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Akira Sakano, Zero Waste Academy: 'Two-Dimensional Dialogues Don’t Solve Sustainability Challenges'

Our blogs highlight a range of consumer issues from different perspectives. Unless otherwise stated they do not represent the position of Consumers International.

GUEST BLOG: Akira Sakano

As part of our blog series for World Consumer Rights Day, we asked thought leaders across the world to provide insight into the campaign theme 'The Sustainable Consumer'.

Akira Sakano, Chair of the Board of Directors at Zero Waste Academy in Japan talks through their innovative project which has become a global case study of success. In Kamikatsu Village 81% of rubbish is recycled and 100% of all house-hold organic waste is composted.

Early this year, Coca-Cola announced that the company won't abandon single-use plastic bottles. It stated Business won’t be in business if we don’t accommodate customers,” clarifying its decision is a result of consumer’s demand and Coca-Cola is only following its request for single-use plastic for their beverage. On contrary, many conscious consumers, including small business owners and an active civil society, have been contacting our organization, Zero Waste Academy, strongly voicing their desire for major corporations such as Coca-Cola to take immediate action to shift to sustainable business practices including the phasing out of single-use plastic bottles. Conscious consumers are aware the earth’s capacity is at its limit. Discussion between two key players, consumers and major business representatives, are held at a global level with the goal to achieve a sustainable society. However, such dialogue is mostly limited to who is responsible to take the initial action to reduce the usage of single-use plastics, resulting in a conclusion without any adequate solution or direction.

While such discussion provides opportunities for the public to increase their awareness on issues in modern waste management system failure, unfortunately, it has not been an ideal movement to empower consumers and to create a meaningful shift towards zero waste society. Rather global two-dimensional dialogue has fallen into the pitfall of ineffectiveness for the following reasons. First, the zero waste initiative is about providing effective solutions or practices to reduce waste production in complex inter-connected supply chains.

Discussion in at global abstract level only overemphasizes two stakeholders: consumers and producers as the primary players, ignoring other important stakeholders such as wholesale business and/or waste management institutions. Without such key stakeholders, it will never reach an effective solution. Secondly, such dialogue can ignore the community-based, on the ground reality, including individual lifestyles. Rather, through holistic discussion, zero waste practices need to be co-created within the community and its successful implementation could provide practical solutions to global-scale problems. By targeting its scope within a level of community, a global society could host a constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and develop an ultimate solution. Which is why it is essential to shift focus to local-level to develop bottom-up solutions and here are the examples:

Local Model to Lead Global Solutions – Zero Waste in Kamikatsu

A local community in Tokushima prefecture in Japan called Kamikatsu is welcoming 2020 year as a key milestone. In 2003, the municipal government of Kamikatsu made a 'Zero Waste Declaration'. It states, “Kamikatsu hereby issues the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Declaration, manifesting our firm commitment to reduce waste to zero by 2020”. Since then Kamikatsu’s governmental body, business entity and civil society have all committed to achieve zero waste. And by 2016, Kamikatsu achieved 81% recycling rate and 100% of all house-hold organic waste being composted.

Eight criteria to assess zero waste practices in Restaurants

In Kamikatsu, “Zero Waste” is a philosophy which envisions the change in consumption and management of materials to preserve and employ beyond recycling and composting. The main aim is to avoid incineration, landfill and nature as the final disposal destination of waste to reduce the negative impact on both the environment and the community such as health and loss of biodiversity, while demanding a systematic change from each civil society member to national government level.

1,500 residents are encouraged to segregate their waste into 45 different categories to recycle, and practice re-using within the community, as well as reducing or not to buying products that may end up as waste. This has been achieved through various motivations and incentives designed by the municipal office together with the Zero Waste Academy. Yet the biggest impact has been made through multi-stakeholders dialogue within the community.

One of the key findings from the dialogue between business owners and the civil society, was to identity efforts and limitation made by stores to reduce waste through segregation and when procuring products. From such dialogue, Zero Waste Academy was able to create solutions to accelerate the Zero Waste programs in Kamikatsu. In 2017, Kamikatsu local government together with Zero Waste Academy launched its Zero Waste Accreditation System. The system certifies shops and encourages customers to buy from accredited businesses. Businesses receive clear direction and training and importantly the benefit from branding themselves as sustainability conscious. The accreditation system reviewed one’s business operation from procurement to actual customer service and helps one to identity key aspects where one can focus toward zero waste. The system not only helps business owners change their practice to achieve zero waste, but also empowers one to have a dialogue with both the supplier and the customer allowing them to recognize their capacity and become a proactive part of the solution.

Package-free shopping

Another program developed from this holistic dialogue is the quantity or weight-based pricing sales or 'bulk sales'. One of the challenges was that most wholesale stores in the community procured their product with multiple layers of single-use plastics. Unfortunately, despite a constructive dialogue with retailers and stakeholders from higher up supply chains, wholesale businesses lacked leverages to remove the usage of single-use plastics. By collaborating with a local restaurant, Kamikatsu municipal office together Zero Waste Academy were able to provide bulk sales solutions to its residents. Restaurants and cafes in Kamikatsu benefit from branding themselves by sharing their list of products for cooking – which are well recognized by customers to be good products – and residents benefit from having package-free shopping options within their community.

Kamikatsu provides an essential case model for a successful zero waste community which encompasses multilateral dialogue and focus on finding alternative methods to empower every stakeholder in the community. By limiting its scope, realistic approaches were taken to conduct a constructive dialogue and launch an effective program to empower every player while achieving zero waste. 

Bulk-sales at local brewery

Sheetal Kapoor
26/02/2020 08:26
As a Professor of marketing at Delhi University, India I thoroughly agree to what you have said. How far consumers would be able to make a move towards sustainable consumption when marketers are constantly bringing in new products and making use of newer methods of promotion to reach the target customers. Sustainable consumption is the need of the hour and needs to be done by everyone to protect ourselves from the ill effects of climate change and environment