August 31, 2005


The JFS Indicator Project

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.36 (August 2005)

What is a sustainable society?

This is one of the most fundamental questions of our present age, and there is no easy answer. In a certain sense we are still in the process of searching for the answer. In Japan, corporate environmental management and other environmental efforts started to accelerate in the 1990s. Now in the 21st century, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and other approaches are being mapped out through trial and error as a way of affecting a paradigm shift toward a sustainable society.

One of JFS's core missions is "to examine and establish a vision of a sustainable society for Japan and to set indicators to measure the quality of sustainability." JFS launched its Indicator Project 18 months ago, and we have been working on it ever since. Here we compile the results of this first phase for your reference. For background, please refer to "Sustainable Indicators," an article in our April 2005 issue.

Our Definition of Sustainability

Our very first step was to define sustainability. After thoroughly examining definitions that served as benchmarks in the past, JFS defined the word "sustainability" as follows: acts by humankind that respect the diversity of all creatures, and result in the passing on of life, nature, livelihoods and culture to future generations within the carrying capacity of the natural environment, and the establishment of mutual connections with the purpose of building better societies and seeking the greatest happiness of the greatest number across both time and space. In addition to adopting this definition, we thought it important to define a practical framework based on this definition.

Sustainability can only be achieved when consideration is given to the following contexts: 1) resources and carrying capacity, 2) time equality, 3) space equality, 4) diversity and 5) commitment and connections.
Sustainability in all these contexts can be categorized into four areas: A. nature, B. economy, C. society and D. well-being.
In view of conditions that are unique to Japan, we delineated a vision for a sustainable Japan in areas A to D. The studies of our friend Alan AtKisson, an environmental consultant, were an informative guide to establishing this framework of four categories, notable for separating personal well-being from society.

Vision for a Sustainable Japan

Our characterization of a sustainable Japan adheres to this framework. We believe that JFS is the first non-governmental organization to describe a total vision for a sustainable Japan.

Selecting Indicators for Measuring Sustainability

After envisioning an ideal picture of sustainable Japan, we need quantitative criteria to objectively measure the gap between the ideal and the reality of the country's situation in 2005, as well as to judge whether or not the nation is on the right track toward this ideal. We call this kind of criterion an "indicator."

We collected about 200 data sets in the four categories of nature, economy, society and well-being. This took considerable effort, because in Japan the data for each of these categories are managed separately by different governmental offices, with no division that serves as a bridge linking these offices.

We have chosen 20 headline indicators for sustainability based on the vision and definition mentioned above. JFS's original headline indicators fall into five subcategories for each of the four main categories, as follows:
A. Nature: 1) biodiversity, 2) global warming, 3) resource circulation, 4) water, soil and air, 5) environmental education
B. Economy: 1) energy, 2) resource productivity, 3) food, 4) financial status, 5) international cooperation
C. Society: 1) safety, 2) mobility, 3) gender, 4) tradition and culture, 5) money flow
D. Well-being: 1) life satisfaction, 2) academic performance and education, 3) participation in community, 4) health, 5) disparity in living standards.

Results for these 20 indicators show a score of 33.5 points for 2005, out of a possible perfect score of 100 points for a projected sustainable society in 2050. Meanwhile, the score for 1990 was 41.3 points, meaning sustainability in Japan has declined about 19 percent since 1990.

This is the first time we have calculated quantitative figures for this first phase of our Indicator Project. We hope to improve the project further in the mid- and long-term.

Specifically, we will focus on the following objectives:
1) Refining each indicator,
2) Organizing the indicators hierarchically by subcategorizing the headline indicators,
3) Comparing the indicators with those of other countries, and
4) Developing indicators for "Asia for Sustainability"

Through this project, we aim to visualize a complete picture of a sustainable Japan, point out what we should do to build a sustainable society in this country, and gain a foothold towards drawing up a comprehensive strategy.

(Hiroyuki Tada)