From Good Intentions to Real Action:
Policy Researcher, IGES Programme Management Office
--What led to the creation of Eco-Home Diagnosis (hereafter "Eco-Home")?
About four years ago, there was a research project at the IGES Kansai Research Centre on developing a vision for society that would entail a reduction of 50% to 80% in carbon dioxide emissions. I was thinking about the kinds of business models that would be needed in order to achieve that goal in society, and that is what led to this idea. Next, after further research, I devised the business scheme of Eco-Home, and it was deployed in Hyogo Prefecture and elsewhere. Today, it is being expanded nationwide as an "eco-concierge" service of the Ministry of the Environment.
In a low-carbon society, practically every household will need to be using solar power, for example. Concerning the question of how to make that a reality, if we could come up with a way for the government to promote the spread of solar power and high efficiency appliances and provide support for the sale of companies' appliances in a way that people would find reasonable, that would be good for business as well, and the business sector could provide the necessary labour, information, and technologies. So it occurred to me that this could become a win-win solution. Specifically, I devised a model of providing household diagnoses in which the government offers support for the diagnosis itself as well as the measures proposed as a result of the diagnosis. The Ministry of the Environment is now working on an "eco-concierge" service based on Eco-Home, and this is very similar to my original concept.
--How does Eco-Home work?
The way Eco-Home works is that first, with reference to a household's electricity and gas expenses and other items, it comes up with a general estimate of the emissions of all of the household's carbon dioxide emitting appliances, not only from electricity but also from kerosene, gasoline, and so on. Next, it shows a ranking to indicate whether your household's carbon dioxide emissions are relatively high or relatively low, similar to comparisons based on "If the world were a village of 100 people." For example, it can tell you just how close to the top your household would rank if there were 100 three-person households in Kanagawa Prefecture. It is not unusual for someone who is making a considerable effort to be green to be in fifth or tenth place from the bottom. It makes quite an impact on most people when they are shown their carbon dioxide emissions in a way that gives them a clear picture. Next, Eco-Home tells you how much of your emissions come from each type of source. People tend to focus on air conditioning and light fixtures, but in fact, emissions from driving cars are the highest factor in many cases (often 30% or more of total household emissions). The next highest factor is hot water for baths, accounting for 20% to 30%. So the programme begins by helping the user to understand the level of their household's carbon dioxide emissions and showing the sources of those emissions and their proportions, in order to give the user that realisation. Next, it asks the user to choose a target for how much they would like to reduce their emissions, and the software automatically calculates the ways in which the user could achieve that goal and suggests several measures that would be cost effective. The basic sequence is that users are first helped to understand their own personal situations and asked to set goals, and then the programme provides customised suggestions for specific steps to take in order to achieve that goal, based on figures specific to the household.
|“Eco-Home”, Step 1: Comparison to an average household
Expansion in the Asia Pacific Region
--The programme has been expanding significantly in Japan, and I have heard that it may also be proposed in other countries. How do you see this developing in the future?
Attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the household sector have not yet been very effective in any country, and people in every country are looking for solutions. About a year ago, a professor who is well known in the field of climate change countermeasures in the Republic of Korea was interested in Eco-Home and visited Japan several times to learn more about it. There was also an inquiry from Australia a couple of years ago, expressing interest in the use of Eco-Home. Once the scheme has established a certain track record in Japan, I think it will naturally begin to expand into other Asian nations that face the same problems as Japan. However, it should be noted that Japanese households have very different circumstances than households in many other Asian countries.
--With regard to the idea of actively promoting this in developing countries as a Japanese model, considering that residents of developing and emerging countries are eager to consume and that the trend is to increase energy consumption rather than to conserve energy, wouldn't that make it difficult to implement measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the household sector?
It is certainly true that if there was a serious desire to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the household sector, Eco-Home alone would be far from sufficient. There are approximately 50 million households in Japan, and it is not realistic to expect that all of them will obtain a diagnosis. Also, the diagnostic approach is based on supplying information, and it is probably too optimistic to expect to get everyone to change their behaviour based on an information approach. Therefore, I think that the significance of implementing Eco-Home is in the development of low-carbon household "innovators."
Diffusion theory is a way of explaining how various things take hold in a society. Under this theory, when any product begins to spread, "innovators" are the first few percentage points of users, followed by "early adapters." Beyond that stage, there is a certain threshold or "tipping point," and the product begins to spread in a major way after growing beyond the tipping point. In order to achieve a low-carbon society in the future, it is important first to show that it is realistically feasible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80%, and at the same time, to develop model low-carbon households that have achieved such a reduction. I would like to see Eco-Home being used to help 2% or 3% of all households to become low-carbon model households or "innovators" according to diffusion theory. The Ministry of the Environment has expressed the target figure of having Eco-Home used by one or two million households, and I think the programme should be deployed with the goal of developing this kind of model household.
I have gotten pretty far off the topic, but I believe that other Asian nations could also use the approach of using diagnosis and the like to develop the first innovators based on diffusion theory.
The Future of Eco-Home
--What do you see as the future issues and outlook for Eco-Home?
I think that the aim should be to provide information that people can accept in the form of a narrative based on the individual household's circumstances, along with options for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. I have often heard the criticism that the steps proposed by Eco-Home rely too much on buying replacement appliances, but there are options available for users who wish to reduce emissions primarily by changing their lifestyles and without spending money. Meanwhile, for users who wish to reduce emissions while maintaining the same level of convenience, those kinds of options are available as well. I think that when supplying information, because it is, after all, necessary to reduce emissions, it is important to propose some ways to do that in accordance with the individual household's circumstances and needs, and have users select the options that they can accept.
In addition, I think the programme should help people to change their behaviour and take steps to really reduce their carbon dioxide emissions as much as possible. Specifically, I think it should provide the information that consumers need for decision-making. For example, when consumers decide that they'd like to get a low-flow shower head, it ought to provide all of the information that they really need at that point, including where they could go to buy it, how much it will cost, and details about its user-friendliness. The Ministry of the Environment has begun trying out a variety of ways to provide better services such as this in the eco-concierge services that it is currently developing.
The Secret of Inventive Ideas
--Can you tell us how you came up with this kind of idea?
I can't point to one particular episode, but very often when I come up with an idea for solving some problem, not only related to this project but in general, it's while I'm going for a walk or taking a bath. That's when all sorts of wild ideas will get started. For example, I might think about how society would change if a certain kind of policy or project were to become a reality. In the case of Eco-Home, I could imagine concierge services becoming available in every appliance store or shopping mall, leading to steady sales of low-carbon appliances. I get these wild ideas one after the other, and then I start to consider those ideas from a realistic perspective. I combine my wild ideas with cold hard analysis. Also, I'm always thinking in terms of solutions for problems, and I try to think of ways that the latest research findings could be utilised in order to solve practical problems on the ground.
*1: Uchi eco shindan in Japanese. Copyright © Ministry of the Environment.
--Thank you very much.