Business leaders on the Environment
Sustainable Development and the Construction Industry
Speaker: Takao Tsumuro, Special Advisor to Obayashi Corporation
9 October 2002
- Pollution Control Technologies from France and Hungary
- Investment Needed to Apply New Technologies and for R & D
- Human Activities Now Exceed Nature's Ability to Restore Itself
- Building Study Shows Potential to Cut CO2 by 40%
- Zero Emissions from Big Project Construction Sites
- Bold Projects in Japan Address Environmental Problems
- The Biggest Issue is Changing the Awareness of Each Person
- Partial Versus Total Optimization
Using a few examples from the past I would like to explain how my company has gone about building our business through technological responses to environmental problems. Because this is a company, it is important, of course, to ensure that we make a profit. But research and development involve risks. There will always be certain aspects that you won't really know unless you try them out in practice with new systems. It is difficult to know and deal with all the risks, but with environmental problems in particular it is important to understand the big trends in developed countries and learn from what is going on in the world. I have always believed that the emphasis should shift from chasing short-term economic profits and instead prioritize the future of the human race. As a result of following this philosophy, we were able to raise product quality, increase the range of applications, and ultimately to increase our contribution to society.
The figure shows environmental and other problems faced by humanity in the twenty-first century. Local environmental pollution problems are on the bottom left, and global environmental problems are on the bottom right. Outside of those categories are new problems such as water resource depletion and population growth. Historically, the two major types of environmental problems evolved from the left to the right.
Local environmental problems in Japan emerged as a social issue in about 1960. The causes of local environmental problems could be identified relatively easily, and the scope of impacts could also be described fairly clearly. Pollution could basically be solved by improvements to the legislative framework and more efforts on the part of corporations. Nevertheless, as the world knows it took a fair amount of time to deal with problems in Minamata, Yokkaichi and Kawasaki (all sites of industrial pollution that had serious health impacts during the 1960s and 1970s).
Starting during the 1980s, global environmental problems on the right side of the figure started to appear. The nine shown here are global environmental problems now recognized by the international community. Key features here are that they are not so easy to define at the global scale in terms of causes and the scope of impacts. Many of the causes are rooted in the lifestyles of each and every person, including the industrial activities that support them. In short, every person is at the same time a victim and a cause of the problem. And with global environmental problems, many aspects are not clearly evident to the eye. This inevitably means that in some cases, by the time we realize there is a problem it is too late to respond. In addition to these nine problems, there are other environmental problems on a global scale, such as the growing gap between the rich northern countries and poorer southern countries and depletion of water resources. Corporate responses to environmental problems started with industrial pollution problems, but in this day and age, they cannot stop there. It is impossible now to avoid global environmental issues such as the need to combat global warming.
Pollution Control Technologies from France and Hungary
The first environmental problems that arose in the Japanese construction sector related to underground construction as cities grew and the problems of noise, vibration, and ground subsidence emerged. In order to reduce these problems, Obayashi Corporation introduced the "Soletanche" method from France in 1966. This was superior technology that had been developed by a company named Soletanche, which specialized in this field. It involves construction of a continuous wall of steel-reinforced concrete that extends deep underground, preventing ground collapse and blocking the flow of water. In Japan until that time, steel plates were being used, but companies in France and Italy were conducting trials with steel-reinforced concrete. Soletanche was the first to bring this approach to commercial use. At that time, I saw this new method being used in work on an underground parking lot in front of the Opera in Paris, being built to meet new demand. It seems to me that after that cities around the world started on a new phase of redevelopment. This technology has since been further improved, and is today a superlative technology known as the OWS-Soletanche method. The foundation of a structure is excavated with careful precision using a powerful mechanized system. As the construction methods became more established, a continuous wall could also double in the role as the underground outer wall and the support pilings, making it possible to achieve cost savings in building structures. In the underground construction around a group of buildings in Shinagawa (Tokyo), "back anchors" were used and internally there was no steel material used to support ground pressure. The amount of space below ground is the same as above ground. This approach boosts productivity. This technology, started as a response to problems of noise, vibration and ground subsidence, now has a history of 36 years in our company, and accounts for over four million square meters of wall surface. The methods used at that time for building construction projects have since then been applied to other types of engineering works, and the results have been good in making foundations for LNG tanks and bridges, for example.
One reason that this method stands out among cases of Japan-France joint research is that the French concept was flexible. A second reason is that there was a research institute for excavation testing, and the right personnel were made available. Because the OWS-Soletanche method to build underground continuous walls is impervious to water, it has also been employed in water resource developments that use underground dams. These dams use a continuous wall to prevent seawater incursion on one side and block the groundwater flow on the other side. Large underground dams have been built on Miyako Island in Okinawa (southern Japan), for example. We are hoping to apply this method to combat desertification in Africa and the Middle and Near East in the future.
The next environmental problem that Japan's construction industry tackled was exhaust emissions and odors from manufacturing and thermal power plants. The key here was to bring the emissions up and disperse them at as great a height as possible so that the concentrations of hazardous substances at ground level complied with environmental standards. Put simply, the key here was to make the highest possible smokestack. For this, Obayashi Corporation introduced the Svetho method. In Japan this is called the "slip method." It is a technique that involves continuously pouring concrete into a concrete form which is raised using a jack, a process that quickly produces a tower structure with a high degree of precision. Our first inspiration to introduce this technology came from the dry-free-flow cooling tower and ultra-tall smokestack built for a thermal power plant in Jonjos (Hungary), which was completed in 1966. In Europe and the Middle and Near East, this method is also being used for structures such as water towers, television towers, and industrial cooling towers.
Incidentally, Hungary has the highest number of Nobel laureates per capita compared to any country in the world. The renowned physicist John von Neumann, who did much of his work in the United States, was Hungarian. And Hungary at that time was also making significant contributions to the Soviet space program.
You may wonder how we obtained the information about the tower. At our company's Technical Research Institute there was a researcher who had an interest in Eastern European languages, and he heard on the short-wave radio that this tower construction in Hungary had successfully been completed. After hearing that news we began negotiations to bring the technology to Japan. We held an initial meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, and at that time I saw a person swimming in the inlet in front of the city hall, which was designed by famed architect Ragnar Ostberg. In those days, I knew that you would never find anyone swimming in Japan's Seto Inland Sea, so seeing this made me painfully aware of the need to reduce industrial pollution in Japan.
Investment Needed to Apply New Technologies and for R & D
Today I have introduced the OWS-Soletanche method and the Svetho method. One goes deep underground and the other rises high into the sky. Both of them started off as anti-pollution technologies. Through efforts to improve the quality of concrete structures, to shorten construction time, and to expand the possible applications, we were able to turn these methods into robust technologies. The background for these efforts was the pollution problems associated with industrialization. I am proud of our corporate approach to tackle industrial pollution, as a challenge to make a better future, and it is this approach that contributed to our achievements.
Now we turn to coal silos. We had heard from a certain steel manufacturer at the time of the first global "oil shock" when oil prices skyrocketed in the 1970s that it would be good to have large storage capacity to ensure the stable supply of mineral resources. So we loaded coal into a container built in a trial at our Technical Research Institute and conducted tests of coal's physical properties, as well as loading and unloading. When the need to diversify the country's energy resources came along after the second oil shock, our foresight was rewarded when our designs came into use as coal silos that do not cause marine pollution. After that, we made similar silos in a number of places. In the ongoing economic recession, the construction business is in hard times, and there is greater pressure to seek more immediate profits that are commensurate with the investment. Research and development activities are under more constraints during these times. Meanwhile, the trend toward globalization is stronger, the movement of people, goods, and information is increasing, and there are stronger calls for sustainable economic development in developing countries. It is the developed countries that are often expected to take responsibility for the responses to these things.
Human Activities Now Exceed Nature's Ability to Restore Itself
To what extent do you today sense that humanity is facing threats to its very survival? Human activities now exceed nature's ability to restore itself. Behind that situation is the issue of the world's human population. About 100 years ago the population was about 1.5 billion people, but in 2001 it was about 6.1 billion, an increase of 4 times. Over the next 50 years, it will increase to about 9 billion. And by the end of this century, we are told that there will be about 10 or 11 billion people living on the planet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an Assessment Report in 2001. It says that most of the observable warming of the Earth in the past 50 years was caused by human activity, and that the global average temperature could rise by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius between 1990 and 2100. It predicts that as a result the average sea level could rise by between 9 and 88 cm in that period.
The global average temperatures have fluctuated somewhat over the 20,000 years since the end of the last ice age, but the fluctuation was at most 5 degrees. In that context, with such a large change over just 100 years, just a moment in Earth history, we are talking about a possible 5.8% increase in the worst case. I think we can imagine that the impacts of this change will be enormous, and of course one would expect that they would appear in many ways.
Meanwhile, there are predictions that on the energy resource front, oil, natural gas and uranium, for example, could all be depleted within the next 100 years. And we are faced with the prospect that the world's major metal resources including gold could all be used up within 100 years. The twentieth century was a time when mass production and mass consumption became a part of everyday lifestyles, but those lifestyles have dramatically increased the amount of industrial waste, which has become a huge problem. General waste such as food refuse has become a huge problem. Japan alone disposes of 50 million tons per year of general waste, and 400 million tons per year of industrial waste. General waste is simply incinerated to reduce the volume and then landfilled. Some industrial waste is being recycled, but even with recycling the amount of industrial waste that goes to the landfill is on the order of 50 million tons per year. As a result, we are running out of landfill sites in Japan. It is quite difficult to find new sites, because, as one would expect, local residents don't want waste being carried into their communities. As things now stand, within about 10 years, no matter where we search, there will be no more landfill space to dispose of the waste in Japan.
Building Study Shows Potential to Cut CO2 by 40%
Now we come to the question of what we should do. Our mass production and mass consumption style of society has reached the limits of environmental capacity. From now on we must aim to create a resource-recycling society and move quickly towards sustainable urban design. With a resource-recycling society, the thinking is to create a system whereby society operates within the limits of the Earth's ability to restore itself--with the consumption of resources and impacts on the environment kept to the lowest level possible. I believe that survival amid international competition in the twenty-first century will depend on whether or not you can help communities to meet those conditions. In such a society, even if energy costs rise or resources become less accessible, it will be possible to stay competitive. Whether or not Japan in a short time can shift towards a resource-recycling society is thus a very important point.
You may ask what the construction industry is doing in the context of all this. Construction-related activities account for quite a large portion of CO2 emissions. Of Japan's total emissions of 1.3 billion tons per year, construction materials account for 8.3%, secondary processing and transport 8.7%, and operation of commercial facilities (electricity, air conditioning, etc.) 11.4%. If you add household facilities (heating and cooling, cooking, etc.) at 13%, the portion involving the construction industry amounts to as much as about 40% of the total.
When thinking about the best way to deal with this situation, first of all, it is very important to accurately quantify the CO2 emissions per unit of such materials. We are conducting research to determine the per-unit emissions of a range of materials, such as iron, cement, and timber, etc. Taking steel as an example, if we use steel from a blast furnace the emissions are 0.44 kg-C/kg, whereas if we use an electrical furnace the emissions are only 0.17 kg-C/kg. This indicates that by the careful selection of even one material, it is possible to significantly reduce emissions. Similarly, with cement we learned that cement made in a furnace is better for the environment. In particular, because trees sequester carbon dioxide in wood, the use of timber is one very efficient measure.
We try to quantify CO2 emissions to compare types of structures used for construction. By calculating emissions for steel frame construction, reinforced concrete (RC), steel-reinforced concrete (SRC) which combines the two, and wood construction, we found that wooden structures are the most effective because they absorb and store carbon dioxide in the wood, and steel frame construction is the second most effective The point is that when making designs, it is important to apply this kind of approach in order to design methods that have the least environmental impacts.
Meanwhile, at model offices, we have compared the CO2 emissions in terms of building lifecycles. For example, for an eighteen-story 72,000-square-meter office building with an elevator and stairs in the center, if such an office building is used for 40 years, we calculated CO2 emissions as 101.9 kilograms per square meter per year. If you double the building lifetime to 80 years, it is possible to reduce those emissions by about 10%. The point here is that it is very important to extend the life of a building. And if we make some improvements to plans, design the exterior surfaces to have good heat insulating functions, and also recycle materials, it is possible to make a further 5% reduction. If we go further and use energy efficiency, it is possible to achieve 63% of the original emissions, so in the end it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions by about 40% compared to the standard building. Findings such as these are possible by conducting in-depth studies.
By this explanation, you can see that energy conservation is extremely important. My company constructed the main building of our Technical Research Institute twenty years ago, but it is still the world's most energy-efficient building. Its CO2 emissions are only about one quarter the energy consumption of the average office building. To make it energy efficient, we had to pay initial costs that were 20% higher than normal, but by paying more at the beginning, we could reduce day-to-day running costs by about 70%. As a result, it took only nine years to recover the initial cost difference. As the world's most energy-efficient building its record has still not been beaten.
Zero Emissions from Big Project Construction Sites
Next, I will give examples of what we are doing at construction sites to reduce CO2 emissions. Obayashi Corporation does about 1.3 trillion yen a year (about U.S.$12 billion) in construction work, and in the course of that work emits about 320,000 tons of CO2. When we analyzed these numbers, we found that 75% of the emissions are coming from diesel engines. And by looking more closely, we found that it was possible to reduce energy use by 20 to 30% simply by changing the way we drive. We found that it made a big difference to consider a few aspects of driving methods, such as coasting, and using engine brakes. So we now offer trainings for drivers of all vehicles that come to the work sites and instruct them on the best driving methods.
Another issue I mentioned earlier is that waste is a huge problem, and construction sites produce a mountain of waste. We have worked on this issue, and in two big projects, the Marunouchi Building and the Dentsu Corporation headquarters, we made an effort to achieve "zero waste," meaning no waste was carried to the final landfill site. In the end we achieved "zero emissions."
Another important thing is the effective use of organic waste. This is an extremely important theme for the future of resource-recycling societies. I mentioned above that a huge amount of leftover food and other food-related waste is being thrown away. At the moment, this is handled in Japan by using energy to incinerate it to reduce its volume before bringing it to the landfill, but actually by recycling this organic waste it is possible to produce energy. Since ten years ago we have been studying various aspects of this problem, and we have built a recycling plant at Yagicho in Kyoto. We mix a variety of organic waste such as livestock manure and bean curd residue in a digester tank, make it undergo methane fermentation, and use the methane produced to generate electricity. The heat that comes from the generator is used to heat the digester tank. The sludge from the digester will then be used as fertilizer, making this one complete system. If we expand this initiative further, it will be possible to use food leftovers more effectively.
Besides this, we have other initiatives, including one to use wood waste, which is disposed in great quantity in the course of our business. In the past it was just incinerated, releasing as CO2 the carbon that had been stored in the wood. Instead, we now turn the wood waste into charcoal, and are trying to use it in that form without releasing the CO2. Lately we have heard much about the ability of charcoal to absorb various harmful substances such as endocrine disruptors. This year we established a company in Toyama to recycle wood waste, in order to explore new ways to use this material, such as by forming it into charcoal boards for use in room walls or ceilings, or for water purification.
Bold Projects in Japan Address Environmental Problems
Japan's population is set to peak at 127 million in 2005, but current predictions are for the population to decline to about 50 million over the next hundred years. Factors here are that Japan has the lowest fertility rate in the world today, so our population is predicted to decline rapidly. Population predictions are more likely to come true than economic forecasts, which often turn out to be wrong. By the time Japan's total population has dropped to 50 million, the working population will be only 27 million, less than one-third of the current 87 million. By 2000, the young population of 14 years and under had already shrunk to smaller than the population 65 and over. Meanwhile, as I mentioned earlier, the global population is still growing rapidly. In this context, one asks what will happen to Japan. I have various thoughts about these matters, but amid this population background, I think we need to keep in mind the constraints posed by global environmental resource issues, energy issues, and water issues. I would like you to consider these issues as your own, and take up the challenge to think about how to deal with them.
In Japan in recent years, we have heard a lot about the economic recession, but I don't think it's necessary to see things so negatively. There are many initiatives underway now, for example to tackle environmental problems. There is a big project being started, called the Global Simulation Project, which uses the world's fastest computer at 36 trillion calculations per second to create a simulation of the global environment. And there is another project being launched which involves a gigantic drill loaded onto a 57,000 ton ship to bore 7,000 meters into the Earth, reaching the mantle, to investigate the resources at that depth, and study how they can be used.
Regarding environmental problems, there are some very challenging projects being started in Japan that have no comparison in other countries. And we have some facilities unmatched anywhere in the world, like the Kamiokande neutron detector that was in the spotlight when the Nobel Prize for physics was awarded in 2002. A lot of challenging work remains to be done in Japan. I hope that today's young people will see these issues as challenges for themselves, with an awareness in the context of today's global environmental and population issues, and use the intelligence and the energy of youth to demonstrate leadership and help create resource-recycling systems in society.
The Biggest Issue is Changing the Awareness of Each Person
What is necessary to promote the creation of sustainable society? As one would expect, the policies of national and local government are important, and the self-initiated efforts by the institutions that make up society, such as corporations and educational institutions, are also necessary. But the biggest issue is the need for a revolution in the thinking of each and every person, and that is perhaps the most difficult.
Relating to global warming, it is difficult to create a revolution in thinking that will reduce the portion of CO2 emissions from individual lifestyles. But in certain provinces in Germany, and in northern Europe, consumers are paying extra for their electricity--to share the burden of extra costs for electrical generation from wind power. If the public's awareness can reach that level, considerable progress can be made with responses to environmental issues.
What are the key words for a revolution in thinking? "Are you throwing it away, leaving leftovers, wasting energy?" Over-packaging of consumer products is an issue as well, and I think that awareness of such issues is important. Next is heating and cooling, and these are issues here for households and offices. We need to be more aware of our energy consumption. Besides these points, there is the issue of values--we need to see a shift in our thinking, from purchasing and owning of things to renting or borrowing them.
Communism and planned economies have disappeared completely from the debate in the global wave of democratization, and democratic market economies will probably continue to expand amid local struggles. I went recently to what was formerly East Germany. Not much information reaches Japan from this area, so I went to see the new living standards there with my own eyes.
I visited Dresden, Seiffen, and Chemnitz in Sachsen Province. The reason that I went to Seiffen is that I have a bit of an interest in forestry. I had read an article a year earlier in the Asahi Newspaper about a woodcraft shop there that makes toys, and I thought that I might be able to see a cluster of forestry activities.
Before I tell you of my impressions there, I would just like to say that under the Kyoto Protocol Japan has stated a rather difficult goal of reducing its CO2 emissions to 6% below 1990 levels. Japan sees the forests that cover two-thirds of our land as a key to achieving that target. But when you consider the condition of Japan's forest industry, achieving this target will be difficult. Other options are probably necessary, such as carbon taxes, environmental taxes, and emissions trading.
Partial Versus Total Optimization
Now let's compare forestry in Japan and Germany today. In Japan, workforce limitations and the forest roads used to transport logs are bottlenecks. At present, the ratio of imported to domestically-produced timber is eight to two. Imported timber has the advantages of low source costs and cheap transportation. By importing timber on the return trips of the ships that export cars from Japan, the transportation costs are much lower. As a result, it costs more to transport timber by land from Chiba (a prefecture adjacent to Tokyo) to the Tokyo market than to carry timber by ship from overseas to Japan. Rather than just giving up and leaving things the fate of market forces, what we need to do is tackle the problem areas in detail and, for example, improve the infrastructure of forestry roads. To achieve this, it is necessary to take the approach of optimizing not just the things under the jurisdiction of individual ministries or agencies, but to optimize the whole.
Japan faces some big issues today about how government should be organized, including public works projects and highway construction and management. Before the Second World War, Germany was our model for forestry. The unified Germany is seen today as an advanced country within the European Union in terms of environmental policy, and it is proactively dealing with forestry issues. Germans love their forests, in a country where government power is quite decentralized. With the exception of Berlin, which has a population of three million, most of the other provincial capitals have populations of less then a million. Since the feudal days, the jurisdictions have been quite small although the area has a fair amount of level land. Today Seiffen has ski hills, health spas, hotels and inns, as well as livestock-raising, agriculture, forestry, and traditional house museums, and they are all well-connected by local roads. On these roads I often saw trucks carrying logs, forest trimmings and woodchips. There are special schools to pass on the crafts from generation to generation. I was told that German fairy tales are not just children's stories, but scenarios of the interactions between humans, spirits and animals in nature, made into stories. This town also serves as a place for environmental education about ecosystem protection, which has profound meaning as a motif for the local culture.
We are told that one of Hitler's legacies is the Autobahn freeway, and that it contributed to Germany's reconstruction after the war. What you notice when you see the map is not that the Autobahn connects points A and B in a thick straight line, but that it is in the shape of a rectangle with interchanges making the corners, and inlaid within that space is a network of local roads. Seen in this light, from the beginning this has been a system that could be described as a "secondary Autobahn" connected to the main outer route that encircles it. This design matches Kyoto's ancient framework of roads and avenues.
Meanwhile, Japan gave greater priority to industry during its post-War era of playing catch-up with the world. Under comprehensive national development plans highways were built along the coastlines, and little regard was given to convenience in day-to-day living of the people. The roads do not spread out much on the horizontal plane, but this could also be attributed to Japan's mountainous topography.
We must consider some key issues for Japan's future. What is the best way to promote reforestation? How can forestry be made more viable? The forest roads that everyone uses need to be improved, and a grand design is needed. It is all right to think of these roads as a "commons," the infrastructure shared by local communities, but there is no such history in Japan, and it is not easy to change values. I think that it would be good if Japan could think in terms of mutually-supporting "clusters" of diverse industries that work for the good of all, taking advantage of local features, history, culture and the blessings of the environment, as they have done in Seiffen.
There was a time when Germany was expanding in the region as a nation state. The country has experienced various political and social complexities, and there was a lot of political and social change with the integration of East and West Germany after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The country today faces various issues, such as income disparity and unemployment, but it does not have Japan's problem of shrinking numbers of children and aging of society. In the center of the town of Seiffen, you see happy people gather near the church and hear the sound of the church bells ringing. Moved by my experiences there, I strongly felt the need to pay more attention in Japan to "social capital" on the local scale, and to improve the transportation infrastructure. I found out after returning to Japan that on level land in German forests they are planting trees such as zelkova and maple on a multi-decade cycle. The wood is esthetically pleasing and the grain attractive. This wood is being exported to Japan as high-grade decorative plywood. They are making use of the best aspects of a planned economy at the local level. I feel that this is due to the depth of their history. Likewise, in forestry in Japan, it should not be enough to plant a forest just for the prospect of a harvest a few generations in the future. Through observation, I realized that in the pursuit of sustainable development, it is important to create new industries that are supported by local characteristics, history, traditions and culture.
Japan can stand shoulder to shoulder with the West when it comes to advances in technology. But I am forced to admit that Japan's history is a bit sparse when it comes to creating a sustainable society that has a balance between the environment and lifestyles and recognizes diversity in people's sense of values. In closing, I appeal to Japan's young people to learn about Japan's history in the context of the global environment, and to help build a new path for the country and the world.