Inbound Ambassador

Top-5 Sustainability Tips for Japan 2021

Here’s my top-5 list of achievable changes using currently available tech we know is effective and could see happen in 2021 if leaders, management, individuals and homeowners have the will to change for the better.

PM Suga has impressed those of us in the sustainability focused community with announcements of zero-carbon targets by 2050 and only zero-emission EV sales by mid 2030’s.

I’m feeling optimistic and hopeful that strong leadership with a clear sustainable vision, which is focused on practical solutions, will make effective change possible.

When I give advice to any destination, business or management team, here are my top-5 tips for sustainability. These changes make economic as well as environmental and societal sense as they will decrease costs over time as we move forward into new challenges due to climate change, disease and growing societal inequality issues.

These top-5 can be rolled out quickly, with relatively low costs, and would really start the sustainability-ball rolling forward – building a stronger brand for Japan.

1) Reusable Infrastructure

Zero-waste shops where consumers bring their own containers to refill goods is nothing new. Quality dairy farms, for example, still deliver milk in reusable bottles – pay a deposit and get it back upon return.

If we look back 30 years it wasn’t uncommon in Japan and other countries to either wrap items in biodegradable newspapers or brown paper, or put directly into reusable containers and shopping bags.

In 2020, regulation requiring a charge for plastic bags was introduced across Japan, so a ban on plastic bags and single-use plastic packaging should be the next step. If containers are not reusable or biodegradable they need to be disallowed.

Drink machines and convenience stores need to revert to the soda fountain and reusable container (glass + cans only) models of the past while plastic PET bottles must be completely phased out. According to the Japan Times, Less than 30% of collected plastic containers are actually recycled and that process causes more pollution, the rest is burned. It’s a broken system and the only solution is to turn off the plastic-tap by cutting off demand.

It’s time to bring the glass bottle drink machines out of retirement where containers are collected and reused. And fill modern machines with only recyclable can and glass drink options.

Offering filtered tap water freely in all convenience stores, eateries and public facilities could be a first step. MyMizu app currently tells us where this is possible, but it needs to be a standard service everywhere. Easy clean button types or sensor models are available to decrease risk of coronavirus spread.

It has become difficult to find water fountains even in parks in Japan, so making public ease of access to drinking water should be a priority in every municipality.

2) Plant-Based Vegan Option in Every Eatery

Japan is currently one of the most difficult countries for non-fish and non-meat consumers who travel or live in the country.

Creating regulation that requires all eateries to have at least 1 main dish that does not use any fish or animal ingredients is the only way to see change. It is clear that meat, dairy, eggs and fish industries are not sustainable in its current mass-production form across the world and plant-based diets are the way forward. It may seem drastic, but sweeping regulation like this is essential for adoption and would put Japan ahead of the competition as a welcoming travel, study and work destination.

A plant-based dish is something anyone can eat, it just requires a shift in thinking. Start with a vegan dashi (stock) base and build meals in levels, adding dairy, meat or fish but still able to cater to all. Don’t want to change the dashi for all? Keep some frozen in cubes ready to use for vegan diners.

Currently in Japan most eateries don’t even have salads, side dish, drink or dessert made without meat, dairy or fish illustrating the need for a more radical top-down approach. A reliance on fresh, quality vegetables will also be a boost for farmers in Japan and buying local fruit and veg. A support of farming is in turn a boost to rural communities as well as improving food-security.

3) Mandatory Composting

Before Composting

A mandatory 100% composting regulation has so many positive knock-on effects for people, planet and yes profits as it cuts costs.

Looking at the Recology model in the US catering to millions of customers as well as the small town of Kamikatsu in Tokushima catering to less than 1,500 shows how effective mandatory composting models are for any community large or small.

for all kitchen and food waste rule for all businesses and residents in collaboration with local farms, and forest management across Japan.

Composting reduces waste by around 30% at homes + businesses – this translates into huge cost savings across the country as well as better quality soil which would in turn enhance local produce.

When I visited the Recology waste center in San Francisco, they stated how their composting regulations has led to creation of a high-quality compost which is used on California wineries, farms, gardens and forests which leads to higher quality products and better branding. The recycling garbage industry also employs a lot of people at every stage from picking up the composting to processing, management and delivery. A great example of turning waste into gold.

4) Renewable Energy / Green Roof Regulation

Japan’s energy makeup according to the EIA in 2020: 40% Oil, 21% Natural Gas, 26% Coal, 4% Hydro (Dams), 3% Nuclear, 6% Renewables. This is a huge hurdle for realizing a carbon neutral 2050. It is also a dangerous over-reliance on imported raw materials to create 90% of this energy, not to mention the environmental and societal destruction fossil fuels and nuclear has on harvesting raw materials, shipping, processing and disposal.

Making renewable energy such as solar mandatory on every new building has great effects on gaining ground on zero-emission targets. Every new house, condo, company should be required to have at least 25% of its energy needs covered by renewable energy- prioritizing solar, wind, and geothermal.

If impossible to fit a solar system due to shading or other geographic problems, then a higher requirement of insulation and efficiency standards should apply including a green-roof which helps with insulation and reduces the heat-island effect in cities.

Incentives to invest in solar, like the FIT (Feed In Tariff) system should be brought back to encourage existing building owners to add #renewableenergy #wind #geothermal #solar to existing structures. Transparency of energy systems is key disclosing the lifecyle loop from sourcing materials to end-use scenarios.

It is clear that nuclear, hydro dams, palm oil, coal, oil, biofuel, and even hydrogen (unless made and transported using green renewables) are not sustainable and should not be included in FIT system incentive schemes.

Sustainable Energy targets should prioritize energy self-sufficiency at businesses and residences where energy is used and in high-demand. This decreases the demand on an outdated powergrid which is often an excuse not to increase renewables in the power mix.

5) Case By Case Audits

Sweeping reform with localized solutions is the key to success. Every area has certain strengths and challenges that need to be addressed.

Audit: every individual, business owner and government official should be encouraged to take an honest look at the strengths and weaknesses and available options. Every lifestyle, home, business, school and community has unique resources and needs. It’s important not to disregard change completely, but to try out ideas for improvement, reassess, discuss, and try again.

The tried-and-true, business-as-usual, one-size-fits-all strategies are often less effective than a case-by-case, region-by-region, business-by-business, and home-by-home approach.

This flexibility in management is by far the most difficult hurdle, but those who prioritize an audit will more effectively insulate itself from the challenges ahead.


See more opinions and insights on these topics for only $1/month subscription on Patreon

I’d be happy to work with you to create an individualized consultation to find solutions that fit your life, business or community. [inboundambassador]at[gmail].com or via one of my social media channels DM.

Top-5 Sustainability Tips for Japan Twitter Thread