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August 06, 2013

JFS's Newest Challenge: The "Local Well-Being" Project

JFS Newsletter No.131 (July 2013)

Image by Hidewaku. Some Rights Reserved.


We often hear the word "sustainability" in use around the globe. This is because most societies of the world are largely unsustainable. According to data on ecological footprints, human activity today consumes the equivalent of 1.5 planet Earths in terms of resources and ecosystem services. The reasons include an ever-increasing global population, our consumer society's desire to want and consume more and more, a widespread ignorance of the fundamental functioning of the biosphere, and so on. But these are not the only reasons.

The key problem is that today the pursuit of growth is structurally embedded into our very economy and society, as shown with the world's excessive attention to economic growth indicators. At the same time, more and more people are realizing that focusing solely on the indicator of economic scale, gross domestic product (GDP), is one of the underlying causes of current problems. Japan and the other nations in the world are actively working -- internationally and nationally, and at local and municipal levels -- to create indicators other than GDP, such as indicators to measure well-being, or true affluence.

JFS's Local Well-Being Project, which in 2013 is funded by the Hitachi Environment Foundation, focuses on local activities -- the core of sustainability -- and introduces new indicator-making activities used by municipalities at home and abroad. Through the project, JFS is researching how the economic standpoint, which is inevitable for local sustainability, is measured and evaluated in processes for creating local well-being indicators, collecting knowledge from experts about the necessary viewpoints of each municipality toward sustainability in the twenty-first century, and presenting a framework for creating meaningful indicators for municipalities to use.

From the viewpoint of Japan's contributions to the world, JFS particularly emphasizes the following two points.

The first is looking at Japan's experience with the Great East Japan Earthquake, which left us with many lessons. One of them is that our society has lost its mid- and long-term resilience -- the capacity to flexibly recover under any circumstances -- because of the pursuit of short-term economic efficiency. In the present society and economy in which efficiency is the top priority, how can more emphasis also be put on resilience? How can we reflect the importance of resilience in indicators when thinking about local communities and organizational structures?

The second perspective is one of a vision of sustainability for Japan, even with its declining population. The total Japanese population peaked in 2004, and the country entered an era of population decline. We must also note that since the economic bubble burst at the beginning of the 1990s, the Japanese economy has remained stagnant, with the last two decades being called the "lost 20 years."

This may be problematic from the perspective of economic growth supremacists; but on the other hand, we can say that Japan is ahead of the world in the sense of being driven to come to terms with the need for a "steady-state" economy. As a pathfinder nation, what should Japan do as it leaves behind an era of continuous population growth and a constantly growing economy? How can we design our cities and communities, as well as our very economy and society, based on the acknowledgement that the population will decline? This perspective will be the focus of JFS's newest project.


Project Activities

According to a survey by the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, with JFS as the overseas outreach partner, at least 22 prefectural governments and municipalities are currently engaged in initiatives to establish indicators to measure people's well-being.

JFS has already covered information on such initiatives.

JFS Newsletter:
Creating Happier Communities: Over 22 Local Governments in Japan Preparing a "Happiness Index" to Measure Progress
"Sapporo Smile Index" -- a Driving Force for Policy Implementation

During the project, JFS will collect, analyze, and deliver information about initiatives for measuring and evaluating well-being indicators in use by municipalities and communities. While keeping an eye out for trends on initiatives centered on "resilience" and a "steady-state economy in the time of declining population," JFS will work on the following in the JFS Local Well-Being Project.

1.Research well-being and affluence indicators in Japan and abroad, analyze how economic viewpoints are integrated into the indicators, and evaluate the effectiveness of that integration.

2.Collect insights from experts on what communities need to be sustainable in the twenty-first century.

3.Hold symposiums with officials from the Japanese municipalities that have already begun to establish such indicators for community development, in order to share and learn about examples of actual practices; and help promote improved initiatives among municipalities, including those intending to adopt similar practices.

4.Provide the information listed above (the results of the research and analysis, collected insights, and reports of the symposium, etc.) to the world through JFS's network across 184 countries; and compile knowledge and case examples at home and abroad by exchanging comments on releasing the collected wisdom again to the world.

JFS Welcomes Your Input

In this project, we focus on the local economy in the context of local well-being, because we assume that a sound and sustainable local economy is an essential foundation for considering the well-being of the community and happiness of its residents.

When we talk about the "economy," most people think of the monetary economy, but there are also other economic systems available for use, such as a self-sufficient economy or a barter economy. Questions need to be asked about things such as how food, energy, jobs, and money are exchanged or traded within the community? Do such local economic components flow in from the outside and flow out again? Or to what extent do such components circulate within the community? How does the local economy contribute to well-being in the area? In order to increase local well-being in consideration of economic aspects, what kinds of frameworks for thinking and concrete efforts are available, or possible?

With these questions in mind, JFS is getting to work on the Local Well-Being Project. Please send us your comments and any information you have about related initiatives, as we would like to introduce them to Japanese people and communities, and proceed with the project by exchanging information and opinions.

Image by YM Hsu. Some Rights Reserved.

Written by Junko Edahiro

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