February 29, 2004



Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.18 (February 2004)
"Initiatives and Achievements of Local Governments in Japan" Article Series No.4

On May 26-28, 2004, Iida City will be hosting the 12th Meeting of the Coalition of Local Government for Environmental Initiative, a national network of 74 municipalities that promote environmentally conscious local government. Why is this little town inspiring cities all over Japan? Read on to find out more.

Apple Tree Street, a Symbol for the Town

Located between the South Alps and the Central Alps in the heart of Japan, Iida City, an old castle town in Nagano Prefecture, is blessed with the natural environment and a rich culture. With some 106,000 inhabitants, this town overlooking the river Tenryu was once called Little Kyoto for its beautiful streets, but much of the central area was burned to ashes by a fire in 1947.

Learning a lesson from the big fire, the city constructed green zones as fire belts in 25-meter-wide streets that crisscross the city. Junior high school students at the time proposed the idea of planting apple trees in sections of the green zone so that people could enjoy the aroma of their white flowers in spring and the red apples in autumn.

They felt that a town of real beauty doesn't just depend on a good view, but also on the sincerity in the hearts of its people, so they had no concern about apple-stealing becoming a problem. Their hopes took on real form as a street lined with apple trees. Stories about the street are now a part of local legend. Fifty years have passed, and students still tend the tree-lined street, which has become more of a park for pedestrians than a street for cars. The idea of giving more priority to pedestrians was one arose at a workshop during the 1990s to revitalize city center. (Japanese only)

Community-Wide Initiative for Iida's Own Environmental ISO

Iida City has become known for its apple-tree-lined street and puppet shows, but more recently it has also been gaining recognition as an environmentally friendly town. In 1996, the city stated in its fourth basic plan that its vision is to be an environmental and cultural town that is attractive because of its people and nature. It has since then been promoting projects that help establish itself as a sustainable town.

Under the "Iida Environment Plan 21," formulated in 1996, specific numerical targets were set to promote effective implementation by 2010. Five years on, the progress made so far was assessed, analyzed and reviewed. The review, conducted by the "Iida City Citizen's Conference for the Environment" and a working group formed by city employees, lasted for about a year.

In the realm of new energy, the city began subsidizing households that install solar power generators in 1997, using a unique form assistance provided in the form of grants and subsidies to cover interest payments for the purchase of equipment. The town now is now one of the top in Japan in terms of percentage of households with solar power systems. The city is now considering the idea of introducing biomass energy.

In 1997, five companies based in the city that aimed at acquiring ISO 14001 certification and the Iida city office jointly launched a "Study Group for the Community-based Approach to ISO Accreditation." The study group later changed its name to "Study Group for the Community-Wide Initiative to Acquire ISO Certification," and now nearly 30 companies in the group are attempting to expand isolated activities to community-wide initiatives. The group is undertaking various initiatives to build a sustainable community, even after member companies have acquired ISO certification. (Not all have acquired the certification.)

Furthermore, it created a registration and certification system known as "Minami Shinshu EMS 21," a simplified local version of the ISO environmental standards. With this system, they have launched an initiative to promote environment management system in the southern Shinshu region of Nagano in the twenty-first century.

This activity translates into implementing workable plans to improve the environment and involve the community in addressing environmental protection issues. The "Study Group" will nominate companies with eco-friendly operations so that these companies will be registered with "Minami Shinshu Kouiki Rengo," a coalition of Iida City, villages and towns in southern Nagano Prefecture, and their names will be published. This is expected to boost the credibility and the image of participating companies, and eventually to improve business performance by reducing operating costs.

Iida Switches to "Self Declaration of Conformance with ISO 14001" (Self- Monitoring of ISO 14001 compliance)

Iida City acquired ISO 14001 certification in January 2001, making it the first municipal government in Nagano Prefecture to do so. In January 2003, just before the three-year certification was to expire, the city decided to shift to "self declaration of conformance", instead of the standard assessment procedures by external certification bodies. It was the first among Japanese municipalities to do so.

The declaration of this new approach is an outcome of the city's initiatives so far. The city government has been engaged in establishing and running the city's unique initiative, the Iida Environmental Management System into the 21st century, or IEMS 21. It also has cooperated with a community-based study group on the initiative, an objective assessment by external actors, internal audits, and education and training for city employees.

The city realizes that this "self-declaration" status makes it bear more responsibility for accountability to the public. It thus tries to enhance collaboration on a global scale by networking, both nationally and internationally, and also plans to actively disclose information on its website.

Town Spirit Inspires Action

The environmental efforts of the Iida government, including the ISO 14001 Self-Declaration of Conformity, the Study Group on the Community-Wide Initiative for the Environment and ISO Certification, IEMS 21, the Minami-Shinshu EMS 21, all derive from the philosophy of local residents, committed to foster community development on their own initiative.

"Mu-To-Su" is the local word to represent such a sprit, meaning "to be going to do something." It means taking initiative before being told to do something by other people.

The essence of Iida City's proactive initiatives originates from the citizen's independent spirit, evident in the Apple Street initiatives launched years ago by students and carried out in cooperation with local residents.

On May 26-28, 2004, Iida City will be hosting the 12th Meeting of the Coalition of Local Government for Environmental Initiative, a nation-wide network of 74 municipalities that promote environmentally conscious local government. It will be a great opportunity for local governments all over Japan to learn and study Iida's unique initiatives.

The Coalition of Local Government for Environmental Initiative, Japan: (Japanese only)

Iida City's environmental information website: (Japanese only)