Is Resource Efficiency a Solution for Sustainability Challenges? Japan’s Sustainable Strategy and Resource Productivity Policy in the 21st Century
After the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear incident in North East Japan in March 2011, there is increasing discussion of reconstructing the damaged areas in an environmentally sustainable manner in Japan. The politicians are beginning to argue that this is an opportunity to reconstruct Japanese society in a more sustainable manner. This paper attempts to examine whether there are potential visions of a sustainable Japan in the future in Japan’s strategy for sustainability and environmental management in the 1990s to the 2000s. The paper argues that Japan’s sustainability strategy can be characterized by its emphasis on improving resource productivity by recognizing environmental challenges as opportunities for further technical progress, innovation, and industrial competitiveness. Then, the paper seeks to further clarify such characteristics of the strategy for sustainability by examination of Japan’s sound material-cycle policy since the 1990s until 2010, with particular attention given to recycling policies that are based on the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and the eco-town program for establishing a recycling infrastructure. After arguing that national interest on policy for increasing resource productivity may not be universal but may depend on difference in industrial structure of the country, the paper overviews and analyzes three recent sustainability strategies developed by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan and the Government of Japan in the past few years. They are “Strategy for an Environmental Nation in the 21st Century” in 2007, “Clean Asia Initiative” in 2008, and “New Growth Strategy” in 2010. By doing so, the paper argues that Japan’s sustainable strategy continues to emphasize “increasing efficiency”. It then concludes that it is a time to give greater emphasis to total reduction of the environmental impact of production and consumption to achieve the next step of sustainability for Japan and elsewhere in the world.