February 29, 2004



Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.18 (February 2004)

In the last several years, the number of universities and students addressing environmental issues in earnest has been increasing in Japan. Efforts by these universities include (1) creating new faculties or departments dealing with environmental issues to develop human resources, and (2) reducing their own impacts on the environment by acquiring ISO 14001 certification and other measures.

In the 1960s, when industrial pollution became a serious problem in Japan, many departments with the word "environment" connected with their titles were created within science faculties of some national and other universities.

Since around 1990 when global warming and other environmental problems started to arouse serious public concern, more faculties and departments focusing on the environment have been appearing. Some were newly established, but others were reorganized and renamed from existing ones.

The major characteristic of this trend today is that it involves not only science and engineering but also social sciences and humanities faculties, and not only national but also city-run and private universities.

The University of Kitakyushu, located in Kitakyushu, a city striving to earn a reputation as an environmentally advanced city, established a new Faculty of Environmental Engineering in 2001. Its curriculum emphasizes not only basic engineering skills to tackle environmental issues, but also social and cultural knowledge needed to solve environmental problems, and abilities to use computers and foreign languages freely. The university has been actively accepting students from abroad, aiming to contribute not only to Japan but also to other Asian countries and the rest of the world.

New trends are also evident in art and design colleges and universities. For example, in 2003 Tokyo Zokei University created a major in "Sustainable Projects" within its Department of Design.

There are currently three sustainable projects. The Social Project designs and proposes new social systems, such as community social structure, government and industry, transportation and logistics, and energy. The Cultural Project has students considering and proposing new values and living styles relating to community structure, human and family relationships, education, work and play. The Lifestyle Project involves designing of new living environments, such as the urban environment and facilities, living and housing, products and services, and production and consumption activities.

Some of the more interesting topics being addressed by the students include planning a seniors-friendly transportation system using renewable energy; producing local organic food, covering aspects of not only organic farming, but also cooking, and tableware and restaurant design; and designing attractive products based on recycling and reuse.

In April 2001, the Tottori University of Environmental Studies was established, the first university in Japan that actually has "environment" in its name. The university's operation is unique: the facilities are provided by Tottori Prefecture and Tottori City but it is being run by a private organization. The philosophy of the university is to cultivate human resources that can contribute to solving environmental problems, by integrating humanities and sciences, and by focusing on practical and interdisciplinary approaches.

Currently, a total of 1,116 undergraduate students from the freshman to the junior level and 51 full-time teaching staff belong to Departments of Environmental Design, Information Systems, and Environmental Policy and Management. (Japanese only)

Meanwhile, an increasing number of colleges and universities have tried to acquire ISO 14001 certification, a standard for environmental management of companies and institutions. Following the Musashi Institute of Technology in October 1998, 30 universities and colleges obtained the certification, out of 13,819 ISO 14001 certified entities in Japan (figures as of December 31, 2003).

In many cases, the procedures to obtain ISO certification are handled by the universities' administrative offices. But some universities seize the process of going through the ISO certification as an opportunity for environmental education for everyone involved, with the double benefit of reducing the university's environmental impacts.

The Chiba University of Commerce is one of these. In acquiring ISO certification, students who were interested in this effort formed the "ISO Students Conference" under the guidance of faculty advisors. They linked the ISO effort with seminars and events related to environmental issues, formed networks, and raised students' environmental awareness. The details and future prospects of the students' initiatives are well documented in a book titled "Kankyo ga Daigaku wo Genki ni Suru--Gakusei ga Totta ISO14000" (roughly translated as The Environment Energizes Our University--The Students Got ISO 14001 Certification), published in Japanese by Kaizosha.

For their part, an increasing number of students want to engage in environmental issues actively through groups and other activities. Currently, many universities and colleges have environmental group activities, a state that was difficult to imagine in 20 years ago. These groups work on issues that interest them, such as waste disposal, transportation, conservation of local ecosystems, and community development.

For example, "Environment Roderigues" is an environmental non- profit organization run by Waseda University students and officially acknowledged by the university. It was established in December 1997. (Japanese only)

Its 60 or so members are planning and implementing a wide variety of activities, such as a campaign to encourage students to bring their own lunchboxes to reduce packaging waste, an action plan to improve the environment on campus in cooperation with the local food co-op, and a project to develop new trash cans. More information can be found in a recent JFS article:
Initiatives of Environment Roderigues, a Student Group

There are also student clubs promoting collaboration among colleges and universities. One of the oldest student clubs for the environment is A SEED JAPAN. The group was established in 1991 to serve as a Japanese branch of the A SEED International Youth Campaign, in which some 70 organizations from about 50 countries participated to bring the voices of the world's youth to the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. The group successfully submitted to the United Nations a proposal summarizing the opinions of Japanese youth.

After the Summit, A SEED JAPAN reorganized itself as a membership organization. It manages various volunteer projects and implements activities, trying to understand environmental issues through social and economic structures. (Japanese only)

Another group, Eco League, was established in 1994 as a network of some 150 organizations with more than 2,000 members nationwide. The League's headquarters organize various events and activities, while giving support to its constituent organizations. Members include both students and young workers in their teens and twenties. (Japanese only)

Various schemes now support students engaged in environmental activities. Nissan Motor Co. established the Nissan-NPO Learning Scholarship Program in 1998. The program provides scholarships to around 20 interns each year and sends them to non-profit organizations in the fields of environment and welfare, etc.,1299,SI9-CH179-LO3-TI763-CI584-IFY-MC109,00.html

The Sompo Japan Environment Foundation (affiliated with a major insurance corporation), founded in 1999, established the Sompo Japan CSO Learning Scholarship Program. It allows around 35 undergraduate and graduate students to spend 150 to 300 hours per year in the designated civil society organizations (CSO is often used synonymously with the term non-governmental organization). The foundation serves as a bridge-builder between students and CSOs by supporting the interns with scholarships and by covering transportation expenses.
This Year's Sompo Japan CSO Learning Scholarship Program Begins

Along with the rise in environmental awareness, applicants for internships have been rapidly increasing in recent years. In addition to the support schemes above, an increasing number of colleges and universities now accept credits for internship. Thus, highly motivated students can actively participate in practical social activities while going to colleges and universities.

Interns supported by the Sompo Japan Environment Foundation are bringing their enthusiasm to the JFS secretariat as well, and JFS also has many student volunteers. In the future, we hope to provide opportunities to cooperate with university students around the world who share our views.

(Junko Edahiro)