Sustainability: Japan took its first steps a decade ago

Japan took its first steps a decade ago

As natural resources dwindle and the effects of climate change are felt, governments and businesses are looking at how to be sustainable. The Straits Times looks at the state of sustainable development in Singapore, Japan and Indonesia.

Kwan Weng Kin Japan Correspondent In Tokyo RESOURCE-POOR Japan moved to develop sustainable businesses more than a decade ago, before the term became a universal buzzword.

In 1992, then premier Kiichi Miyazawa became the first Japanese leader to call for a sustainable society, in a policy speech delivered a few months before the first Rio Earth Summit, which focused world attention on the importance of sustainable development.

Japan's attempt to meet the emission reduction target of 6 per cent provided for in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and increasing social awareness of environmental issues thanks to the work of non-profit organisations (NPOs), led to moves by Japanese companies to develop sustainable businesses around the turn of this century.

Many major companies invested in sustainable innovation. Panasonic, Japan's largest electronics maker, produces hydrogen fuel-cell generators and has increased the proportion of recycled materials used in its products. It is also the largest maker of rechargeable batteries in the world.

Japan is justly proud of its green car sector as well.

Carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi now produce battery-run electric vehicles, adding diversity to the green car market, which is currently dominated by hybrid vehicles from Toyota.

Last year, Toyota reportedly sold some four million hybrid cars worldwide. At home, hybrid models now account for one-fifth of all new-car sales.

At the current Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota announced a sedan whose hydrogen fuel cell will take just three minutes to charge and which can run more than 500km before the cell needs to be recharged.

Sustainable businesses in the energy sector were given a boost by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, which led to widespread public aversion in Japan to dependence on nuclear power.

Among renewable forms of energy that are likely to gradually replace fossil fuels in the country's total energy usage are solar and wind power.

The recent unveiling of a new type of floating windmill, which can be positioned farther away from shore, and technology that enables more efficient power transmission over long distances, hold great promise for the increased use of wind energy in future.

Still, Japan is not without its problems in terms of sustainability.

Overfishing, for instance, has vastly depleted eel stocks, requiring it to import substitutes for the summertime delicacy from other countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines.

wengkin@sph.com.sg


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