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Experts' Opinions on Post-quake Trends

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[Aug, 2011]

Effects of the earthquake on human values

The Great East Japan Earthquake has had tremendous effects on values, and it is important to seek different social systems and lifestyles from conventional ones. In order to confirm that Toshiba Group's Environmental Vision 2050 —what it regards as the ideal sustainable society— is consistent with changes in people's way of thinking, we asked four experts about the effects of the earthquake and future trends.

Pursuing manufacturing through natural technology

photo of H. Ishida, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Tohoku University
Prof. Emile H. Ishida
Graduate School of
Environmental Studies
Tohoku University

The results of a survey of the human subconscious indicate that the value people seek most is convenience, followed by nature. However, an increasing number of people cite nature as their most important value. Essentially, this trend did not change immediately before or after the earthquake, but it does seem that the disaster is somehow accelerating this change.

What is important in the future is to "backcast" people's lifestyles. As long as we see the environment through forecasting and attempt to balance environmental concerns with affluent lifestyles based on human desires, we will find ourselves in an ecological dilemma— that is, a situation in which we cannot reduce environmental impacts because of growing consumption, even if products are more environmentally aware and consumers develop keen environmental sensibility. In the end, the concept of forecasting tends to force selfcontrol onto people, but we can develop completely different ideas if we envisage ways of realizing affluent lifestyles through backcasting— using environmental concerns rather than human desire as the premise. For example, consider an environmentally conscious way of taking a bath. Forecasting dictates that "one should restrain the urge to bathe every day, doing so every second day instead." By contrast, backcasting suggests "one may bathe everyday in bubbles which do not require water."

The results of a survey of the younger generation's attitudes show that an increasing number of them tend to have an aversion to owning things. They instinctively feel that there is something wrong with today's society, and it is increasingly common for them to avoid buying things, use bicycles or walk as much as possible, enjoy nature, and love both engineering and philosophy. They have no strong thirst for money nor for success. Though they differ in enthusiasm, they also understand that there are global environmental issues which must be solved. In terms of changes in the attitudes of young people, similar tendencies can be seen throughout the developed world, while developing countries are characterized by their younger generation's strong desire to become rich. In the future, I believe that it will become important to respond to the demands of this age in which people seek new forms of technology to take responsibility for their lifestyles.

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Magazines and mail-order sales to "change the world though Japan's ecological technology"

photo of Ms. Reina Otsuka, CEO, Ecotwaza Co., Ltd.
Ms. Reina Otsuka
Ecotwaza Co., Ltd.

A survey of the attitudes of the younger generation indicates that their desire to possess objects is generally declining, but among those of age to attend university, one can see a trend in which the basic desires for food, clothing, and shelter are reviving. This can probably be attributed to a growing desire for stability due to the earthquake. In developing countries, on the other hand, young people are still seeking to participate in economic development, and their desire to possess objects appears to be remaining strong. In emerging economies such as Brazil, for example, in recent years the younger generation has shown a growing desire for owning cars and houses.

I believe that the medium-term macroscopic trend is for economies to become globalized while societies and cultures become more decentralized and localized. Even today, an increasing number of people want to live in the countryside, and it is expected that more and more people will prefer country life in the future as aspirations to return to nature grow even stronger. The younger generation appears to enjoy a slightly inconvenient life without omnipresent convenience stores. Even such cases, however, the prerequisite is of course that there be no barrier to online information access. The Internet, which has found its way deep into young people's lives, is now indispensable in their everyday life.

Today, products such as consumer electronics are nearly "black boxes," and users do not even understand how such devices are manufactured. If one creates something by oneself, one can maintain or repair it easily. I am also somewhat uncomfortable living in a world where all products depend on electricity and we cannot live without it. There are many tools around us, such as pencil sharpeners, that could be operated manually without the overhead of using electricity. In general, products today are most valuable when they are purchased; the longer they are used, the lower their value becomes. Isn't this a consequence of the fact that many of them are black boxes? If such boxes should break down, responsibility will be placed on their manufacturer. By contrast, one takes responsibility for and becomes attached to that which one creates and maintains by oneself. Even if defects occur in such personalized products, there will probably be fewer and fewer cases leading to complaints. It could be said that we live in an age in which consumers seek those things which grow in value the more they are used.

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Ecosystems provide a clue for sustainable use of national land

photo of Mr. Shiro Wakui, Faculty of Environmental and Information Studies, Tokyo City University
Prof. Shiro Wakui
Faculty of Environmental
and Information Studies
Tokyo City University

The environmental capacity of the earth is approaching its limits, and we should now change our way of thinking, which dates back to the Industrial Revolution. From estimates of known underground resource deposits, it is surmised that we will reach the peak somewhere between 2030 and 2050. Biological resources cannot keep up with population growth. In the future, we must shift our way of thinking from "resources are for human use" to "we must ensure the planet's sustainability to enrich the lives of future generations." Going forward, we should seek to add depth to our affluent lifestyles rather than simply seeking affluence. To this end, the way of thinking known as "backcasting" is important. Each and every one of us are confronted with an urgent task—that of creating a lifestyle that future generations will not regret—during our time on this planet. We must aim for lifestyles that enable energy and resources to circulate autonomously within the limits of environmental capacity. This was known before the earthquake, but in the future we may look back on the earthquake as a turning point in history.

In Japan, upon the enactment of the Taiho Code in 701, the government divided its land into 60 provinces along major drainage basins to maintain harmony with nature. During the Warring States and Edo periods, based on those administrative boundaries established in consideration of the environment, Japan was divided into approximately 300 han (feudal domains) bounded by basins, mountains, rivers, and beaches. In other words, until roughly 60 years ago, Japanese society was bound by nature. Many technologies for coexisting with nature were developed, including those for flood control, wooden frameworks, and methods of assembly. Furthermore, as typified by the "Bow Shooting Boy," a mechanical doll which intentionally misses the mark when shooting an arrow, invented by Hisashige Tanaka (one of the founders of Toshiba), in the past Japanese were sensitive in their pursuit of technological enjoyment. The value of a product is the sum of its functionality and quality, but in the future, such sensitivity will also likely be considered an important part of product value. In short, Japan has a major role to play in the building of sustainable societies.

In the past, happiness could be expressed as the equation "happiness = material consumption/material desire," but recently there is a shift toward a new equation, "happiness = degree of satisfaction with respect to time/desire for self-realization." At the same time, in communication demand for dense temporal connections rather than spatial ones is growing. In the future, proposing new lifestyles by identifying these kinds of changes in people's values precisely will be particularly important.

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Proposing policies to build a sustainable society

photo of Mr. Jiro Adachi, Executive Director, Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society
Mr. Jiro Adachi
Executive Directori
Japan Center for a i
Sustainable Environment i
and Society

A look at the changes in people's values reveals that among some citizens of developed countries, including Japan, values are no longer focused on financial and material prosperity. Since the Great East Earthquake & Disaster, as perceptions of disaster prevention and safety changed, there have been increasing calls worldwide for reducing dependence on nuclear energy and increasing use of renewable energies. In addition, Japanese are becoming more and more active in saving electricity on a national scale. Toshiba will also be urged to improve the safety of its products. Meanwhile, in the developed countries, citizens are calling for their governments to adopt measures to cope with serious economic and unemployment problems. In Japan, the top priority is to restore the livelihoods of the people in the disaster-stricken areas, and another urgent task is the adoption of measures to cope with unemployment and the flight of companies overseas. Japan can gradually approach a truly wellbalanced society by considering those calls for shifts toward values no longer as focused on financial and material prosperity and calls for measures to cope with the serious economic and unemployment problems. Emerging economies, meanwhile, are now in the middle of their economic growth, and therefore the spreading speed of values no longer as focused on financial and material prosperity will be relatively slow.

In recent years, young people have tended not to want to own cars due to changes in their values as well as their financial difficulties. As exemplified by the Internet and computer games, the way they enjoy their lives has changed, and environmental awareness is also spreading among them. When thinking about international cooperation, the younger generation is highly interested in "base of the economic pyramid" (BOP) businesses, and I have the impression that many young people are thinking about how to solve environmental and social problems while pursuing economic activities.

In order to strike a balance between the environment, the economy, and society, we must fully discuss essential issues such as what to do about industry and employment. We must also examine numerous schemes for revitalizing local areas to create more jobs.

A look at intergovernmental negotiations on climate change reveals that many countries are increasingly interested in this global issue, as symbolized by the participation of their leaders in such negotiations. However, while developing countries need to continue development, many of the developed countries are faced with economic and employment problems. In the short term, it will be no easy matter to establish an international framework to avoid the threats posed by climate change. Even in this situation, we must urge governments to build an effective international framework that enables them to solve these problems together on an equal footing.

In summary, the four experts' opinions laid out above suggest that the true nature of the direction or vision of the future society toward which we aim does not seem to change drastically even after the Great East Japan Earthquake. One expert commented, however, that the earthquake may accelerate social changes. Some of the experts further emphasized the importance of using backcasting when coping with such changes.

To ensure that all people can lead affluent lifestyles in harmony with the Earth, Toshiba Group has announced its Environmental Vision 2050. We will take a hard look at how society should be in the future and further enhance our environmental management so as not to lose sight of our direction even as the speed of change accelerates due to the earthquake.

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