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Japan's 'Green' Efforts Generate Skepticism

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Japan's 'Green' Efforts Generate Skepticism

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Japan's 'Green' Efforts Generate Skepticism

Japan's 'Green' Efforts Generate Skepticism

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93079196/93079928" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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At an exhibition at the G-8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, Fujitsu representative Miwako Morishima shows off a prototype laptop computer made out of heat-molded Japanese cedar. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Anthony Kuhn/NPR

At an exhibition at the G-8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, Fujitsu representative Miwako Morishima shows off a prototype laptop computer made out of heat-molded Japanese cedar.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

A prototype eco-friendly transport device made by Toyota on display at the G-8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Anthony Kuhn/NPR

A prototype eco-friendly transport device made by Toyota on display at the G-8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

Japan's government and Japanese companies are touting efforts to make their country one of the most energy-efficient, low-carbon places in the world. But some critics dismiss the publicity as "greenwash" that paints a deceptive picture of Japan's environmental status.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's Cabinet approved a trial plan Wednesday to trade carbon credits in an effort to lower emissions and fight global warming. And at a show at the G-8 summit in Hokkaido this month, plug-in cars, recycled building materials and humanoid robots were among the futuristic products showcased by Honda, Toshiba, Hitachi and other companies.

At the Fujitsu booth, Miwako Morishima showed off one of her company's latest green gadgets — a wooden laptop computer.

The centerpiece of the show was the "Zero Emission House," a prototype home with technology from a number of big Japanese companies. A guide, Akiko Obayashi, explained that the house gets most of its electricity from renewable sources.

"At the moment, if the weather is good, we can provide all the electricity from the solar panels and the wind turbine," Obayashi says.

The washing machine uses ozone bubbles to sterilize the water, and the home's walls have built-in seismic shock absorbers. "In Japan, we have a lot of earthquake, and it absorbs the shock and changes to the heat," Obayashi says.

But experts say many of the same Japanese companies that make these products oppose government measures to limit emissions, such as a carbon trading system.

"Japanese company culture is typically more focused on the supply side, or technology gimmicks, or technology solutions," says Iida Tetsunari, director of the Tokyo-based Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies. "The majority is very much against introducing so called cap-and-trade or carbon tax."

Iida says the Japanese government is deeply divided on how to tackle global warming. He and others say Japan's claim to be a world leader in energy efficiency is deceptive.

Andrew DeWit, an energy policy expert at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, says, "The establishment here says, 'Oh look, we're ahead of the Europeans, we're 20 years ahead of the Europeans.' That's just on the face of it wrong."

Japan has set low targets for renewable energy use and has urged companies to reduce their carbon emissions voluntarily — but not made it mandatory, DeWit says.

DeWit says that at root, many Japanese corporations are suspicious of government intervention of the economy. They're reacting, he says, to the huge infrastructure spending and corruption that followed the busting of Japan's economic bubble.

"They want to get away from these pork barrel projects, the spending on roads that was very much emphasized in the '90s as a way to prime the economic pump," DeWit says.

"To lead the world, Japan must take the initiative by achieving a low-carbon society," Fukuda told his Cabinet on Wednesday.

But if Japanese companies are left to set their own targets for energy efficiency, DeWit says, they won't be leading the charge away from fossil fuels. They will be following it, after all their other options and resources have been exhausted.

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