Environmental Policy

Message: Environmental Businesses Created by Active Women

1. Women, environment and economics - three key words for building a healthy Japan

(Introduction by Yuriko Koike, former Minister for the Environment)

Japan may lack natural resources such as oil and gas, but it does have other major resources - its human resources. Japan's postwar economic growth was achieved thanks to these human resources.
However, there is one type of human resource that still goes largely under-utilized in Japan, and that is its women. I believe that this under-utilized resource will prove to be a valuable asset in achieving new growth in Japan. Active woman power has already begun to make itself felt in the field of starting up and managing businesses that benefit the environment.

The Twenty-first Century - the century of the environment - will require new growth in patterns different from what we have known so far. This will of course mean building an economy that does no harm to the natural environment. However, we must go even further and develop an economy that grows as a direct result of business activities that heal the environment, forming a positive feedback mechanism in which invigorating the economy means benefiting the environment. Japan's Ministry of the Environment drew up the "Vision for a Virtuous Circle for Environment and Economy in Japan" as an ideal scenario for a society where such positive feedback has been achieved. This document sets 2025 as one of its goal years in a process of promoting Japan as an "environmentally advanced nation that is healthy, rich and beautiful."

I think an "environmental revolution" will be needed to realize this ideal. Such a revolution would lessen the burdens we place on the environment through a revolution in consciousness of the need to share the benefits of a healthy natural environment with future generations as a way of seeking higher living standards for ourselves and our children and grandchildren. This will also help bring about a revolution in technology that will help create new foundations for the development of economic and lifestyle activities unlike anything we have seen so far. I think we can look to women as one of the prime forces for powering this kind of novel development.

I look to the vitality of women, who have overcome systematic and conventional obstacles in a variety of fields, for help in creating a healthy nation.

2. Opening up the future by working in environment

(Participants' comments in the order spoken)

- Our non-profit organization (NPO) seeks to forge links for a "partnership society." Taking the standpoint of residents, we support environmental regional revitalization efforts on the local level. (Yuko Sakita: Moderator)

- Our group collects used tempura oil and refines it into fuel for busses and trucks. Our dream is to tap the "vast oil reserves" of metropolitan Tokyo.
(Yumi Someya)

- We provide environment-related human resource services. We believe that increasing the number of self-motivated, exceptionally environment-minded workers will help bring about a sustainable society. (Etsuko Yasui)

- Broader awareness and discussion of the environment and the economy are also happening in the field of capital markets. The concept of "socially responsible investment" (SRI) has been attracting more attention lately.
(Kathy Matsui)

- We draw up environmental reports and other documents that communicate corporate environmental information. I believe we need a social vision of a happy, smiling future for coming generations in which humankind can co-exist with the planet. (Ayako Sonoda)

- Our company treats mixed construction waste. We develop technologies for utilizing recycled materials, with the aim of realizing leading-edge resource cycling treatment processes. (Emiko Tsutsumi)

- Our company works to support and promote environmental projects. Our NPO provides technical environmental information for the layperson, undertaking mediation for meeting environmental needs, and so on.
(Atsuko Suzuki)

- Our firm designs eco-housing that employs extra insulation, renewable energy sources and so on. The Ministry of the Environment adopted our policy proposal to link eco-building improvements to school buildings with environmental education at the schools. (Sachiko Zenyouji)

- I do translation, interpreting and journalism in environment-related fields. Our NGO gathers and communicates information about Japan's environmental initiatives and technology to the rest of the world. (Junko Edahiro)

3. Messages

(1) For people who hope to work in environment-related fields
- A strong sense of purpose is needed for this challenging work -

Environmental businesses offer meaningful work opportunities with great potential. What could be better than getting paid to do a job you enjoy that also makes a contribution to society? This is the possibility offered by environmental business.

However, to do something worthwhile and get paid for it at the same time, you must put all your life experience to maximum use and attack everything you do with every ounce of skill and energy you can muster. Because most environment-related fields are still relatively new, it is particularly important to have well-defined goals and a broad perspective. You may have to steadily build up a basic foundation as you master needed technologies and learn to completely apply yourself. An ability to make efforts with longer timeline will also help you do a job that you can proud of.

Leads and opportunities for this kind of work can be found everywhere.

Jobs can be had in a wide range of fields, such as in conducting environmental tests and studies, in research and development related to chemistry, medicine, food products, etc., or in waste management, etc. People are also wanted in a variety of other fields, such as in trust-building mediation in relation to environmental concerns among corporations, consumers and investors. Even when a direct connection with the environment is not obvious, in today's world there are no organizations in which knowledge about the environment is not needed. Environment-minded people with the right knowledge are needed even in sales, accounting and general affairs departments. For example, sales departments need new, environment-protective business models to work from.

A diversity of employment frameworks in addition to full-time positions should also be possible. For example, assembling a group of people with various abilities could be an effective way to pursue a specific project.

Totally new environment-related businesses can also be created from scratch. Considerable difficulties in raising capital, etc., can be expected, particularly when women are putting together a company or going independent, but in reality there are many fields, such as residential architecture, in which the benefits of women's originality and powers of observation are being actively sought.

In any event, a strong sense of purpose and great perseverance are needed in all aspects of any attempt to break new ground. New dreams and interesting work are bound to reward success, particularly in environment-related fields.

(2) Capital and Finance
- Towards a society that supports people looking for jobs in environmental fields -

Many share the experience of encountering difficulties in procuring funds from financial institutions. Japanese financial institutions have so far been poorly represented in groups of such institutions that have ties with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), etc. It can be said that Japanese financial institutions lag behind those in the United States and Europe in their ability to evaluate and screen for environment-related endeavors for providing funds. In future, financial institutions will need to be able to ignore gender and learn to appropriately value people who are aiming to develop new businesses in environment-related fields that have yet to accumulate long histories of financial experience.

Money flows also need to be shifted into the direction we need to go in future. Environment is the most strategic field of development for Japan's survival in the global context. Demand is accelerating for environment-related goods and services in step with economic growth in countries in Asia and elsewhere. Should more financial support be made available to new business ventures, this could very well lead to a significant broadening of Japan's economic future. For this reason, we need a financial climate that allows the necessary funds to be raised based on appropriate evaluations of environment-related business as a market.

Some Japanese financial institutions and investors are beginning to take a more pro-active approach by including environmental perspectives in offering or choosing investment products and by awarding favorable financing options to environment-related projects. The government and ordinary citizens should be encouraged to support financial institutions that are playing a pioneering role in this area, while keeping these institutions comprehensively informed about investment needs. The Ministry of the Environment ought to very actively provide environment-related information to such highly-motivated financial institutions and investors.

The question of what constitutes socially responsible investment is still being asked. Lessons can be learned about "corporate social responsibility" and "socially responsible investment" by looking at other countries; expectations are that a set of Japan-specific criteria will be created and widely applied.

(3) Environmental Information and Education
- Human resource services and education programs for raising environmental awareness -

The most important condition for the development of environmental businesses is a large number of people with a high level of environmental awareness that moreover has an effect on how they act. For example, such people would choose to buy goods and contract for services not merely on the basis of immediate personal cost, but also by considering important environmental factors, such as the energy consumption of a product or a building throughout its entire life cycle, including post-use. As more individuals and organizations start to behave this way, better-quality businesses will be able to prosper. A vital function of the central government is to raise people's environmental awareness by boldly providing information that speaks to people's needs. The government should also create networks among industries and exchange information with citizens.

One important method for raising environmental awareness is environmental education. More opportunities for learning about the environment should be offered both in school and in the society at large. The national government should also offer Japan's model cases of environmental solutions to the rest of the world as a way of giving encouragement to people in industries and non-governmental organizations who are facing distressful situations as they cope with environmental issues.

More and more industries are taking on environmental issues. As these efforts become more widely acknowledged and appreciated, more goods, services and business practices that benefit the environment will be created. By expressing a proper appreciation of industries' development and practical application of environmental technology and production of high-quality environmental reports, the government, consumers and investors can work together to support industries in their efforts to deal with environmental concerns.

(4) The Government's Role
- Using environmental policy to realize a virtuous circle for environment and economy in Japan -

The central government and local governments need to ask themselves whether their own projects and regulatory systems are not according too much value to mere precedent while placing the new ideas and products of venture-type businesses at an unfair disadvantage. Where necessary, they should reform their governing style.

The Ministry of the Environment should be taking a leadership role in creating and applying policy designed to promote environmental stewardship in investment and finance, publication of environmental information and environmental education. It should also perform the task of coordinating environmental policy among government ministries and agencies. Particularly as it works to realize the goals of the Vision for a Virtuous Circle for Environment and Economy in Japan, it will need to hold dialogues with a wide range of people in various parts of the country. In the course of building a "healthy, rich and beautiful Japan," one goal is the growth of a market in environment-related goods and services worth over 100 trillion yen by the year 2025. A partnership that involves the whole society must be built up if this goal is to be reached. Concrete policies must be applied in order to create a society in which new ideas are properly regarded and knowledge is appropriately valued.

4. Conclusion

During our lifetimes we are, and will continue, encountering major historical change. The question being raised is how humankind can live as an integrated part of the biosphere's ecosystem. There are a multitude of topics for consideration such as a virtuous circle for environment and economy and a more active role for women. In order to bring economic activity more into line with a practical, everyday point of view, women need to take a more active role.
At the same time, Japan is looking to take a leadership role in Asia as an "environmentally advanced nation." Some Japanese environment-related businesses are already marketing products not only domestically and in the Asian region, but in Europe, the United States and the rest of the world. It would appear that we are being given a perfect chance to achieve meaningful lives. We can pursue this dream together by making the best possible use of what we have gained and learned in life so far, in order to share with coming generations the happiness of a life blessed with the benefits of a healthy planet.

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