are we to think about the environment and Japan in the year 2010?
Well, first we need to avoid common misconceptions, such as:
“The Japanese are not at all environmentally aware.”
If you have followed recent news about
Japan, you know that Japan experiences the gamut of environmental difficulties:
acute waste disposal problems, lack of natural resources, groundwater pollution,
density of economic activity over 15 times that of the U.S., and much more.
Most of these are covered closely by Japan’s scoop-hungry media. Numerous
polls show that a majority of Japanese citizens are concerned about nuclear
accidents, in a small
country with over 50 nuclear plants. Dioxin contamination from waste
incinerators is also the focus of intense concern.
Have “environmentally sound alternatives” surfaced in Japan? Yes. “Pesticide-free golf courses” are fairly well-developed. “Pesticide-free foods” and “environmentally-friendly products” are increasingly popular and profitable. The list of environment-friendly options is growing longer.
all Japanese are environmentally aware. Isn’t
it in their culture?”
We have also heard this
“positive stereotype” many times over the years.
It’s understandable – you can get this impression from exquisite
Japanese paintings and gardens, or from how the seasons are reflected in fine
However, of course, many Japanese are primarily concerned with making a
living or accumulating wealth, and basically indifferent to environmental
concerns. Much research, including
our own, demonstrates this.
“There is no environmental activism in Japan.”
Since the 1970s, due to severe
environmental problems and rapt media attention, many Japanese have come to see
environmental issues as crucial. New
NPO (nonprofit organization) and freedom of information laws, though imperfect,
have made it easier for concerned citizens to take action.
In recent years, we have often heard of “the difficulty of
siting new waste treatment facilities” in Japan, similar to the
United States and elsewhere. Dams
and golf courses are also magnets for opposition.
A Japanese foreign minister was recently fired, partly because she appeared to snub nonprofit organizations. This event symbolizes the enormous change in a nation where NPOs and “nongovernmental organizations” (NGOs) have long been seen as "foreign," and where "civic activism" has not been encouraged in the political culture.
“The Japanese economy is bad, and trying anything
environment-related there is a bad risk.”
Actually, the economy is
improving; and even during Japan's lengthy recession, good environmental ideas
were needed and often successful.
Environment-friendly products and services enjoy a sizable
competitive advantage in today's Japanese economy.
Many Japanese businesses have embraced the environment to increase
competitiveness at home and abroad. For instance, Sony pays homage to the environment to
improve its image, and tries to raise awareness by distributing information
about the environmental character of its products.
Environmental Developments in Japan
· Organizations such as the "Tokyo Green Consumer Network" are helping to catalyze substantial increases in sales of eco-friendly goods.
Local governments have become environmental innovators.
One runs ecotourism campaigns to attract visitors.
Another set up a link between recycling firms and manufacturers to
collect appliances more efficiently. Another
local government developed a network of 150 businesses to pool information on waste
treatment and recycling. There is a network of 60 local governments that
promotes wind power. Many local governments are trying to utilize
biomass--e.g., food waste and wood chips--to produce energy, help stop global
warming, and create new jobs.
The largest city gas company in Japan (Tokyo Gas) is developing a
co-generation system that uses a fuel cell to generate power and heat (on site),
and also hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles.
A law implemented recently requires the government and affiliated
groups to buy environment-friendly products -- 101 items in 14 categories --
including paper, personal computers and photocopiers.
Japanese fishing groups and NGOs have slowed landfilling and dam construction in
environmentally sensitive areas like the Isahaya Bay and the Kawabe River.
· The environmental sector continues to provide new jobs and business opportunities – urgently needed in the current economic downturn. The Japanese government estimates that the environmental market will expand from about $125 billion (U.S.) to $300 billion in 2010, and will open up about 1.4 million jobs.
New “Eco-Funds” screen businesses on environmental
performance. Assets of six eco- funds – especially popular among women with no
previous investment experience – totaled about $1 billion US after two years.
An increasing number of firms who wish to raise funds or appeal to a
broad range of customers utilize environmental appeals.
Three popular Japanese musicians recently established a bank in
Japan to provide low-interest financing for renewable energy, energy
conservation and environmental protection activities.
· Japanese firms increasingly look for environmentally sound alternatives. For example, delivery firms are looking for non-diesel vehicles, as pollution concerns engender stricter diesel regulation. One firm introduced hundreds of trucks that run on compressed natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas.
Many universities have
added environmental programs. There is even a "University of
Environmental Studies." A new Japanese
eco-business school focuses on entrepreneurs who want to begin environmental
firms in “natural energy”, recycling, wastewater treatment, soil cleanup,
and environmental consulting.
· The national government offers incentives to encourage firms to be more “environmentally competitive.” The Environment Ministry has established guidelines for environmental reports and accounting, in part to give investors and consumers information with which to evaluate firms’ environmental performance.
The trend is crystal clear:
the environment is increasingly important in Japan.
Citizens, government, businesses, and investors are acting
on their growing concerns. The
environment is not a priority for all Japanese – but the writing is
on the wall. The environment will
continue to grow in importance.
The benefits of this trend
can be enormous. Those who wish
to improve environmental performance and solve environmental problems can have
constructive influence on the world’s second largest economy. And the
learning process is a two-way street. No matter what the specialty –
environment-friendly packaging, wastewater treatment, geographic information
systems, alternative energy, nonprofit activity, or a host of others – to the
non-Japanese, Japan is an instructive, “negative mirror.” We look at
Japan’s intriguing culture, see fascinating differences, and then see
our own specialties in a striking new light. Work with Japan and the
Japanese is often deeply enlightening.
today's dynamic, swift-shift age of globalization, “sustainable development”
is a mantra for industrialized nations, and Japan
is no exception – stereotypes notwithstanding.
In Japan, too, the environment has
become a crucial concern. For
those with innovative, useful ideas and services to offer, the time is ripe.
Times, Daily Yomiuri, Asahi News, Japan for Sustainability