February 28, 2007


The JFS Indicator Project -- Part 1: From the First to the Second Stage

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.54 (February 2007)

What is the JFS Indicator Project?

The JFS Indicator Project is one of JFS's core projects for achieving its primary aim: to help make Japan a sustainable country. The main goals of the project's first stage were:

1. To create a vision of a sustainable Japan, to visualize and quantify whether and how Japan is moving toward or away from this vision, and to raise the awareness of all stakeholders.
2. To present to as many people as possible the questions of how to define sustainability and what would be an ideally sustainable Japan and provide opportunities to discuss these questions.

With these goals in mind, about ten volunteers started the project in 2003. After two years of collecting information, research and discussion, JFS published a report on the project's first stage in June 2005. Now that the second stage is nearing completion, we would like to share our experiences in a series of articles. We hope the story of our many trials and errors will communicate our passion for creating a sustainable Japan. In this first article, we look back on the first stage and describe the direction of the project in the second stage.

Review of the Hectic First Stage

The achievements of the first stage, as published in June 2005, fall into the following categories:

1. Adoption of a definition, concept and framework for sustainability 2. Creation of a vision for a sustainable Japan in 2050 3. Selection of 20 headline sustainability indicators 4. Evaluation of Japan's sustainability status in 2005 5. Collection of data on about 200 indicators (For details, see:

The basic framework for the JFS sustainability indicators was established during this period. As a means to define sustainability, we adopted five sets of judgment criteria, including the widely accepted ones of "Capacity and Resources," "Fairness across Time" and "Fairness across Space," as well as "Diversity" and "Human Will and Networking," which we consider important from the viewpoint of global citizenship. Then we chose, with considerable effort, 20 headline indicators in the four areas of the natural environment, economy, society and human well-being. Using these indicators, we calculated Japan's national sustainability. The score for 2005 was surprising -- a 19 percent reduction from 1990 levels. These results, which were a shock to many including ourselves, were covered by national newspapers after we held a press conference. The media helped get the message across, and we received many comments. We also translated the press release into English for overseas readers. Ironically, more feedback came from overseas than from inside Japan. Our intention had been to send a wake-up call to Japanese people, saying "Sustainability in Japan is at stake." But, in reality, our numerical assessment attracted the attention of people in other countries who were studying sustainability indicators.

Many comments expressed surprise that such an ambitious project had been undertaken by volunteers. As project staff, we were proud of what we had accomplished, and felt quite self-satisfied. After the press conference, however, we slipped into a kind of burnout. During a few months before the announcement, we had been spending many hours every day working on the project. Some members were on the verge of losing the "sustainability" of their jobs and family life. The successful results of the first stage of the project arose from concentrated, hard work.

Relaxed Start of the Second Stage

Following a two-month break, the second stage of the project began in August 2005. In contrast to the intensive and hectic activities during the last several months of the previous stage, it was an easy-going, yet exciting start. We took time to come up with an action plan for the next few years, based on the initial aims of the project, "changing Japan into a sustainable society."

At this point, we found that both the targets and approaches favored by individual project members ranged widely. One proposed to lobby for a new law that would require all organizations to adopt sustainability indicators, another suggested establishing sustainability indicators at the municipal or regional level, while another came up with a plan to establish an international network to promote sustainability indicators. These ideas were consistent in that they aimed to build a sustainable society, but varied considerably in their focus. After about six months of discussion about the project's direction, we finally put together the second-stage project plan in February 2006. Long-term targets are still under discussion.

In parallel to the discussion, we held open study sessions, inviting three environmental experts, Mr. Toshikazu Mito of the Ministry of the Environment, Mr. Hidefumi Kurasaka of Chiba University, and Mr. Yuichi Moriguchi of the National Institute of Environmental Studies, Japan. These experts kindly gave us plenty of useful advice and suggestions for the JFS sustainability indicators and activities.

Direction of the Second Stage -- Delving Deeper and Wider

After extensive discussion, we decided to pursue two lines of action in the second stage. One is to deepen our study of sustainability indicators. The quality of the sustainability indicators we released after the first stage was still far from professional. We decided to develop more theoretical and detailed indicator models to accurately measure Japan's sustainability. Related second-stage activities include:

  • clarification of the connections between the vision and indicators
  • clarification of the connections between indicators
  • a deeper study of each indicator
  • determination of indicator weights for overall evaluation

The other line of action is to expand networks for introducing our sustainability vision and indicators to more people. We plan to build a network both in and outside Japan, and to promote the use of our indicators as a communication tool. Holding open study sessions with experts has been one of the activities; other related second-stage activities include:

  • holding a closed study session twice a month
  • holding an open study session every two months
  • issuing an e-mail magazine
  • exchanging opinions in the blog community
  • updating links with other sustainability organizations
  • communicating our results in English

We have been working earnestly on the second stage of the JFS Indicator Project. In the next article, we will introduce what we have achieved so far in the second stage.

(Written by Hitofumi Yamanoshita, team leader of the second-stage JFS Indicator Project)