Japanese convenience store chain Lawson – headquartered in Tokyo – seeks to meet its environmental initiatives in part by using transcritical CO2 (R744) refrigeration, with 5,028 of its 14,631 stores (over 34%) already using air-cooled CO2 outdoor condensing units (OCUs).

The number of Lawson stores using CO2 refrigeration comes from a survey conducted by the company at the end of December 2022, with the total number of stores in operation based on February 2023 numbers.

According to research by ATMOsphere (publisher of R744.com), 6,960 locations in Japan (including 300 large retail stores, 6,330 convenience stores and 330 industrial facilities) used transcritical CO2 refrigeration systems as of the end of December 2022. 

As a pioneer in adopting natural refrigeration systems – with its first CO2 system installed in 2010 – Lawson convenience stores account for over 72% of all facilities in Japan using the natural refrigerant today and almost 80% of the country’s convenience stores with CO2.

Panasonic, based in Osaka, is the country’s primary supplier of transcritical CO2 condensing units with 13,800 OCUs for medium- and low-temperature applications installed in 4,500 stores as of March 2022, according to the 2022 edition of the “ATMO Report: State of the Industry.”

By 2025 – Lawson’s 50th anniversary – the company aims to “reduce CO2e emissions per store by 15% compared to 2013 levels,” according to its 2022 integrated report, with a 50% reduction by 2030 and a 100% reduction by 2050. 

NatRef achievements

Shinichiro Uto, who retired in April 2021 as the Assistant General Manager of Lawson’s Development Division, spearheaded the company’s switch to transcritical CO2 condensing units. “We’re taking a long-term perspective by proactively introducing natural refrigerants,” he said. 

In 2014, the company announced it would principally adopt non-HFC refrigeration systems in new stores. In addition, Lawson’s 2022 report indicates the company plans to “remodel 3,500 of its stores in pursuit of an ideal store format.”

In 2019, Lawson opened its first “fully HFC-free store” at Keio University in Kanagawa Prefecture. Besides transcritical CO2 refrigeration, the store uses hydrocarbon (R600a) plug-in refrigerators and ice makers supplied by Japanese OEM Hoshizaki.

Driven by the company’s “commitment to fulfilling its corporate responsibility towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Masaaki Kanbe, Director of Construction Headquarters for Lawson (China) Holdings, Lawson opened a store in 2020 in Shanghai, China, using transcritical CO2 and hydrocarbon refrigeration systems, which was thought to be a first for a small-food retail store in the country.

The first Lawson store in Japan opened in Toyonaka City in June 1975. “In September 1975, the first franchise store, the ‘Momoyama Store,’ was opened and heralded the full-scale deployment of the franchise chain,” says Lawson on its website.

Today, Lawson is one of Japan’s top three convenience stores, along with 7-Eleven and Family Mart.

“We’re taking a long-term perspective by proactively introducing natural refrigerants.”

Shinichiro Uto, retired Assistant General Manager of Lawson’s Development Division