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Waseda University Environmental Research Institute W-BRIDGE (Waseda-Bridgestone Initiative for Development of Global Environment)

Creating a new form of environmental activities as a bridge between industry, academics & NPOs

During the past 20 years, the environmental activities of corporations have advanced greatly due to a background which includes increased international debate concerning the issue of global warming. Currently, environmental activities and environmental management have become commonplace at corporations. It is an age in which effort to reduce environmental load and projects to fulfill social responsibility are referred to as the duty of corporations.

From left, W-BRIDGE members Assistant Director Masayuki Horio, Director Kenji Horiguchi, and Research Management Team Leader Hisanori Okada.

As this movement spreads, corporations are faced with the major issue of how to establish a management philosophy which devotes sufficient attention to environmental projects and how to incorporate environmental activities into management strategy. This process can be described as surpassing previous projects and entering the next stage in which a corporation seriously seeks to answer the question of "what is true environmental management?"

President Arakawa of Bridgestone (left) and President Shirai of Waseda at the announcement of the W-BRIDGE project

W-BRIDGE (Waseda-Bridgestone Initiative for Development of Global Environment), a joint project between Waseda University and Bridgestone Corporation, is an advanced experiment which seeks to probe solutions for this "next stage". This project, which was started in July of 2008, combines the aspirations of both Waseda and Bridgestone. Waseda seeks to become actively involved in the environmental activities of environmental NGOs and citizen's groups, and to create new environmental studies from the fusion of research and social practice, while Bridgestone aspires to seek new heights in environmental management through involvement in social partnerships.

What kind of new environmental activities does W-BRIDGE seek to implement? We discussed this question with the following members of the project implementation organization: Director Kenji Horiguchi (Waseda University Vice-President, Faculty of Political Science and Economics), Assistant Director Masayuki Horio (Waseda University Visiting Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology Professor Emeritus), and Research Management Team Leader Hisanori Okada.

Incorporating environmental activities into the foundation of management

System of W-BRIDGE project
Connecting the three entities of citizens/community, university, and corporation in order to seek more effective and lifestyle-based contributions to global environmental issues

"The impetus for starting the W-BRIDGE project was the strong desire of Bridgestone to actively incorporate projects for environmental activities into the foundation of management, as well as to pursue the meaning of environmental activities for management strategy." (Director Horiguchi)

Bridgestone possesses more than 180 production centers throughout the world, as well as a large number of sales offices. The number of consolidate employees at the corporation exceeds 130,000. Bridgestone is very passionate about environmental activities. In 2007, Bridgestone was second only to Toyota Motor Corporation in the Nikkei's ranking of environmental activity level, and is always evaluated as within the top 10. As a global corporation, Bridgestone has sought to expand its environmental contribution activities on a global level. In recent years, Bridgestone has grown increasingly serious about fully grasping the meaning of environmental activities to the corporation and performing appropriate environmental activities based on this understanding.

Function of W-BRIDGE project

"In response to Bridgestone's ideas, we at Waseda have joined them in debate. More than a year was spent to actually create the form of the project known as W-BRIDGE. The concept of this project is to add partnerships with NPOs and citizen's groups to the partnership between corporations and universities. Further concepts of the project include paving the way for international issues and creating a new horizontal partnership for global warming, biological diversity, trash issues and other environmental problems which were often dealt with separately in the past. Based on this concept, I believe that we will be able to realize new performance in the environmental activities of corporations which face the issue of pursuing profit, and in the environmental activities of universities." (Assistant Director Horio)

"The name 'W-BRIDGE' is composed of the 'W' from Waseda and the 'Bridge' from Bridgestone. At the same time, the name contains the meaning of '2 bridges' or 'a two-way bridge'. By making connections in areas which were previously unconnected, we will realize environmental activities which did not previously exist. In a variety of ways, 'bridge' is the central concept of W-BRIDGE." (Director Horiguchi)

A social partnership uniting industry, academia, and NPOs

Empirical research of CO2 absorption and bio-diesel material production through mixed planting of multipurpose trees and oil-producing trees. (Research Leader: Professor Yasushi Morikawa, Waseda University Faculty of Human Sciences; Activity Group: Japan International Forestry Promotion & Cooperation Center (JIFPCC))

Debate in preparation for holding "em-factory", a nation-wide student environmental business contest. (Research Leader: Professor Hiroshi Sekiya, Waseda University Environmental Research Institute; Activity Group: Waseda University Student NPO "Environment Rodriguez"

Under these themes, recruitment began in autumn of 2008 for the contract research of the 1st period. 10 research projects were selected and the projects started in January of 2009. The conditions for application are that the role of research leader is filled by an instructor from Waseda University or a cooperating school, and that the project is implemented through a partnership with an NPO or citizen's group. "When looking at the participating groups, there is actually quite a great amount of diversity, from environmental NGOs that represent Japan to student volunteer groups. I believe that this diversity is of great importance to environmental activities." (Research Management Team Leader Okada)

The project is divided into the following 4 research areas: 1) considering the balance between measures for global warming and conservation of biological diversity, 2) considering the balance between daily life and environmental conservation activities, 3) establishing goals from the perspective of the next generation and considering effective and efficient methods of environmental reform, and 4) effectively transmitting environmental information to the world and considering communication methods. None of these areas are a vertically divided specialized field. Rather, the areas are constructed through the new approach of establishing a two-way bridge for environmental issues from a variety of perspectives.

Research for creating and evaluating a method of transmitting contents from the Waseda School of Environment to the world (Research Leader: Professor Satoshi Amako & University Professor Takeshi Hara, Waseda University Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies; Activity Group: Japanese Forum of Environmental Journalists)

For example, in research area 1, emphasis is placed on the issue of bio-diesel fuel, which is one measure being advanced in response to global warming. Interest in automotive fuels using renewable energy sources is growing rapidly in Japan and other developed countries. Amongst this growing interest, there is the problem of environmental issues and regional issues caused by an increase in the number of large-scale plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, countries which are producers of palm. "The production of environmentally friendly energy sources is meaningless if we are actually destroying the environment or ecological system. An evaluation of the sustainability of bio-fuel and research regarding production methods of bio-fuel are included in the research projects selected for the 1st period." (Assistant Director Horio)

Additionally, a rich variety of other projects are being implemented. The research period is short, covering only half a year from January to June. "Corporations operate according to quarterly management periods, so it can be said that half a year is actually a long time from the perspective of corporate management. At any rate, the project was started as a test of what can be accomplished in half of a year. However, we are getting some very substantial results. The reason for these results is that each participating group has a record of performance in their respective fields, and the project is being developed based on this accumulation of experience." (Assistant Director Horio)

Activities of student volunteer groups

Student volunteer activities and environmental consciousness research for the improvement of sanitary conditions in immigrant settlements in Malaysia (Research Leader: Assistant Professor Yukino Iwai, Waseda University Hirayama Ikuo Memorial Volunteer Center; Activity Group: Hirayama Ikuo Memorial Volunteer Center "Project for the Development of Overseas Volunteer Leaders")

Another great strength of the project is activities by student volunteer groups of Waseda University. Such activities have always thrived at Waseda. For example, in the rapidly increasing settlements of immigrant Filipinos in Malaysia, trash is left neglected because the government does not collect trash. It is also common to see littering by citizens of the settlements. In response to these problems, student volunteers traveled to these settlements and held assemblies to raise consciousness regarding the problem of trash. The students also performed activities such as holding trash cleanup events and forming human bonds between the immigrants and the Malaysians.

"The government comes to collect trash only upon hearing that students are coming from Japan. However, once the students return to Japan, the trash is once again left neglected. Even though the citizens engage in littering, they all realize that the condition of trash management in the settlements is unacceptable. In response to these problems, students work to provide support which leads to action." (Research Management Team Leader Okada) Furthermore, students have created a small pamphlet entitled "What is Happiness?" and are performing activities to encourage Japanese students to think about the meaning of participating in volunteer environmental activities.

Students serve as trash rangers and hold events to raise consciousness among local children and citizens regarding trash issues.

Student volunteers also play a central role in environmental activities held in the Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo. Waseda University is one of the largest businesses within Shinjuku Ward. For example, vending machines are the largest consumer of energy on the campus. A process of trial and error has been implemented in an effort to create energy conservation measures. A variety of ideas have been proposed, such as stopping the compressors at night, turning off lights during the afternoon and late night, and finding ways to reduce the number of vending machines. Empirical research is being performed while incorporating the advanced technology of Waseda, and great results in energy consumption are being produced.

"Student volunteer groups join together with instructors and work to summarize their activities into research reports. This enables them to objectively view their activities and to spread their activities throughout society by generalizing the results. Of course, students who participate in the activities also experience great personal growth." (Research Management Team Leader Okada)

Empirical research regarding promotion of global warming measures created together with the community as part of the Waseda-based sustainable city "Shinjuku"(Research Leader: Associate Professor Hiroshi Onoda, Waseda University Environmental Research Institute; Activity Group: Shinjuku Ward Eco Business Association)

Vibrant reciprocal exchange between projects

Research of sustainable societies by regional biomass usage through cooperation between students and local citizens (Research Leader: Associate Professor Yushi Kamiya, Waseda University Environmental Research Institute; Activity Group: Waseda Environmental Citizen Network (NPO)) Young employees of Bridgestone also participate in regional exchanges held around the Honjo Campus, as well as in country-lifestyle experiences.

Another special feature of W-BRIDGE is the vibrant reciprocal exchange between research projects. Participants always gather within the office space in order to exchange information.

"Participants give each other advice regarding activities and use networks to introduce personnel to each other. Even more than when providing support for individual projects, creating this kind of reciprocal effect helps to expand the circle of the project by 2 or 3 times. Therefore, exchange between projects is a vital aim in realizing even greater performance of projects." (Research Management Team Leader Okada)

Currently, recruitment is being performed for the 2nd period of the project. During the 1st period, the roles of research leader were filled entirely by instructors from Waseda University. However, in the future, projects led by researchers from 27 domestic and 560 overseas participating schools will be actively selected. Recruitment conditions have been created in English and recruitment is being performed on an international scale. "Eventually, our goal is to raise the presence of the W-BRIDGE project by issuing an annual report in English and transmitting information throughout the world. The very act of transmitting information will have effect on the environmental activities of the world and an effect on the direction of environmental activities in the future." (Director Horiguchi)

Research for the sustainable development of agriculture and farming villages (Research Leader: Professor Masayuki Kashiwagi, Faculty of Human Sciences; Activity Group: The Private School for Enjoying Farming (Student NPO)) Implements exchange with citizens living in the Waseda shopping area and the areas surrounding the university, as well as visits to farming villages. The photograph shows rice planting at Okuma Garden.

Another important role of the project implementation organization is to give feedback to the management of Bridgestone regarding the results of research and activities. "Through this project, I believe that we must prove that CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities and corporate management are not a contradiction of each other and do not stand at opposites. Rather, we must show that the two are useful tools for the formation of sustainable corporate strategy and energy."

This is a unique project which is just beginning. However, through a variety of actors and through actions in a variety of environments, the project shows signs of expanding through its base to create a dynamic reciprocal exchange and synergetic effects on a global scale.

Related Links

Waseda-Bridgestone Initiative for Development of Global Environment

Waseda University Environmental Research Institute

Bridgestone Corporation