April 30, 2015


Shimokawa Town, Hokkaido: Establishing an Energy-Sustainable Small Town Management Model with Local Forest Resources (Part 2)

Keywords: Energy Policy Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.152 (April 2015)

JFS held a symposium on February 9, 2015, "Community Initiatives for
Survival--from a Local Economy / Regional Revitalization Perspective,"
to which front-running practitioners in local community development were
invited as guest speakers.

In our last issue, we introduced the first part of a lecture by Takashi
Kasuga, then-Executive Director of Future City Project Headquarters at
Shimokawa Town, Hokkaido (Mr. Kazuga was subsequently elected to the position of Shimokawa Town Councillor).  Last month's article focused on the demographics, resources and economics of Shimokawa Town's initiative to establish a sustainable town using forest resources. This month's article will focus on the "human" side of this revitalization program.

Shimokawa Town, Hokkaido: Establishing an Energy-Sustainable Small Town Management Model with Local Forest Resources (Part 1)

We are also undertaking "carbon accounting," which measures not money
but carbon. Townspeople use bikes instead of vehicles as a way to
decrease carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. They can also fix CO2 by using
wood. In terms of carbon volumes, if people strive to plant forests and
create a wood-based society, the carbon balance improves. If they emit
less CO2, the overall carbon balance improves. I am wondering if we can
get funding for creating a favorable carbon balance in collaboration
with urban areas where CO2 emissions are unavoidable.

Let me introduce an example. When townspeople bring wood residue such as
branches pruned off of trees in their gardens or forest plantations into
wood material manufacturing facilities, they get a gift certificate
worth \500 (about US$ 4.17) per 100 kilograms. This initiative enables
us to secure fuel, even though not in significant amounts, and reduce
CO2 as well as garbage volumes.

Copyright Shimokawa Town All Rights Reserved.

While only 145 people obtained certificates through this project in 2010,
more recently this number increased to 760, which means that about one
fifth of Shimokawa's population is participating. Some people say they
participate because they want to decrease CO2 emissions and some say
because they can get 500 yen. My plan is to ask the townspeople to
participate in the project for the purpose of minimizing CO2 emissions,
with a view to obtaining carbon trade funds from cities to put to work
to further our aims.

The "Natural Capital Declaration" was launched at Rio +20. Soon after
that, Shimokawa Town signed the "Shimokawa Natural Capital Declaration"
in 2013. Today, when supply chain management is becoming more popular,
mainly companies and financial institutions are trying to figure out how
they are placing a burden on the environment, not only in terms of CO2
emissions, but throughout the entire process from production to
consumption of goods. Our town has already evaluated the value of
natural capital in Shimokawa.

In the first part of my talk, I noted that "Shimokawa's intra-regional
production value amounts to 21.5 billion yen (about US$179 million),"
but we found that its natural capital amounts to about 100 billion yen
(about US$ 833 million) according to calculations based on data and
basic methods used by the science council of Japan. The forests owned by
Shimokawa are valuable. To enjoy their benefits, we are thinking about
inviting companies and individuals to invest in our forests. As we set
up various types of projects relating to forest maintenance, we are also
planning to build a mechanism for investment in forests.

In an aging Japanese society, the ratio of people 65 years old and over
to the total population in Shimokawa is 38 percent. The town provides
detailed services designed to deal with aging society issues. One is a
community bus, which stops anywhere within a certain zone by request.
People can also make an appointment to have the bus pick them up and
bring them back home.

Share-ride taxi service is also available for the elderly to visit a
hospital if a reservation is made not later than the day before. A
benevolent monitoring service for the elderly is provided using the
optical cable that has been installed throughout the town. Another
monitoring service uses a sensor installed in people's refrigerators
that blows a whistle when the fridge is not used for a day.

Another service is shopping support: Support personnel stock a small
pickup truck with daily commodities bought from local shops and tour
each district of the town. The elderly can make their purchases without
the insecurity of ordering items sight unseen.

In one part of Shimokawa Town is a settlement with a population of about
140, of which 53 percent are elderly. In this settlement, the town built
a plant to produce heat, not from fossil fuel but from wood waste, in
order to supply heat to welfare facilities. Battery chargers for
electric vehicles were also installed at this plant. In the process of
re-building public housing, the town built a collective housing facility
that accommodates 26 households, where the elderly and the young live
together using heat from the heat plant. With smart meters installed in
each household, the safety of residents can be monitored.

Though electricity provided to the collective housing facility is not
from renewable resources, residents can use electricity at extremely low
prices thanks to a bulk contract. Electric power costs have been reduced
through peak cutting made possible by arrangements regarding the use of
electricity, hot water and energy among the elderly and the young; this
also helps community building.

Because Shimokawa Town has heat produced from biomass resources, Oji
Holdings Corp., a paper manufacturing company that was starting up a
medicinal plant business, established a research institute for plants
with medicinal properties in Shimokawa Town. It is well known that
licking the inner bark of yellow birch is good for the stomach, and wild
plants are blessings of nature which can be used to heal the sick. What
pulled the trigger for this company was that the town has heat and
energy resources. As I said earlier, "Where there are energy resources,
industries will emerge." New businesses are bound to emerge where energy
resources exist.

Mountain villages in Japan have been steadily losing population since
1960. The population of Shimokawa has also been decreasing after its
peak in 1960. Thanks to the various efforts I have mentioned, the number
of people moving in exceeded the number moving out over the last two
years for the first time since 1960. The number of workers in
agriculture and forestry is increasing in Shimokawa Town, while it is
decreasing in neighboring towns and villages. Population loss seems to
have been halted by our efforts. More human resources and money coming
in and fewer going out have no doubt had beneficial effects on the
regional economy, population and production as they circulate within the
region. Decreasing population can be overcome. I believe that this can
also be a model for regional revitalization.

Shimokawa Town is promoting these initiatives in an effort to create a
sustainable regional society. The Japanese word for economy "keizai" is
obviously based on the more comprehensive concept of "keisei-saimin" which
incorporates the idea of not only making money but also of governing
local communities and helping people make a living. In short, its
ultimate goal is to achieve sustainable livelihoods and improve the
well-being of people in the region. In 2009, the French president at the
time, Nicholas Sarkozy, also said that the actual state of economy and
the society cannot be represented by GDP alone.

The consensus in Shimokawa is that unless the town sustainably maintains
its farm land, mountains, agriculture and other key industries in its
area (about the size of all of Tokyo's 23 wards) the town cannot
consider itself sustainable. In large cities such as Tokyo,
sustainability might be achieved by promoting the service and
manufacturing industries. In the case of Shimokawa, however, land,
agriculture and forestry are vital. To make these resources sustainable,
we must plant trees continuously and promote sustainable agriculture.
Otherwise, we cannot make our area sustainable.

Finally, let me tell you a basic idea for promoting initiatives. When
you work on something, it is quite effective to focus your energy on a
specific target.

According to a survey on the attitudes of small business owners, about
40 percent of respondents were indifferent to external matters, 30
percent had a vague interest, 20 percent were concerned, and 10 percent
were concerned and taking some kind of action. In many initiatives
including community building, it is necessary to help indifferent people
achieve higher awareness, and encourage people to change their behavior
as well.

Shimokawa Town is promoting its initiatives with this in mind. For
example, we hold events as a way to raise awareness among otherwise
uninterested people, and organize workshops and lectures by specialists
to inspire people to act. We should act thoughtfully in the context of
this kind of system.

When a town's policies are indecisive, they will often end up carrying
out halfway measures which fail to satisfy both indifferent and
concerned people. We need to develop separate policies specifically for
people who are indifferent and people who are concerned and/or engaged
in activities. Otherwise, we will have difficulties and waste. This is
the way we are promoting our initiatives.

Richard Florida argues, in his book "The Rise of the Creative Class: and
How it's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life," that
three factors, "technology," "talent" and "tolerance," are essential for
revitalization efforts. Among these factors, we are paying particular
attention to "tolerance" in the sense of an environment of openness in
which people can feel free to say, "I will take the entire blame, so
let's just do it!" We cannot move forward when we make a fuss over
details. We will in any event have to take the first step. That's where
tolerance is required. I believe that we can achieve revitalization by
taking action based on this concept, although a certain amount of
failure will be inevitable.

Copyright Shimokawa Town All Rights Reserved.

Written by Takashi Kasuga, Executive Director, Future City Project
Headquarters, Shimokawa Town, Hokkaido
Edited by Junko Edahiro


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