One of Toyota Motor Corporation's key social contribution activities is forestry. Since 1997, Toyota has been conducting forestry activities in Japan at the Forest of Toyota (in Iwakura-cho, Toyota City) and in Mie Prefecture, as well as overseas in China and the Philippines. Why is an automaker engaged in forestry? I discussed this with President Juichi Shibusawa of the environmental NPO "SHU," who has been involved with Toyota's activities for many years. (alterna Editor-in-Chief Setsu Mori)
-How did your involvement in Toyota's forestry begin, and what activities have you conducted since then?
I first became involved in Toyota's forestry in 1997 when the Forest of Toyota was created in the company-owned Foresta Hills. At the time, Toyota was considering conducting environmental education and environmental preservation through forestry and the use of satoyama (managed natural areas).
I was interested in the academic analysis of satoyama forests, and I was very pleased to hear that Toyota was turning its attention to natural forests rather than planted forests.
In Japan, "forests" have a strong nuance of "forestry industries," and approximately 40% of forests have been planted. However, approximately 67% of Japan is forested, putting it among the top forested nations of the world, and Japan has a "forest culture."
A forest culture is a culture supported by a diversity of forests, primarily natural broadleaf forests.
When the Forest of Toyota was created, the word "satoyama" had only just begun to come into use, and forests still had the image of the forestry industry.
Planted cedar and cypress forests are business sites for making money in the future. On the other hand, natural forests, particularly broadleaf forests, have come to be disregarded since the energy revolution and their value for use as materials has declined. Also, when they reach a certain age, their growth slows and carbon dioxide absorption capacity declines, and as a result, they are no longer given much attention.
I became involved in the Toyomori Project being conducted in a mountainous area of Toyota City in around autumn 2008. I received an inquiry from an NPO and Toyota concerning the creation of an environmental educational program focusing on human resources development.
The Toyomori Project is a collaborative project launched by Toyota, together with Toyota City and the Support Center for Sustainable Regional Design, a nonprofit organization based in Nagoya City. The aim is to connect cities and agricultural villages in mountainous areas and build sustainable local communities based in forests by developing human resources who can create core business while living in a natural environment.
-What is the significance of forestry for a business enterprise?
When the term "CSR" began to take root around 2003, it wasn't entirely clear whether the "R" in the CSR stood up for relationship or responsibility. CSR was an extension of the existing social contribution concept.
There was a general awareness that social contribution was something that was undertaken when the company had surplus income, and that it wasn't different from the company's main business.
However, companies have their foundations in the economy, and the economy is built on social foundations. If society itself is built on a foundation of the natural environment, it is necessary to consider very carefully how society will be developed from the natural environment. It is for this reason that companies must bear responsibility for the business that they conduct on the foundations of society and the natural environment.
In addition, many young people have lost sight of a model for how to live, and feel uneasy. The focusing of society on efficiency has reached its limits.
The foundations on which we live are built not on the economy, but on society and the natural environment, which are connected to our lives. We need to create a society in which people are aware of this and feel a sense that their own lives are derived from this basis. Otherwise, we will not be able to build a happy society, or resolve environmental problems.
It is for these reasons that I thought to take a new look at the forest culture and to propose new ways of living that incorporate the forest culture into our lifestyles.
At Toyomori, we examine the nature of Japan as a country and how people lived prior to the period of rapid economic growth. We decided to listen to senior citizens who had lived during that time.
I hoped to create a forum where people could consider freely what they value, the kind of environment they want to live in, and how they want to live. With that aim, I established the Toyomori Institute of Sustainable Living, which focuses on training programs for human resources development.
-What is the significance of Toyota, an automaker, engaging in forestry?
I often discuss my opinions with Toyota officers. It is possible that production bases will shift from Japan to other countries and that production in Japan will contract. I believe that at that time, it is Toyota's social responsibility to build local bases that can absorb the excess labor capacity.
In the case of Toyota City, it takes about 30 minutes to drive from the city to a mountainous area. This means that, while working for a company for about three days a week, you could also engage in activities for maintaining village communities, and in that way develop a sense of unity with the local people. Growing the food you eat, managing the nearby mountain environment, and producing firewood for use each year ? I believe that it is useful to foster the development of people who value that sort of lifestyle.
-The background to the creation of the magazine alterna was an investigation of how the various contradictions and problems of twentieth-century capitalism can be corrected and what form business should take in the twenty-first century. In about 2,000, Paul Hawken released the joint work Natural Capitalism. Do you believe that we have arrived at a time for taking a new look at capitalism based on nature?
The global population has reached 7 billion, and the ecological footprint, a measure that indicates the degree of dependence of human economic activities on natural resources, has exceeded 1.5. That means that we need 1.5 earths in order to maintain current economic activities.
Therefore, if we don't correct capitalism to a system based on nature, we cannot maintain the idea of everyone living on a single planet. The result will be competition for resources, and we will inevitably walk the path to war.
We refer to countries which include Japan as "developed countries," but I wonder if developed countries are really a model for emerging countries. If emerging countries become developed countries, won't this lead to a future where the earth is physically exhausted, in terms of resources for consumption?
-It has been estimated that the global population will exceed 9 billion by 2050. It seems that establishing a sustainable society will require not just a re-examination of our economic activities, but our lifestyles as well.
When seen from an administrative perspective, the Toyomori project has an aspect of encouraging long-term residence in Toyota City. It is a countermeasure against the depopulation of mountainous areas. Toyomori is not the only such project. Similar movements are spreading to many other areas and, as a result, young people are starting to enter such areas. In terms of village or elementary school units, if one young family each year comes to live in an elementary school district with a population of 1,000, the elementary school can be maintained.
After studying at the Toyomori Institute of Sustainable Living, some students have actually become permanent residents. I have heard that the older local residents are happy when the younger residents come to live in such places, where it was thought they would have no future. However, they wonder whether the new residents actually want amenities such as convenience stores and movie theaters.
The responses of the young people are always the same: "There isn't much here in terms of lifestyle amenities, but everything about living here enriches our lives. " The pickled daikon radish bought at a store may be a simple dish, but when made by an elderly lady next door, it will be a treat.
It seems that, for the young people, the process of changing their sense of values in this way is enjoyable and inevitable.
-What types of lifestyles do the people who study at the Toyomori Institute of Sustainable Living adopt?
Each year, the Toyomori Project can only accept a maximum of 30 students. This is because 30 students require 30 staff members. The aims are to examine together the lifestyles that suit the values of each individual, create points of contact with the area, and foster the development of people who can live in harmony with nature.
Two of the students who have completed the course at the Toyomori Institute of Sustainable Living became woodworkers, and got married to each other. They work at a studio in Toyota City, making a living by creating furniture from local materials.
Another graduate returned to their hometown in Itoshima City, Fukuoka, and started a business raising 100% pasture-fed cattle to provide low-temperature pasteurized milk to consumers. There have also been Toyota employees who completed the course and wanted to settle down permanently in a mountainous area.
-Has there been progress in encouraging permanent residence in mountainous areas?
Initially, Toyota City was skeptical about whether young people wanted to live in mountainous areas, but when they saw the Toyomori project, they understood clearly that there are such people.
As an NPO, I believe that we have to convey the possibilities of living in mountainous areas and conduct more external publicity to allay concerns and answer doubts. Even though concern about mountainous areas is increasing in people with high levels of environmental awareness, we also need to work out how to create interest among other people.
-What is the medium- to long-term outlook for Toyota's forestry, and what does Toyota need to do?
An advanced element of Toyota's forestry is the Philippines Rainforest Restoration Project, which commenced on Luzon Island in the Philippines in 2007.
A problem that is occurring all around the world in tropical regions is the frequent cutting down of trees by local residents for wood materials or firewood, leading to increased deforestation. Unlike in Japan, the forests do not recover spontaneously. As decomposition is rapid in tropical regions, and the topsoil is extremely thin, it is necessary to constantly maintain the forests.
This looks like a reforestation project, but much more effort is put into educating the local residents than the reforestation itself. They are taught that rice hulls can be used instead of firewood, as well as how to cultivate mangoes to earn cash in place of firewood.
This is the practice of agro-forestry-producing agricultural products in conjunction with forestry. It is really a project for creating new lifestyles, which is also the objective of Toyomori.
Planting more than 10 indigenous species including fabaceae and mirtaceae.
Income increased due to mango cultivation.
-What was the background to the project?
The project in the Philippines makes use of know-how gained from the Desertification Prevention Project in China, which started in 2001.
In China, desertification resulting from overgrazing by livestock and excessive logging for fuel has become a serious problem. Toyota is cooperating with the NPO Green Earth Center and the Hebei Province Forestry Bureau to prevent desertification.
In the Fengning Manchu Autonomous County of Hebei Province, desertification was increasing because of the loss of trees caused by overgrazing by goats, which ate the tree roots. Dairy cows that can be kept in barns were introduced in place of goats. Grass was grown as feed, and the residents cultivated medicinal herbs and fruit as sources of cash income.
It may seem simple, but switching from goats to cows must have been extremely difficult because the culture is different. Reforestation alone is not enough, and it is because of the cooperation of the NPO which was in direct contact with the people that the project has been successful.
Plants disappeared and desertification worsened due to excessive goat pasturing.
Goats were replaced with dairy cows that can be kept in barns.
When considering forest development, many people are satisfied simply with physically creating a forest. But it is also important to propose new lifestyles. This takes time and can be very difficult. However, it is my sense from my NPO work for more than 10 years that this is the only way.
-Integration with a company's main business has become a major CSR topic within Japan. From this perspective, how should Toyota proceed with its CSR?
The issue of the necessary mobility in the decentralized society of the future is an important topic.
For example, there are many two- and three-household settlements in the area around Toyomori, most of which are occupied by elderly people living alone.
In such cases, how these people will get to a hospital becomes an issue. If a bus operates between the settlements and the hospital, the city's budget will suffer.
Let's assume that young people also become permanent residents. As they can't live by farming alone, they may earn a small amount of income by transporting people back and forth.
Elderly people who live in mountainous areas also have little access to shops. If the young people can purchase the things that the elderly people want while doing other tasks, this problem too can be resolved. Perhaps they can also deliver newspapers. This type of multi-occupation society can support the lifestyles of younger people living in mountainous areas.
New types of motorization, that is, new ways of for people to move around, will develop, and this too will lead to business for Toyota. Another benefit is that the company will gain the sympathy of people who are interested in economic activities based on nature. It can find out the kinds of cars that people living in these regions want to drive. Fuel efficiency is important to them, but they may also want vehicles that they can drive on very narrow roads.
This type of market-oriented concept is likely to appear and will lead to proposals of cars, forms of transport, energy sources and, by extension, lifestyles as a whole.
It would be wonderful for Toyota to become a company that offers consumers new ways to live their everyday lives.