The sustainability efforts we witnessed during the study trip can be categorized into three categories – government, business sector, or community-driven.
The government-led efforts we saw were at the Yumenoshima Tropical Greenhouse Dome, Shin Koto Incineration Plant and Kawasaki Eco-town and recycling facilities. The comprehensive recycling system starts with the incineration plant and recycling facilities, which recycle the waste items that still have economic value and incinerate those that do not. Then they use the heat produced from the incineration process to generate electricity to power up the greenhouse dome, which is used to investigate how to afforest indoor areas. They also use the residue to reclaim land, on which solar panels are then built on top. By doing this, the system successfully transforms waste into useful resources.
As for the business sector, both of the two visited companies – Nissan and Panasonic – have their own unique environmental philosophies. They put these philosophies into action by developing new green technology. For example, Nissan developed a monitoring machine that allows people to control household appliances remotely via their cell phones, letting them enjoy a greener living style that is also convenient. The device also helped minimize carbon emissions at their company – the Nissan Oppama Factory, for example, the technology helped cut the painting line from two to one and reduced CO2 emissions by 700kg.
The community-led players we saw included the Global Environment Outreach Center, which helps to broadcast Japan’s environmental protection ideas to other global markets by holding international conferences, and The Nature Conservation Society of Japan which enhances the communication locally by organizing outreach activities.
Interesting observations and learning points for Hong Kong
What interested me most during the trip was the way Japanese organizations set up comprehensive systems to utilize natural resources. In addition to the hardware set up described above, they also invest a lot of effort to develop a collective mindset within their society. Japan implants strong environmental insights to its citizens as early as at kindergarten level. Not only does this facilitate the implementation of environment-related policies, but when green-minded citizens rise up in ranks in business and become leaders, they will incorporate these philosophies in the way they run their companies – this was exactly the case with Panasonic. With the participation of the business sector, environmental policies can become even more effective.
I believe that Japan’s efforts to protect the environment provide many great examples for Hong Kong’s policymakers and industry players. Hong Kong government is now facing great opposing pressure from the public for intending to impose a fee for throwing out bags of trash. The fundamental reasons for the controversy is that Hong Kong citizens underestimate the environmental and administrative costs of processing waste, and the Hong Kong government only achieving short term goals by doing one part of the whole processing system. Hong Kong should have a holistic plan of waste recycling and implement it step by step instead of approaching solutions as discrete. In the mean time, the government should also explain the rationale behind the impending policy to the general public through education and NGO involvement.