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College students offer their ideas on future lifestyles. What vision of a futuristic society did eco-conscious college students form after seeing a special exhibit? The following is a report on their workshop. October 9, 2010
Responding to an invitation from the Eco League (Japan Youth Ecology League), an environmental NGO that networks young people taking on environmental issues, a total of twenty-five college students in six teams from Tohoku, Tokyo and Kansai gathered for this event. Each team of students was to envision a future lifestyle and give a presentation on their concrete ideas.
The students met at 9 AM sharp. After inspecting a special exhibit of the Panasonic 'eco ideas' Forum 2010, they began writing reports on a given theme in the afternoon. One team drew up a chart for discussions, a second worked out an image on an iPad, and another elaborated on their plan through repeated discussions.
The presentation began at 4 PM. On the panel of judges were Satoko Ekberg, director of E-Square Inc., Machiko Miyai, associate director of Panasonic Corporation's Corporate Environmental Affairs Division, Michiko Ogawa, group manager of Panasonic Corporation's Corporate Environmental Affairs Division Sociocultural Group, and Tomohide Miyagami, general manager of the India Coordination Department of the Corporate Management Division for Asia and Oceania. The first team to make a presentation was DEP, which was comprised of students from Doshisha and other universities. As they shared their vision of an Indian society, three members came to the front and sat on chairs. A blackboard was projected on the screen, and it appeared that the setting was a classroom. The three students presented themselves as school children who had traveled to India on a field trip. The three "kids" then shared their impressions - "In India the air is polluted because there are so many cars." "I'm afraid that CO2 emissions in India will only increase," etc. The idea of "What Panasonic can do" that the students came up with took advantage of what the country is already good at - information technology. For example, setting up a Customer Contact on the Internet to announce and popularize energy-saving electronics, or developing computer games for children that help to raise eco-consciousness.
Next to hit the stage was the "Michinoku Tsubu Ran Ran" team, made up primarily of members from Tohoku University. Titled "Edo (old name of Tokyo) Idea," a pun on "eco idea," their presentation was set in Zambia. The six students took turns at the microphone, each giving one-line explanations. "We should take advantage of the ideas of people in Edo, which is reputed to have been the ultimate recycling society," "People in Japan may not be able to introduce such ideas as we have grown accustomed to an extremely convenient lifestyle, but maybe people in Zambia can," etc. The students asserted that CO2 emissions could be reduced by recycling goods. For example, they suggested the active use of electric vehicles (EVs). If children drove EVs to accomplish their daily chore of drawing water, they might shorten the time spent going to and from the watering place, allowing them to attend school instead. If EVs could be rented for anyone to use, new jobs would be created to run the business. Ms. Ekberg commended the idea by saying that "The idea of renting is important. Sharing is what Edo people did back in the olden days."
The team to follow was "Penasonic," which consisted mainly of students from Musashino Art University. The country for their vision was none other than Japan itself. "Consumers use eco-friendly products simply because of their convenience, not because they're eco-conscious. As such, our suggestion is to change our mental lifestyle." "You cannot afford to be eco-conscious if you're not spiritually rich." To bring this idea into reality, the students suggested creating farms on the rooftops of apartment buildings. After providing their explanations up to that point, they placed a large piece of paper on which pictures of a city with rows of buildings had been drawn over the screen, onto which images of farmlands were then projected. "We would make fields on the rooftops of condominium buildings, so that residents of the buildings who tend to become isolated - children, senior citizens, and mothers raising their children - could mingle with each other," they explained. "Panasonic would act as an intermediary between the residents and the owners of the farms."
As soon as their presentation was over, judge Miyagami raised a sharp question: "Your idea sounds wonderful, but how could Panasonic make money from the farms?" The students replied by saying, "When a person becomes spiritually rich, they can afford to be interested in the environment and buy eco-friendly products." "We believe that the starting point for promoting the sales of eco-friendly products is to provide consumers with that kind of 'mental leeway.'"
The fourth team was "ecocon," led by students from Keio University. Set in India, their idea involved designing a lifestyle for each individual community. For example, they suggested that people working in IT - one of the country's key industries - should work at home. If traffic congestion during rush hours could be alleviated, they claimed, the environment would benefit as a result. Specifically, they spoke about one business model that could promote eco-friendliness, which would entail Panasonic collecting and repairing old appliances and providing them to people in the low-income group. Their hypothesis was that such appliances would help to increase the level of living for those people, who would then be encouraged to buy Panasonic-branded products.
The fifth team called themselves "Happy Life Partner." The group of students from Azabu University and other universities made a presentation on Zambia, where the use of cell phones is rapidly spreading. Taking notice of the fact that much of the power consumed there is used to charge cell phones, they hit upon an idea of developing cell phones that incorporate solar cells. They drew insight for the idea from Panasonic's "life innovation containers," which generate energy using solar cells and storage batteries. They imagined that the economic infrastructures there could be improved if they were provided with tips on daily life via cell phones. "The hardest part was not knowing what people in Zambia need," said Shunichi Saito of Azabu University. Yohei Kinoshita of Tokyo City University then spoke, saying, "At the orientation, we were briefed by Panasonic on the realities in that country, which was highly informative."
The last team to make a presentation was called "Matsushita," which was mostly comprised of students from Waseda University. When they said that the team was named after the last name of their team's leader (rather than Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic), the audience could not help but laugh. Their presentation discussed how to stimulate local economies in Japan, which are in an impoverished state, by making the most of "people." The presenter explained their plan by pointing at the screen. They assumed that economic disparity occurs because of the lack of young people, but young people might decide to stay in their hometowns if they could find jobs and information there. For example, universities could make the fruits of their research available to local cities as a way of combining education and information technology. In return, local cities could share with urban dwellers their various histories, which form the core of the traditional culture of each region. Another option would be to start community taxi services, which would allow people to share taxis, in an attempt to combine transportation, community, and the supply of information. During the Q&A session, one of the judges enthusiastically commented, "Your plan is so specific that I think you should join the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications right now and put the plan into practice."
After the presentations, the results were announced. "ecocon" won the Innovation Award, "DEP" received the Green Life Award, "Happy Life Partner" took the Green Business Award, and "Michinoku Tsubu Ran Ran" walked away with the Green Plan Award. Then, after a close contest, both "Penasonic" and "Matsushita" received the 'eco ideas' Award, since both groups addressed essential issues of Japan.
We interviewed a member from one of the Grand Prix winners, "Penasonic." "I'm not very good at thinking about costs. Receiving the Grand Prix, I can say I'm very proud of what we did. I'm very glad to know that our message came through to the judges," said Rio Kumatani of the Joshibi University of Art and Design.
The event was concluded with a remark by Chief Judge Miyai: "In recent years, the media has made a great fuss about young people in Japan losing their vitality. Having listened to today's presentations, however, I was very much reassured that we don't need to worry about the future of this country. They see things correctly and have a clear vision. I want them to stay motivated. We would very much like to organize another workshop like this, and Panasonic is determined to continue working closely with the members of our host communities."