Atlantic Cities

Tokyo’s Green Building Initiative: From the City to the World

Nearly two years after a devastating tsunami slammed into Japan’s northeastern coast, efforts are underway to employ sustainable practices in rebuilding the region. Metropolitan Tokyo’s Green Building Program, a measure to construct low-emission, energy-efficient buildings, helped avoid a total power outage following the earthquake that rocked the city and triggered the tsunami. This measure is part of the greater “Tokyo Initiative” launched by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) in 2002 to reduce carbon emissions.  

City officials calculate that the Green Building Program reduced energy consumption by 20 percent since its inception, a statistic they identify as the reason the power stayed on during the 2011 quake. The initiative has inspired green building practices in other parts of Japan, and Tokyo officials view their plan as a global sustainability model.
 
Tokyo has a history of being more forward-thinking than many other major cities with regard to environmental conservation. In the 1960s and 1970s when Japan was experiencing an economic boom, Tokyo became one of the first city governments to address the issue of pollution resulting from urban growth. 
 
Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. This figure is expected to reach 70 percent by 2050. Considering that cities are the source of 67 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, it’s evident that environmental pollution will continue to rise in proportion to urban growth. In a 2011 report issued by TMG’s Bureau of Environment, officials noted that adopting green building practices “is an urgent issue for sustainable development and it should be the highest priority in promoting a green economy.” 
 
Under the Green Building Program, building plans for structures with more than 5,000 square meters of floor area must meet a comprehensive set of standards for sustainable, eco-friendly building practices before receiving a building permit. These standards cover everything from installing energy-efficient heating and cooling systems to using reclaimed and eco-friendly materials in construction. They call for water conservation and the protection of native plant and animal species to minimize energy-draining shifts in the natural ecosystem. Standards for reducing the heat island effect—a costly phenomenon in which metropolitan hubs become significantly warmer than adjacent areas—recommend rooftop gardens and other measures to prevent buildings from absorbing heat.  
 
Last year, TMG recognized 15 newly-constructed buildings in Tokyo as models of green building efforts. Among them is Fujimi Mirai Kan, a childcare facility that employs a rooftop vegetable garden, solar and wind power generators, and a geo-heat ventilation system to reduce carbon emissions and urban overheating. “I hope that people around the world aiming for a low-carbon society will visit Tokyo and see these green buildings in person,” said Teruyuki Ohno, director general of TMG’s Bureau of Environment.
 
To take their green building practices global, in 2006 Tokyo joined C40 Cities, a global climate leadership initiative in which cities around the world share best practices for sustainability. TMG’s Green Building Program is presented by C40 Cities as a case study in sustainable urbanization. 
 
As C40 Cities’ global initiatives expand, Tokyo unites with the organization in its efforts to promote more environmentally friendly urban growth models. On November 16, C40 Cities announced a partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council and the World Green Building Council to develop sustainable building solutions that can be readily adapted around the world. “By connecting C40’s innovative, action-oriented cities with the world’s foremost experts on green building, we will make even greater progress in this critical area,” said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the current chair of C40 Cities. Tokyo’s voice, in unison with other C40 Cities members, is being heard.
 
 
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