Lawson, a major Japanese convenience store chain is known as one of world’s leading adopters of transcritical CO2 systems, which, as of the end of February, had been installed in 4,160 stores.
This month, the man responsible for spearheading these installations – Shinichiro Uto, Assistant General Manager of Lawson’s Development Division – will retire from his position.
To commemorate his achievements, here is a brief look back at the major steps Uto took to help lay the foundation for natural refrigerant adoption at Lawson, as well as the retail industry at large.
Uto graced the cover of the first issue of Accelerate Japan magazine, published by shecco (which also publishes this website) on August 1, 2015. In a profile of Lawson in that issue, he explained his plans to equip more than 1,300 Lawson stores with CO2 transcritical refrigeration systems. He also talked about his ultimate goal of having Lawson become the “world’s number one” retailer in terms of the number of natural refrigerant systems.
At the time, Uto was instrumental in establishing a study group that brought together the Japan Association of Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Contractors (JARAC), the Japan Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Industry Association (JRAIA), and other related organizations in order to promote the use of CO2 refrigeration technology in Japan. He traveled to Europe and the U.K. to meet with officials from the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR) and Sainsbury’s, a U.K. supermarket chain. He also visited Denmark, which at the time had the largest number of natural refrigerant system installations in the world.
Utilizing the knowledge he gained in the field, Uto helped Lawson switch to transcritical CO2 condensing units, supplied by Panasonic. He quelled concerns about initial costs and the installation and management of CO2 as a refrigerant. As of the end of February, Lawson had installed transcritical CO2 refrigeration systems in 4,160 stores nationwide and was actively testing the use of hydrocarbons.
Uto has not only worked within Lawson but has also spread the word in the industry about the importance of converting to natural refrigerants, speaking every year as an end-user representative at ATMOsphere Japan, an international conference on natural refrigerants organized by shecco. Uto has spoken a number of times about the importance of more end users talking about refrigeration system conversion rather than simply relying on manufacturers and governments. This has had a significant impact on industry stakeholders worldwide.
The footprints Uto leaves behind will undoubtedly continue to serve as an indispensable guideline for end users who intend to switch to natural refrigerants. Uto’s plans are still undecided, but the industry can only hope that there will be more opportunities for him to spread his knowledge.