Special Interview — Breathing New Life into Forests

Living with the Forest: Toyomori

Toyomori Overview

Human Resource Development Project Connecting Urban and Rural Lifestyles

Toyomori is a project aiming to utilize forests for the development of human resources, local communities, and social systems. With help from the government and NPO, we are aiming to develop people who can connect rural and city life by confronting the challenges and the difficulties inherent in hilly and mountainous regions such as forest devastation and depopulation.

From Forest of Toyota to Toyomori

At Forest of Toyota in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, experts were developed aiming at the realization of a recycling-based society and the preservation of satoyama through their Eco-no-Mori Seminar, lasting from 1998 until its completion in 2004. At the time Toyota began considering a successor program for this seminar in 2005, Toyota City merged the six towns nearby. With this broad merger, 70% of Toyota City became a forested area. Because of this, the government focused more on forests as a basis for the livelihoods of neighboring citizens — leading to a successor project which had a great impact.

In the community, the entire forests including planted forests like cedar and cypress are devastated by a significant decline in forestry. On the top of restoration activities at satoyama and natural forests that we have worked at the Forest of Toyota, we decided to foster human resources who can tackle development of the community at a successor project.

This Toyomori project is handled with the cooperation of 3 parties: Toyota City Hall, an NPO with expertise in the field and a relevant network, and Toyota Motor Corporation — which is headquartered in Toyota City and committed to developing the region. The resulting Toyomori Institute of Sustainable Living is a course that aims to develop people who resolve community issues through community business. Another major feature of Toyomori is that Toyota itself participated heavily in the regional design, considering its support of the community both necessary and one of its many intended corporate philanthropic activities.

Kazuhiko Ohora

Group Manager
Environment & Social Activities Group
Program Development Department
Corporate Citizenship Division

What We Learned at Toyomori Institute of Sustainable Living

As I mentioned earlier, Toyomori aimed to improve the local environment through community-based business. What we learned through the first phase of the Toyomori Institute of Sustainable Living (lasting from May 2009 to December 2010) is that not only are knowledge and experience in business important, but rather that they are implemented with the intent of building trust within the community. For example, we realized that steadily gaining mutual understanding of each others' mindsets, and other trust-building activities (even just participating in community events or showing up simply to talk with people) are the first things we needed to do. So while Phase 1 was primarily carried out within the entire Toyota City, the activity field of Phase 2 (from April 2011 to March 2013) is narrowed down to the Asahi district, which is in northern part of Toyota City with heavier participation from local people and students. This development of a mutually trusting community is the biggest difference between Phase 1 and Phase 2.

The students range in age from their 20's to 60's. We also accepted the participation of families, which requires an understanding of the family dynamic for a successful outcome, something which obviously wouldn't have been possible in Phase 1. All family members are allowed to join the school — husbands, wives and children. A kids committee was immediately formed for children to enjoy the activities as well.

Why Should Toyota Participate?

Environmentally-sound community development is not only the responsibility of government, but residents, schools, NPOs and corporations as well. I thought to myself maybe Toyota, as a local business, should be a part of the community development in hilly and mountainous areas spread widely in Toyota City, and collaborate with the local government and NPOs. This is now our current goal.

As I said before, approximately 70% of Toyota City is forest. As a matter of fact, about 70% of Japan is also forest, and faces the same challenges, such as rural depopulation and devastation of planted forests. Quite possibly, the solutions to tackle these common problems might be determined in part through Toyota's involvement with the work being done in Toyota City. If we are met with good results, we are hoping that other regions would choose to follow in our footsteps with similar initiatives.

Feelings Through Activities

It was a good opportunity for us to consider what it is like to have a company involved in local matters. Previously, companies were merely present within a community, and rarely involved in community activities. The corporate business environment has changed dramatically, and is now more demanding. One of the conditions for companies to survive is to be loved and trusted by the local citizens. To reach this goal, businesses and corporate ranks must actively invest attention to help resolve various issues in their regions. Toyota has been conducting a wide range of social contribution programs in the environmental area, but the initial areas of activity were company-owned forests including the Forest of Toyota. The big difference between this and previous activities is that Toyomori had a significant positive impact on the region; and we believe that it has been an extremely challenging activity.

At Toyomori, three values — Living, Earning and Duty — are considered important. To live in satoyama requires not only good grace from the forest, but mutual support from the differing occupations and lifestyles within the entire community. Through Toyomori Livelihood School, we are hoping that people who have acquired a "way of life via Toyomori" will increase.

In the first phase of the Toyomori Institute for Sustainable Living, 26 students carried out various activities that were eventually divided into 10 projects. In promoting these activities centered in Toyota City, we also found the following issues which we feel should be addressed: To develop the community where people with disabilities both physical and mental can also be active and help each other; it is possible to work as part-time farmers and be part of a region-wide network of producers and consumers; forest development plans should be enacted for forest owners who have lost interest in the upkeep of their affected forests.

I honestly don't think digging into the regional issues and the Toyomori approach are wrong; but it will obviously take time to reach a viable resolution. Also, being involved in community development would require unprecedented preparation and accountability from Toyota. Naturally, at a company, we have to deal with matters like personnel changes, people in charge expecting results in a fairly short amount of time due to high costs and other related issues. However, once a sustainable system becomes available, this would be a model case that an enterprise proactively involved in community development. In order to consolidate efforts of Toyomori, I would like to learn from innovative examples across the country.

Toyomori was made possible through the ideas established with the Forest of Toyota.
Find out more

"Forest of Toyota" Project Maintains Satoyama

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