February 28, 2003



Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.6 (February 2003)
"Unique NGOs in Japan" Article Series No.3


B-LIFE21, the Business Leaders' Inter-Forum for Environment 21, was established in January 1997. It is an environmental NGO whose members are leading figures in the Japanese corporate world.

"To build a sustainable economy, it is important that companies, the main players in a country's economic activities, should be the first to change. In particular, large companies, having with large work forces, material resources and capital, must be the ones to lead the way forward. In order to carry out reforms within a company, it is imperative that the management should change." This is the assertion of B-LIFE21, a non-governmental organization that business people interested in environmental issues can participate in voluntarily.

Currently, there are 18 members, among them Mr. Kunio Anzai, chairman of the board of Tokyo Gas Co., Makoto Iida, Founder, Secom Co., Ltd., Keiichiro Okabe, Chairman & CEO, Cosmo Oil Co., Ltd., Mr. Yotaro Kobayashi, chairman of the board of Fuji Xerox Co., Mr. Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman of the board of Toyota Motors Corporation, Shigeo Fukuchi, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Asahi Breweries, and Mr. Masatake Matsuda, chairman of the East Japan Railway Company.

Mr. Norihiro Mitsuhashi, Professor of the Faculty of Policy Informatics, Chiba University of Commerce, is the founder and general secretary of the forum. He is also a Director of Japan for Sustainability. While he was on the editorial board of Japan's top business newspaper, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Mr. Mitsuhashi oversaw the editorial series, "Proposals for the Environmental Century," which included 31 articles starting on New Year's Day in 1995.

The editorials emphasized the importance of environmentally-conscious corporate management and had a major impact on the business world. He is also deserves credit for being a strong promoter of the zero-emissions movement (which aims for "zero-emissions" from industry through careful planning and "industrial ecology") in Japan, which was originally proposed by the United Nations University.

B-LIFE21 has two objectives. One of them is to promote dialogue with environmental NGOs. The basic goal of corporations is to pursue profits, and after the Second World War, companies contributed greatly to the improvement of Japanese living standards by expanding business operations in the pursuit of profit. In the twenty-first century, however, humanity is facing the limits of the Earth's capacity, so it has become increasingly important to adopt considering the benefit for the Earth. The idea of benefits for the Earth means protecting the natural environment from further deterioration.

Many environmental NGOs and NPOs start from the principle of benefiting the Earth. It is important in future that corporate management reflect on the value of benefiting the Earth as a an issue of corporate interest. For that purpose, business people should actively promote dialogue with environmental NGOs and learn from them.

With such a purpose, B-LIFE21 has been holding symposiums with representatives from environmental NGOs and monthly breakfast meetings with members of environmental NGOs as guest speakers. At these meetings, the corporate management listens carefully to the information provided by NGOs, as well as their candid views and proposals. Besides discussions here, these meetings also provide opportunities to initiate collaborative ties between companies and NGOs.

The other purpose is to "toil to improve the environment." While the accepted goal of the business people is to pursue company profits, as we face the limits of the Earth today, they need to take out a number of days a year, or even a few hours to think about, and work for the environment. By doing so, these people will have a first-hand experience of the multidimensional aspects of environmental issues, and it is hoped that they will come up with their own ideas of what they can do for the environment, so that they can incorporate the necessary measures into their business management.

For this purpose, B-LIFE21 sponsors university lectures by corporate managers. Business people, mainly members of B-LIFE21, teach or speak about corporate measures for environment, constraints and future prospects. The members, however busy they may be, are not allowed to send substitutes, but must stand at the podium themselves. This is how students learn about the corporate environmental mindset, and empowers them to be informed observers of the company's behavior even after they become a working member of society.

On the other hand, the companies cannot fall back from or compromise the strategies their leaders had spoken about. The organizers believe these dynamics will give further momentum to environmentally-conscious corporate management.

These lectures have been convened at Shonan-Fujisawa Campus of Keio University (full-year term in 1998, and autumn term in 1999), and Kinugasa Campus of Ritsumeikan University (autumn term in 2000), and Nishi-Waseda Campus of Waseda University (full-year term in 2002).

The contents of the sponsored lectures are published on the Internet so that anyone who is interested can see them. They were also compiled and published in Japanese in "Earth Environment and the Japanese Economy," and "Earth Environment and Corporate Management" (both from publisher Toyo Keizai Shinpo Sha). The former, by Tadahiro Mitsuhashi, was translated into English as "Japan's Green Comeback: Future Visions of the Men Who Made Japan" (Pelanduk Publications, if you are interested in getting the book, please contact JFS secretariat.).

In Japan, until now, the NGOs were not as active as their western counterparts due to social systems and other factors that limited participation in them. Even the Wild Bird Society of Japan, which is said to be the country's largest environmental NGO, only has about 55,000 members. None of the Japanese NGOs are comparable to their U.S. and European counterparts in terms of their large membership of several hundred thousand and robust funding, as well as their influential power.

Despite such a background, Japan has been seeing an increase in the numbers of the NGOs and expansion of their activities today, as the issues inherent in the existing social and economic structures are coming to the fore. In the future, we expect that these NGOs will be treated equally with government and businesses at conferences, and will have more influence in society, more similar to their western counterparts.

B-LIFE21 has continued its unique activities, such as setting up fora for dialogue between NGOs and corporate management, and between management and students, even in the past when the majority of businesses underestimated the impact and importance of NGOs. In that sense, B-LIFE21 is a unique environmental NGO, where business leaders of Japan can have heart-to-heart talks with environmental NGOs, and speak enthusiastically to students.