November 30, 2004


"Creating a Beautiful Living Environment" (Tokyu Corp.)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.27 (November 2004)

Staff writer Kazunori Kobayashi

The Tama River flows into Tokyo Bay after passing through 30 municipalities (combined population: 4.25 million) in Yamanashi, Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures, and is one of the major rivers that supports the giant megalopolis encompassing Tokyo, Japan's capital city.

During the 1970s, sewage system development failed to keep pace with rapid residential development along the Tama River, and a large amount of domestic waste water was discharged directly into the river, which was covered with so much white foam in some places that high winds would blow foam into nearby residential neighborhoods. Sweetfish, a type of fish formerly regarded as a symbol of the Tama River, disappeared.

Currently, however, sweetfish are coming back to the Tama River. Construction of sewage systems, together with the efforts of a variety of organizations and groups, have gradually led to improvements in water quality. In 2002, more than one million sweetfish were observed swimming up the Tama River, and families can now be seen enjoying the river once again.

One of the companies that has been promoting activities aimed at improving water quality is the Tokyu Corporation, a private railway company. Tokyu's base of operations is along the Tama River, and in 1974 the company established the Tokyu Foundation for Better Environment to help improve the river basin environment. During the past 30 years, it has subsidized 1.14 billion yen (about U.S. $10.3 million) worth of studies on how to clean up the Tama River.

Tokyu Corp. itself was established in 1922 and presently operates eight railway lines (covering 100 kilometers) in the southwestern Metropolitan area; 2.7 million people use its railway service every day. The company also has been involved in the real estate and transportation sectors in areas along their railway lines. As the Japanese economy grew, Tokyu expanded its business to include construction, hotel and resort development as well as cultural services. With its corporate principle of "Creating a Beautiful Living Environment," the company now has 50,000 employees and 2.5 trillion in gross sales. It created the Tokyu Group, which, as of the end of March 2004, consisted of 324 companies including 13 public corporations and 9 other legal entities.

Because its highly public railway business and urban lifestyle services businesses entail maintaining a close relationship with local residents, Tokyu Corp., the main body of the Tokyu Group, regards making a contribution to the local community and winning the trust of local residents as vital economic issues.

In fact, railways use substantially less fuel and therefore emit overwhelmingly less carbon dioxide (CO2), than buses and automobiles. For example, to transport one person one kilometer, the amount of CO2 emitted by train is only about one tenth of the amount emitted by a car and one fifth of the amount emitted by a bus. However, on the basis of weight per distance (person-kilometers), the rate of train use among all modes of transportation shrunk from about 80 percent in 1955 to less than 30 percent today.

This is because the number of train users has decreased as the number of car users has increased. Considering the fact that the amount of CO2 emitted from the transportation sector in Japan has increased more than 20 percent since 1990, it is vitally important to promote railway use to help alleviate global warming. (Reference: "2002 Annual Summary of Transportation Statistics" by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport)

In order to help reduce the environmental impacts of the society as a whole, railways must be made more attractive to users to encourage them to switch from using other means of transport. For example, railway stations must be made easily accessible and convenient for everyone. Tokyu has been investing in barrier-free elevators and toilets in its stations, and assisting station crews in obtaining certification to provide proper assistance to elderly and physically impaired people using public facilities.

Another way to make railways more attractive is for two or more companies to share rail lines in order to minimize the need for passengers to transfer between lines. In February 2004, Tokyu joined up with the Yokohama Minatomirai Railway Co., (capitalized mainly by Yokohama City and Kanagawa Prefecture) to share lines using Tokyu trains running between Shibuya in Tokyo to Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture (the Tokyu-Toyoko line) and Minatomirai trains running from Yokohama to Motomachi China Town, also in Kanagawa Prefecture.

To enable both companies to use the same lines, Tokyu needed to construct two additional kilometers of track without suspending service on the Tokyu-Toyoko line, which is used by about one million passengers every day. There were huge problems in constructing this rail line extension. It had to be built underneath the existing line to avoid the suspension of service, but no precedent existed anywhere in the world for constructing a tunnel under rail lines in operation.

Also, for safety reasons, a curve of even seven millimeters per ten meters of track could not be tolerated. So, the company employed the New Austrian Tunneling Method, a construction method totally different from the methods it normally used. The NATM method is usually employed for tunnel construction through mountains, and can bore a tunnel under the ground without any digging taking place on the surface, in order to minimize environmental impacts on the surrounding area. Also, the ceiling and wall of the tunnel were covered with waterproof sheets to prevent leakage, and ultimately to extend the life of the tunnel itself.

Tokyu installed comprehensive energy conservation systems in the newly opened Yokohama station, which has five underground floors. Because of the station's huge size the air-conditioning system is limited to the floor containing the main platforms and the concourse floor. The floor containing passageways for transit passengers utilizes a ventilation system to condition the air. In addition, the air-conditioning system is switched to the most efficient energy source according to the time of day. An automatic speed switcher for escalators conserves energy without reducing convenience to customers by slowing them down when they have not been used for a certain length of time.

New advertising display technology also saves energy. Although fluorescent lights are usually used to light advertising displays, Tokyu has co-developed, with a manufacturer, light advertising displays using white light-emitting diode (LED) technology. LED consumes less power, and therefore emits less CO2, has a life longer than a fluorescent bulb - meaning less environmental impact when discarded.

Tokyu succeeded in introducing more vivid advertising displays and brought down chronically high costs, and has started installing these lamps in the stations, starting from Yokohama station.

Tokyu's environmental goal is to create a beautiful living environment, and its efforts toward this goal are reflected in the company's projects for developing city along its railway lines. For example, Tokyu installed no railroad crossings on one of its major lines, the Den-en-toshi line. Because the line runs through an area of high population density, the company realized that crossings would cause car traffic congestion, exhaust gas emission problems and traffic accidents. The company also plans to gradually eliminate crossings on its other lines in building overpasses, underpasses or quadruple tracks.

Tokyu also has an urban development project called Tokyu Tama Den-en-toshi, a new residential district in the Tokyo metropolitan area that it started developing in the 1950s. This development currently covers an area of over 3,500 hectares, houses a population of about 560,000, and always ranks high in polls of the nation's most livable towns. The project has been carried out in close counsel with local residents.

To quote Tokyu's environmental vision for sustainability: "We develop places for people to live and support their livelihoods, while helping local communities express their unique character. We are attempting to achieve a sustainable society in various ways through the medium of everyday operations." The evolution of Tokyu Group's businesses into a wide variety of fields allows it to influence society in many ways. For example, in its real estate business, Tokyu is actively involved in the issues of energy consumption and waste generation at its housing developments even after people have moved in. Also, when it leases buildings, Tokyu encourages its tenants to save energy and recycle resources, efforts that used to be left to each tenant's discretion.

Ms. Yuko Tohei, a member of Tokyu's Environmental Department, says, "Our company exists to serve the customer - this is the philosophy that has been ingrained in every employee's mind. If an employee makes a suggestion about urban development that it will benefit the customers, we will consider it even though it might take time and money. Also, ours is the type of business that cannot distance itself from its customer base - we have customers and shareholders that have been with us for four generations. This helps us remain engaged while maintaining a mid- to long-term perspective."

Tokyu Group keeps that long-term perspective as it focuses on local communities, engages in diversified businesses, and continues to expand its influence in favor of sustainability far beyond improving the attractiveness of its railways.