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Friday, June 7, 2002

JET STREAM

ECO WARRIOR

Working with people to save the Earth


By EVERETT KENNEDY BROWN

Money was not Fareeha Ibrahim's reason for joining the JET program. In fact, as a senior policy adviser in Australia's Environment Department, her annual income was significantly more than the 3.6 million yen she gets as a JET.

"I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to do some hands-on work," says Ibrahim. "The JET program was not only an opportunity to work directly with people in a hands-on capacity, but a chance to live, work and learn in another country."

At the Environment Department, Ibrahim's responsibilities included advising top government officials on world heritage sites, climate change (greenhouse gas emissions), tropical forests and other international conservation issues. She was in the Australian delegation at the United Nations' Climate Change Convention negotiations in Geneva and was an Australian government representative at the climate change meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

In her work involving environmental issues, however, Ibrahim had come to an important realization. "Governments are limited in what they can do, for many reasons," she explains. "With the cooperation and initiative of business and industry, as well as strong public and consumer awareness and the assistance of nongovernmental groups, a government's environmental policy can be more effectively implemented. But, in fact, these sectors of society could also pursue and achieve further environmentally beneficial outcomes, if they choose to."

In 1999, Ibrahim had just returned from a trip to South America, which included an eco-tour of the Amazon rain forests. She was considering taking a work sabbatical there to get practical experience in forest conservation.

That was until she chanced on an ad for the JET program in an Australian newspaper and began to consider Japan. It was the world's second-largest economy, she reasoned, and a strong driver of progress in East Asia. From August 1999, she took three years off to work as an assistant language teacher in Hyogo Prefecture.

In the town of Aioi where she lived, she began to observe Japanese life. The local garbage-recycling efforts were good, though somewhat less "user-friendly" than such initiatives back home. Other things, such as the amount of domestic garbage, the number of beverage cans in the town's waterways and the levels of air pollution, gave her cause for concern.

Furthermore, she was surprised by the conditions of the public-school buildings and facilities she visited in Japan. "They were not of a quality I expected for a country with the world's second-largest economy and a supposedly high standard of living. Actually, I had an image of Japan as being more developed, and perhaps more westernized."

In March, Ibrahim participated in Toyota Motor Corp.'s JET Invitational Program. For her this twice-yearly company outreach initiative was an opportunity to gain firsthand insight into the operations and thinking of a Japan-based global corporation.

As one of 25 JETs invited to visit Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, to learn about the company's activities and corporate mission in the two-day spring program, she was particularly interested in hearing about the environmental action plan of Japan's largest automobile manufacturer, which currently commands a 90-percent share of the global hybrid vehicle market.

She was also introduced to the company's "Reduce, Re-use and Recycle" program, which has enabled its plants to significantly reduce production waste, while producing automobiles with an 88 percent recyclable content.

"I was impressed by how straightforward the company representatives were in discussing the environmental concerns associated with automobiles," Ibrahim remarks. "Having previously worked on greenhouse-gas emission policy issues, it was informative to hear of Toyota's efforts to develop automobiles that pollute less and are much more energy efficient, such as their fuel-cell and other hybrid vehicles. If companies like Toyota can make their eco-friendly car technology available and affordable to less developed countries, it would significantly assist the reduction of future global greenhouse-gas emissions."

After learning about Toyota's reforestation and biotechnology programs in Australia and China, as well as its project to green the rooftops of urban areas to reduce the "heat island" phenomenon, Ibrahim saw a viable model for how companies can practice effective environmental stewardship.

She explains: "Companies such as Toyota can implement environmental initiatives on a global level in ways that governments can't. Through their sustainable action plans and their promotion of environmental technology that appeals to the consumer public, they demonstrate that being environmental is not only economical, but also profitable.

"A sustainable future requires an honest partnership between industry, government and the wider community. On an individual level, by making educated choices in our daily lives, we can also make a difference."

Fareeha Ibrahim will return to her position at Australia's Environment Department in July.


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