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What can businesses do to preserve biodiversity in urban districts? Renowned panelists from government, industry, and academia gathered to discuss this urgent issue.
Mr. Yukihiro Morimoto, Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University
Mr. Masahiro Hayakawa, Green Promotion Section, Osaka Prefecture
Mr. Makoto Haraguchi, Senior Researcher, InterRisk Research Institute & Consulting, Inc.
Sinichi Kudo, Councilor in charge of Biodiversity, Corporate Environmental Affairs Division, Panasonic Corporation October 8, 2010
Kudo: Allow me to begin by introducing what Panasonic is doing for greening, including our tree-planting campaign in urban districts. Twenty-one percent, or some two million square meters, of the total area of our one hundred and twenty-one sites in Japan, has been made into green space, comprising an area about fifty times as large as Koshien Stadium. With the kind assistance of Mr. Haraguchi, we rated green areas within Panasonic's sites on a scale of 100 points by using aerial photographs. The survey concluded that those sites which earned less than forty points were concentrated in urban districts, particularly Osaka. Including our Headquarters, we have over ten sites in the area stretching from the Yodo River to Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, and Mr. Haraguchi suggested that we create a huge venue for many species to interact. We are planning to plant trees on building rooftops as well as ground areas, and to make company grounds into biotopes. We hope to work up an action plan for creating an environment where various species will be close at hand by March 2011. I'd like to invite your comments on this plan from your respective positions.
Morimoto: Osaka was once plagued with river floods. So far, a total of 84 plant species in Osaka have disappeared, many of which inhabited places like wetlands, rivers and the ocean. While excessive flood control has certainly stabilized the water level, at the same time it has deprived nature of its dynamism. Some people may think it is no wonder that cities have few living creatures, since cities are developed by clearing away the natural surroundings. However, some urban districts are designated as sanctuaries for endangered species. For example, the forests of the Heian Shrine in Kyoto are a treasure house of living creatures. Tanago, or Japanese bitterlings, which could once be found in large numbers in Shiga's Lake Biwa, now live in the ponds of the Heian Shrine's wooded areas. You may be surprised to know that many creatures like this inhabit places which are carefully maintained, such as Japanese gardens. The Expo '70 Commemorative Park in Osaka provides an environment where the Otaka, or Northern Goshawk, can live. In addition, research in advanced integrated medicine has shown that greenery can be helpful for medical treatment. Even a tiny amount of green space can put people at ease. It would be wonderful if we could restore nature, which we cannot do without, under the initiative of Panasonic and through harmonious government-industry-academia collaboration.
Hayakawa: Surrounded by three mountain systems along its circumference, Osaka Prefecture has an abundance of forests, which account for one-third of its total area. Forty percent of the prefecture is made up of green space, and you can find them here and there in many urban areas, including the Expo '70 Commemorative Park, Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, and Osaka Castle Park. These facts notwithstanding, some 80% of the residents say that they feel there is little greenery. In response, the Osaka Prefectural Government launched a project to promote the forestation of Osaka in December 2009, thus commencing the formation of green networks. Under this plan, we hope to increase the percentage of green spaces in urbanized areas from the current 14% to 20% by 2025. One of the programs being worked on by the Prefectural Government is forestation of the site of a waste disposal plant in Sakai City. A total of 26 organizations, including private enterprises, participated in the drive to develop forests. In urbanized areas, forestation is promoted by obliging the owners of new buildings of a certain scale to plant trees. At public elementary schools, lawns are created on the school playgrounds. However, when attempting to form an ecological network in cities, we almost always encounter difficulties in promoting the forestation of private lands. It is thus very reassuring to know that Panasonic has announced its intentions to promote forestation.
Haraguchi: The history of forestation by private businesses in Japan began in response to the negative legacy of industrial capitalism. During the Meiji period, the hills were stripped of all vegetation for the development of mines. To restore the greenery, trees had to be planted over the course of several decades. Later in the Taisho period, trees began to be planted within factory sites. The Factory Location Act of 1973 required the planting of trees when building a new factory. In the 1980s, when there was a shortage of factory labor, factories were built in such a way that they would be open to their host communities, in an attempt to recruit more people by establishing parks within the factory sites. It has since become common practice to establish biotopes within factories, plant trees in satoyama (core forestry) woodlands near populated areas, and create architecture that is abundant in greenery. Going forward, I believe that preservation of biodiversity will be taken for granted as a part of forestation by private businesses.
In the past, businesses had only to consider forestation within their own areas. In Osaka Prefecture, however, Panasonic is trying to build up a network among communities, greenery, and the people who take up the work of forestation, and to form an ecological network through interaction with host communities. I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that their attempt marks a major turning point in history.
Another important point is to look back on the history of each piece of land. Moriguchi City and Kadoma City in Osaka, where Panasonic has offices and factories, consisted mostly of rice paddies and lotus ponds up until the 1960s. When we say biodiversity, people from businesses ask, "Are you going to plant trees?" The fact is, however, that these areas originally did not have any trees for over 7,000 years. It is thus necessary to take a broader perspective to form a network in such a way that takes into account the potential of each piece of land, which is the creation of a biotope.
Kudo: Thank you very much for those thought-provoking stories. Within our company, there are many opinions concerning the formation of an ecological network. Some question, "Is there enough return on investment?" and others ask, "Is it really effective to do this on urban land that has little greenery?" So, could you please tell us what you think is most important if a private enterprise is to lead such a drive?
Morimoto: I believe that it is meaningful to form such a network in areas that we are familiar with in our everyday activities. If Panasonic can help to restore the natural surroundings that once existed in the Yodo River-Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park area, the company will surely enjoy a greater reputation among people in local communities and people from many different circles. As a result, it can be expected that the company's awareness of its responsibility for the ecosystem will also be increased.
Hayakawa: Forests and grasslands in cities not only provide species with habitats, but also favor urban dwellers. The Osaka Prefectural Government hopes to create cities where people can find greenery close to them. The ecological network is a tool to accomplish this, and promoting the establishment of such a network through government-private collaboration should help to raise eco-consciousness across a wide expanse of the entire area.
Haraguchi: I don't think that doing this will raise costs. These days, many companies have some employees who cannot come to work due to mental health issues, but there was a case where such people were cured within a year when the company was asked to maintain greenery on its premises. When private companies start doing things like this, they receive greater attention from the public, which then encourages people in their host communities to form an ecological network.
Kudo: Thank you very much for your extremely insightful opinions and kind words of encouragement. You've reminded us once again of the importance of a human network. To establish an ecological network, we're determined to take the lead in this all-too-important initiative.