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Human Beings Are a Truly Infinite Resource! Society, Organizations, and People Changed by Zero Emission -- Masako Unoura

Human Beings Are a Truly Infinite Resource! Society, Organizations, and People Changed by Zero Emission

P 72 Masako Unoura

Born in Tokyo in 1955. Studied in the U.S.A. when she was at high school and in the Philippines when she was at International Christian University.

Completed the Masters course of International Politics, Economics and Business, Graduate School, Aoyama Gakuin University.

Met Mr. Aurelio Peccei, the founder of the Club of Rome, in her 20s and was influenced by his way of life and view of the world.

After working for a foreign-affiliated private company, affiliated research organization of the Ministry of Labor, the Urasenke Foundation Konnichian, and others, she belonged to UNU since 1994 and has participated in the UNU "Zero Emission" Research Initiative from its inception. She acts as a promoter in Japan being a mediator between industry, central government agencies and governing bodies, while administering the project and carrying on activities such as training and lectures.

She successively held various Zero Emission related committee membership and has been a project manager of the Initiative since 1999.

Zero Emission enterprises on which business and governing bodies increasingly work (introduced on page 60 in the fourth issue of our journal).

How did the Zero Emission Initiative, designed as a means of building up a circulating society, come into existence, and what does it aim at?

We interviewed Ms. Masako Unoura, one of the planners of the Initiative and at the center of its activities in Japan.

―Ms. Unoura, what involved you in the Zero Emission Initiative [*]?

Unoura: Looking back over my career, it was the experience of studying in the Philippines in my school days. Returning home, I went to the first McDonald's open for business in Japan, at which I was dumbfounded by the quantity of trash - of paper bags and hamburger cases - thrown away right after hamburgers were eaten. Then, water was very precious in Asian countries; but because tap water caused stomach trouble I hardly drank it there. However, safe cold water could be served anywhere in Japan. My greatest culture shock right after returning home was precisely the value of safe water.

Then, I read "The Limits of Growth" in which the Club of Rome rang an alarm bell in my school days, and was shocked by the fact that "resources are limited" on the earth. The experience still more influenced me. Actually, after that, in the early 1980s, the founder Mr. Aurelio Peccei (Vice-President of Olivetti) and Japanese members of the Club of Rome such as Mr. Saburou Okita, Prof. Yoichi Kaya, and others recruited young people from all over the world under Mr. Peccei. The purpose was for training youth who bore the Club of Rome on their shoulders in the 21st century; among them was Gunter Pauli, a Belgian entrepreneur, who set up Zero Emission in 1994 and I happened to take part in it.

Also, another was Kyoto, which gave me an opportunity to be involved in activities that I am doing today. I worked in the Urasenke school of tea ceremony, called the very spirit of Japanese traditional culture, for about seven years. In life there, I peeked at the origin that made me profluently sense the environment while living together with nature. In Kyoto, people get firsthand experience in sensing the seasons, specifically the changing of the four seasons. The greens are bright, and the food, house, clothing and everyday life themselves are natural. They are not at all luxurious, but the materials used are natural and the foods themselves are delicious. I was moved by how much Japanese culture remains here after all. Besides, in manners of the Japanese tea ceremony and tea-ceremony dishes with which I came into contact at work everyday, a Japanese spirit of disgust at wastefulness showed itself in the posture, spirit, and beautiful appearance of loved things and precisely used materials. It was a truly refined culture. Then, when I was invited by Pauli to join and do Zero Emission together at UNU in March 1994, intuition ran through me like a flash of lightning.

Organization and Communication that Zero Emission Changes

―The Zero Emission Initiative seems to be unique because it formulated a plan for tackling the environment by involving industry from the beginning. Through what kind of development did this vision come into being?

Unoura: Gunter Pauli, the central figure of the Initiative, was in high entrepreneurial spirit from running a company which made vegetable soaps and to connect waste produced by beer brewing to bolster employment in his home country of Belgium. His way of thinking was always novel. To make good use of his experience, he suggested the basic concept to UNU. It would be possible enough for him to aim at a business chance as an entrepreneur. However, there seemed to be a volunteer spirit, like an aura, to "serve humankind" which I sensed through instruction by Mr. Peccei.

At that time, there were various arguments within UNU to enact the "Agenda 21" plan, proposed in the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992, into practice. Then Rector Prof. Heitor Gurgulino de Souza was a physicist, but at the same time had a business sense, and his sense and encounter with Pauli seemed to be fate. After that, the then deputy Vice-Rector Prof. Tarcisio G. Della Senta, who found Pauli's rare nature of foresight, managed to launch the project. Then, four people, each from a different country, started this project (both Pauli and I were from the private sector, not from academia, so that the appointment even led to public discussion at that time).

―It was a fundamentally different idea from conventional environmental conservation and research subject, wasn't it?

Unoura: Yes. After all, it is industry that tends to be the miscreant in environmental problems, isn't it? Still, that is why I expected enterprises to show leadership from the bottom of my heart. For three months after starting the project, we carried out telephone surveys of about fifty companies and actually made the rounds. Of course, there were companies turning us away at the door, but there were also a lot of companies that met us by saying, "Come in, come in," as the beer industry did. Furthermore, in the case of Japan, under the hypothesis that industry would have difficulty promoting enterprises without backing by government policy, we challenged the Basic Industrials Bureau of the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry. The real intention was that we were not so concerned with wasted resources, but with wasted recycling resources and materials. Therefore, we went not to the Waste Measure Section, but to the Basic Industrials Bureau. The then chief of the Bureau was a clearheaded person who acted as a mediator between various kinds of industries and us with prompt decisions. Moreover, the chief appointed a person in charge in the American Division inside of the Ministry. As a result, the opinion of Japanese government was included in Japan-U.S. environmental policy arguments because the Clinton Administration at the time was eager in environmental policy. In those efforts, the Eco-Town Plan [* *] of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry created the Environmental Protection and Industrial Location Policy Division(環境立地政策課の正式英語名をもしご存知でしたらご教示ください。) officially as a liaison office later on. In addition, there was backing by the current of the times, such as the COP3 Kyoto Conference held in 1997, and the circle of Zero Emission in Japan showed rapid expansion beyond our expectations.

―How is the overseas development of Zero Emission?

Unoura: At first, there had already been legal actions and various challenges in Europe in environmentally developed countries; and although they approved of the project, only a fraction of the countries would actually incorporate it. Rather than just basing missions to contribute and serve environment of developing countries as well, UNU actively carried forward an experiment of a Zero Emission model in beer brewing, participated in it, and let governmental enterprises work in Africa and Fiji. My impression is that it was accepted as a concept for employment creation in developing countries.

Just recently, Tianjin city made a request to us for a Zero Emission type of town planning, so that a mission consisting of Zero Emission Forum members from industry is going to exchange views. If cities like Tianjin City grapple with it, it will enormously influence Asian development in the future. I expect that very much.

―As you carry forward Zero Emission, what kind of problems do you think that industry and the public sector have?

Unoura: At first, the idea of industrial waste measures was powerful in Japan, but Zero Emission is a system wherein wastes from some industries become resources for other industries, so information disclosure and networking among industries are indispensable. At the same time, I would be glad if governing bodies or the central government came to have Zero Emission's way of thinking. Current administrative organizations are made up of organizations such as bureaus and sections, a vertical structure, and there is no cooperation among the smallest unit of sections. By Zero Emission's way of thinking, each of the ministries and agencies would be decentralized, and their hierarchic structures would transform into network organizations. If so, the structure of the whole organization would become much smoother.

Useful technology in that case is actually IT, I think. Everybody shares pieces of information owned by each section, and various specialists network among them. For example, in Iwate Prefecture, which is going to carry out six Eco-Towns under the name of Zero Emission Promotion Committee, representatives of each section participate in it voluntarily and began cross sectional information disclosure and information interchange regularly. At the same time, this prefecture, NTT, and UNU/ IAS are jointly carrying out an experiment to send intelligible environmental information to prefecture residents as part of environmental education.

Regionally Generated Zero Emission without a Manual

―Maybe because of government subsidy, many governing bodies are carrying forward the Eco-Town Plan. What do you think of attempts in each region?

Unoura: I think what they need is local originality. If regions are different, their environments, resources and wastes dealing with will be naturally different, so Zero Emission has a manual, but behaves as if it had none. It would not be necessary to stick to its fundamental concept or definition. In the course of circulating wastes and creating employment and new industry, there are guidelines for a system for final waste use. However, how it is created would be the point that individual independence is displayed. Because repetitive circulation follows the ever changing mantra "needless resources could be collected and put to use by this company, couldn't they?", we have to be beyond the idea that it should be like this.

―Are you saying that Eco-Town being created now has just one form, but it keeps progressing and changing?

Unoura: It will change. It seems that the current Zero Emission is apt to end in extension of recycling. I would never deny the importance of recycling, but it seems to follow up waste and is always controlled by it. Could it be said that Zero Emission is more complete because there is an Eco-Business and employment through creation of new industry? It is promotion of community, isn't it? Then, companies aiming at no waste will appear in succession. That's wonderful. So, after Zero Emission has made its achievement in business, there will surely be cases of Zero Emission type communities where residents' participation and governing bodies could cooperate and achieve something. I think that it will surely be an example of Zero Emission type of community. At present, it seems to me that many of them are still at the blueprint stage. Mentioning regionalism, there are female groups and companies trying to make building materials from scraps of Ryukyu Glass in Okinawa. I pay attention to Zero Emission with such regional characteristics.

―In the countryside, there are some governing bodies having no choice other than imitating others because capable people are limited.

Unoura: There are many governors having unique ideas about the environment these days.

But, just one local government bottleneck would be that they do their work with a stance toward saving taxes. If they changed their stance to set up businesses with taxes and returned that to residents, incentives would increase, wouldn't they? Efficiency or retrenchment of red tape is fine, but don't governing bodies need to have more managerial sense? Of course, there is risk, so consensus of residents and agreement formation are the key to that.

―In order for Zero Emission to succeed in Japan, what else is needed?

Unoura: I think that it is disclosure of information after all. It is necessary to always be open and communicate. Japanese people increasingly need to develop presentation abilities and skills. The world in which silence is a virtue has ended. When we talk to people, there are many cases where the response is, "What? Is that all?" Therefore, notwithstanding impact of the Internet, if the communication environment can not be changed to interactive face-to-face communication including dialogue which is company-to-company, governing body-to-company, and resident-to-governing body, we would have to spend considerable time to reach settlement.

―When people discuss and start projects together, they could take responsibility together.

Unoura: That's right. Even though it takes some time, Japanese people had better take time for each other's mutual understanding, hadn't they? Unfortunately, such training is rare. I want them to exchange views naturally with knowing the other's position. Japan is a democratic country and should aim at being a Wa-no-Kuni from now on!

To Technology with a Cultural Face

Aside from industry, Zero Emission activities are being carried out at the individual level. What place do they have in UNU?

Unoura: I think that it is wonderful. Since the current Zero Emission Forum centers on industry and is intended for academia and governing bodies, we greatly anticipate an opportunity to come in contact with NGOs and individual citizens' movements in the future.

At a private level, I want to transmit the Japanese way of making goods as though living in an ancient city, and the world of food, clothing and shelter meeting ecological design. Women's sense too could be shown for this. As we have just started with industry, though, we can not do that yet.

―Japanese life, represented by Kyoto, seems to make good use of skillfully modified nature, but you want Zero Emission to include life and art culture….

Unoura: It is my dream for Zero Emission that it be shared by business people, housewives, and children who share the same viewpoint as living beings. This is because Japanese people are skillful, and have a profound knowledge of culture and an artistic accumulation. There has been an argument that such an ideological/ cultural side should be left to education and thinkers, and improving Japan's establishment as a state on the basis of technology should be given priority over that. However, Zero Emission would be refined from various angles.

―It is said that Zero Emission in Japan is important for overseas contribution.

Unoura: I think that suggesting Zero Emission model to developing countries such as our neighboring Asia will be a new style of ODA. It would be possible for Japanese companies to expand their businesses overseas and to create a way with local peoples in which Asia develops economically in the future without making the mistakes that Japan has; it would be an industrial complex with Zero Emission and a Zero Emission type community.

In that sense, the industrial complex that we have now is very important. For example, Zero Emission in Okinawa is similar to Southeast Asia in terms of its conditions. In cold regions such as China, Zero Emission carried out in Hokkaido and Tohoku could be applied. Also, in the case of Kawasaki, examples could be used where advanced-type industrial complexes of heavy industries are turned into a Zero Emission type. I cannot take my eyes off each of those cases, including Kawasaki. Having begun efforts in Japan, we were not so conscious of overseas cases because Japan learned lessons from pollution problems. Therefore, we decided to send it from Japan.

For the past several years, we have developed Environmental Advanced Case Interchange (環境先進事例交流会の正式英語名称5Mございましたらご教示ください。) in an interactive form; we are going abroad and learning environmental cases through visiting companies and regions and introducing challenges of different Japanese governing bodies. Many industries have participated, though information in large amounts was not easily obtained from single enterprises such as communications, steel, cement, house appliance, and food processing. Besides, it is an interchange of exerting their strongest points. As UNU plays the role of a matchmaker, it combines the best practices of enterprises and learning, then finds some solution from that.

Human Resources are Infinite

―What kind of discovery did you make as you made the rounds all over the country for Zero Emission?

Unoura: I am conscious of the importance of communication in any kind of activity and believe it to be useful and necessary. Furthermore, I am interested in individual personalities and novel ideas. It is the same in Zero Emission and expansion of an idea is amazing. Various arguments and themes are bubbling over. "Nothing is greater than the resource called humankind." That is sort of my conclusion. A group of those who want to turn an inland industrial complex in Kanagawa prefecture into Zero Emission came to meet us today as well. Characteristics common to people concerned with Zero Emission are that they are eager to learn and very passionate; they are people who picture earthly man's epic following endless dreams. (Then, there is the reaction by women is that they are more realistic, objectively speaking.)

―Although resources are limited, the resource known as humankind is infinite.

Unoura: Absolutely. That is to say, it is not as a professor says a proper theory and a woman working at supermarket does not. Every time I come in touch with the infinitude of ideas that humankind has, I can really enjoy concerning myself with environmental issues from the bottom of my heart. For example, I think that it is a big mistake for us to try to solve environmental problems unilaterally - only through advanced technology.

In addition, it will be a big problem for a governing body, learned society, and industry to reach an agreement to realize Zero Emission. Sometimes, being in different positions, people speak completely different languages. Japan must train so-called communicators who link them. Unfortunately, people are not good at that kind of function in Japan. Recently, thanks to IT technology, those who are not good at direct negotiations suddenly came to have conversations indirectly. However, meeting in person and smoothing mutual understanding are very important aspects. It is a theme of Zero Emission as well, but people should meet people to a greater extent and repeat discussions as passion conflicts with passion. Then, unity will result.

Putting wastes to practical use as recycled resources for form industries is called industrial clustering (industrial collectivization) in Zero Emission. I shall be happy if this were part of sustainable society for people in the twenty-first century.

[In Aoyama, Tokyo on August 18, 2001.]

P 73 *―The United Nations University "Zero Emission" Research Initiative

(UNU/ ZERI: Zero Emission Research Initiative)

It is the Initiative launched by UNU in 1994 which aims at utilizing wastes generated by industry and so on as resources or energy for other industries by modeling a natural ecosystem of food chains to ultimately achieve zero waste (emission). At the same time, it seeks creation of new regional industry and employment.

**―Eco-Town Enterprise

It is a support system for Zero Emission founded by the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the former Ministry of Health and Welfare (at present it is a joint recognition of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of the Environment).

Enterprises to recycle wastes or generate electricity by wastes in conjunction with fellow industries and districts in industrial complexes are its object. The Metropolitan and Prefectural Governments or ordinance designated city makes the Eco-Town Plan; if approved it can be subsidized by the half amount of the kernel facilities.

As of Sep. 2001, thirteen regions are designated as such in the whole country.

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