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As consumers go green, firms out to exploit new opportunities

by Asako Sawanishi

Kyodo News

Japanese companies are taking advantage of the public’s growing concerns about climate change to hunt for new business opportunities.

With the global fight against greenhouse gas emissions expected to be high on the agenda at the Group of Eight summit next month in Hokkaido, more firms are jumping onto the green bandwagon.

These include a company selling seedlings that grow into healthy flowers even under a blazing sun, a weather information company striving to improve predictions about when cherry trees will blossom and a mutual fund investing in enterprises contributing to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Sakata Seed Co. is marketing a new flower strain named SunPatiens developed from a small flower originating in an equatorial region. It won’t wilt in a heat wave and flourishes in parks and flower beds.

It had sold about 7.8 million seedlings as of the end of last year, having first exported them three years ago prior to putting them on sale in Japan.

Each is capable of growing to 80 cm in diameter as long as it gets a steady supply of water, and flowers bloom all around it without succumbing to the heat.

Colorful SunPatiens in orange and pink created quite a stir when they were displayed at the 2008 Japan Flower and Garden Show in the city of Chiba in March.

Sakata said a set of three seedlings costs ¥1,500 by mail order. It plans to go ahead with developing other flowers that can withstand the summer heat.

The meteorological information service Weathernews Inc. has about 18,000 people registered with it as “cherry blossom monitors.” They monitor fixed points near their homes in areas ranging from Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture to Wakkanai, Hokkaido.

The company said observations made by these monitors help it offer more accurate forecasts on cherry blossoms and contribute to boosting its name recognition.

Weathernews began recruiting monitors in 2004, initially asking them to watch cherry trees from late February to late May. But the monitors have been sending in their information all year round since last year as the cherry blossoming season came earlier than before.

It gets photographs of cherry blossoms taken by monitors on their cell phone cameras and displays them and their comments on its weather forecast Web site.

Mutual funds targeting shares in corporations involved in energy conservation as a means of dealing with global warming are also becoming popular.

Shinko Investment Trust Management Co. was ahead of others in June 2006 when it started the new Chikyuryoku (Earth power) fund, which is related to the prevention of global warming.

The focus of its investments includes companies such as Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s leading automaker in manufacturing vehicles as well as in hybrid technology combining gas-driven engines and electric motors.

According to Morningstar, a provider of information on mutual funds, there are seven investment trust funds totaling about ¥110 billion in net assets — including Cool Earth, a UBS fund — related to measures to cope with climate change.