by Luke Poliszcuk

It would be hard to miss the recent political turmoil here in Japan with the resignation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, amid controversy over his failure to deliver on a key election promise to remove a US military base from Okinawa. However, in the fields of sustainable development, green business and eco-communities in Japan, the pace continues to pick up with a wealth of conferences, events and seminars taking place and signs everywhere that green business is leading the way to a recovery.

June 5 was the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) World Environment Day (WED), and around the world a number of programs were hosted to celebrate, with the WED A-Z countdown offering helpful hints and tips with an alphabetical theme, such as: A for, “Adopt as many eco-friendly lifestyle choices as you can this WED and make them habits!” B for, “Bring a cloth bag to do all your shopping,” and C for, “Carpool or choose a hybrid. Hybrid cars produce 90 percent less pollutants than comparable non-hybrid cars.”

Green money is credible and companies like Patagonia are blurring the line between profit and nonprofit.

The Triple Bottom Line Investment (TBLI) Conference Asia, from May 27 to 28, featured a plethora of excellent speakers and workshops covering everything from the role of financial institutions in framing the future direction of the new green economy, to TBLI and biodiversity, to green real estate and TBLI in China. This is the second time the TBLI Conference Asia has been held in Tokyo, and the organizers were so impressed with the energy of the event that they have already committed to a third Tokyo TBLI conference in 2011.

Each year, Japan Research Institute (JRI) rates over 2,000 companies on environmental friendliness and company management, and breaks the results down into the top 300 in 33 sectors. Investors today are more interested in this kind of analysis than ever before, and not just for altruistic reasons. Areas such as alternative energy and environmental tecnology are popular with investors for their positive environmental, as well as financial impacts. “It’s no longer pure idealism, because many companies in these areas perform above market average,” Eiichiro Adachi of JRI said.

While Adachi provided a big picture overview, Lowell Sheppard’s work at Hope International provides a perspective that is very much rooted at ground level. A globally active non-profit organization, Hope provides support for individuals, families, and communities to begin lifting themselves out of desperate poverty. This support includes digging wells, engaging in training programs, and providing small financial, or bovine, loans. That’s right, Hope has a special microfinance system that provides cows for people to use as part of their business; a bona fide lend-a-cow scheme. Sheppard points to a 99.6 percent repayment rate as evidence that this kind of sustainable development is more than viable. “Today social entrepreneurism is a credible concept. Green money is credible and companies like Patagonia are blurring the line between profit and nonprofit,” said Sheppard.

Another notable recent ‘green’ event was the Fourth Ecovillage Conference at Josai International University from May 28 to 30, where people who live and work in eco-villages mingled and shared ideas with those who want to start their own or just get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Lester Brown, author of Plan B 1.0–4.0 was in town on a media tour, and had a message to share with residents of Japan: “Japan could run the entire economy on geothermal energy. And this is an opportunity waiting for someone to take [it],” he said.

The take away lesson from all this green activity? Sustainable development ideas need to come from all directions: large-scale, top-down efforts and bottom-up grassroots work. The results will be better returns for us all: a better economy, better environment, and better lives.

External Links:
JRI Home Page
HOPE Japan