumption by 6.3% compared to the precious year in 2015.

While the company has reduced CO2 emission in its domestic offices and factories by 4.2% in 2015, the reduction of GHG emission of its entire global operation was only 0.2% in the same period. Therefore, while the company has exemplified an environmentally friendly company in Japan, I believe they could expand its initiatives globally. Specifically, GHG emission in the US increased by 11.6% in 2015. [3] While it may be difficult to reduce GHG emission in the emerging markets that they operate in, I believe the company could apply measures that it implemented in Japan to make its US operations more environmentally friendly. Perhaps they could also plant ash trees in the US as part of CSR for its operations here so that future Japanese major league baseball players could use Mizuno bats that were produced in a sustainable manner.

1 “イチローのバット、再び黒に 背景にアオダモ消滅 “ Nikkei website, accessed November 2016
2 “Effects of climate on emerald ash borer mortality and the potential for ash survival in North America, ” Agricultural and Forest Meteorology journal website, accessed November 2016
3 Mizuno website, accessed November 2016

(648 words)

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6 thoughts on “No, my name is not like the baseball equipment brand

  1. You mention that “As long as the professional baseball players prefer using wooden bats instead of metal bats, Mizuno would be confronted by a decreasing supply of raw materials.” In the USA’s Major League Baseball, only wooden bats are allowed to be used. However, that rule isn’t consistent through the amateur ranks – in the NCAA, high school, and younger, aluminum and other metal bats are the primary (if not sole) type of bats used.

    Is it fair to ask the question “Is Mizuno doing enough to practice sustainability?” If they were truly in favor of helping the environment, why wouldn’t they lead the charge in lobbying professional baseball associations to ban wooden bats entirely? They’ve got a presence in the metal bat landscape already, so one could assume that they’d maintain a competitive position in the market.

  2. I had no idea that climate change effected the baseball bat making industry so significantly. Unfortunately for Mizuno, it seems that they are kind of at the mercy of other companies throughout Japan, and particularly near the forests where they are planting and harvesting trees. Given this fact, do you think they should be pressing the government to regulate industry throughout Japan in a more stringent way? It seems that after setting a good example in terms of sustainability, trying to lobby for strict regulations is their only other option.

  3. Interesting and unique example you chose here Mizuho. I feel however that the critique on the company is still somewhat mild. Climate change greatly adversely impacts the availability of raw materials for the product it is selling, yet the only contributions Mizuno has brought forward to combat climate change are e.g. reducing GHG emission from its full operations by a mere 0.2%. Switching to electric sources of energy in their HQs and thereby reducing gasoline consumption by 6% is great, but aren’t there ways for Mizuno to actually make a difference in the climate change challenge? Why is it not stretching itself to engineer a bat of equal quality, but fully consists of recycled products? Or at the very least more efficient ways to have wood as the raw material for bats than the 4 bats per tree it currently is able to achieve? Deforestation is a key contributor to climate change [1], and therefore deserves a more proactive approach from a major consumer such as Mizuno to combat the detremental effects its practices are causing.

    [1] WWF website, 2016. http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/effects-of-climate-change [Accessed 11/7/2016]

  4. Very insightful post – I thought it was particularly interesting that Mizuno has struggled to match the same level of emissions reductions in the U.S. that they achieved in Japan. I agree with your point that the company likely could apply many of the same changes that they made to reduce emissions in Japan to their U.S. factories. The question then is, why hasn’t that happened yet? Perhaps it has to do with American consumers caring less about waste than Japanese consumers and thus Mizuno hasn’t been as incentivized to improve that aspect of its U.S. operations?

  5. Wow, I was in Seattle cheering for the Mariners during Ichiro’s amazing reign there, and then had the pleasure of moving to NYC just as he joined the Yankees. I suppose I never noticed his bat because most of the action comes from watching him steal bases! I am impressed that professional sports take the extra step to worry about environmental issues. To be honest, the MLB is one area where I would have been willing to give them a free pass. It is, after all, a world class competition and when there are so many fans and so much brand value on the line, I would expect everyone to do everything they can to gain every shred of advantage. I’m curious, if there were no rules or restrictions on material, would the rare wooden bat rank comparably to the best state-of-the-art bats?

  6. It has always shocked me how in baseball they use so many baseballs, and how much more sustainable it could be if they used metal instead of wooden bats. Why don’t they try to use their materials better?

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