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Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Net mail list tries to link business with environment

Staff writer

OSAKA -- Although many see environment-related business as a growing field -- the government forecast its value will reach 40 trillion yen in 2010 -- most people have no idea how to get involved.

To solve this problem and provide people with an opportunity to exchange information on eco-business, Tadashi Kurimoto, 34, established an Internet mailing list.

In July 1999, Kurimoto, a resident of Habikino, Osaka Prefecture, started the Eco-venture Kenkyukai (study group) mailing list. Just over 2 1/2 years later, the free mailing list now has more than 600 members from across the country, including farmers, engineers, consultants, professors, local and central government officials, and nonprofit organization members.

"The strength of this mailing list lies in the diversity of its members," said Kurimoto, who also manages a small firm that sells eco-friendly goods, including organic cotton T-shirts and pillow cases, and a solar-powered cooker.

He established his own company, Shizen Sangyo Shinko (promotion of environmental business), in 2000. Kurimoto, who formerly worked for an electronics maker, took an interest in environmental issues when the problem of dioxin pollution of soil at an incinerator in Nose, Osaka Prefecture, was making headlines around the same time his wife was pregnant.

Believing that pollution caused by business activities should also be solved by business activities, Kurimoto tried to find environment-related business opportunities, but with little success.

"Some environmental activists harbor ill feelings toward business in general, and attending seminars resulted in merely paying money to consultants," he said. "Listening to lectures by famous professors did not directly lead me to business opportunities. I needed something that connects me to many people from various fields without investing lots of money."

Kurimoto then set up the mailing list on the Internet, allowing members to freely exchange information on environmental issues. An e-mail written by one member is sent to everyone on the list.

"Many people told me that they had waited for this kind of a forum," he said, noting members sometimes meet in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka.

"Basically, participants can bring up any issues," he said. "Some seek information on possible sales channels and some ask for advice on technical problems. I don't restrict the entry to the list, and if members do business with each other, they are doing it on their own responsibility."

Although Kurimoto does not know how many new businesses have been born from exchanges on the mailing list, he cited a successful case in which people making charcoal in rural areas worked together to create a Web site to sell the charcoal and exchange information.

Kurimoto himself discovered a business opportunity from his mailing list. As he was engaged in marketing at his previous job, he knew some sales strategies and techniques. After being asked by mailing list members to help with consulting, he was prompted in 2001 to start up his own Internet-based consulting business.

"Many of those who sell eco-friendly goods lack marketing skills," he said. "They take it for granted that people would buy their products because they are environment-friendly. They fail because they try to emphasize the environmental aspect of the product too much."

They need to place more emphasis on how their products can improve customers' health or quality of life, he said, reckoning that eco-business is growing in such areas as pollution-prevention and recycling.

"The recycling market is quite big and growing," he said. "And some cutting-edge technologies to separate materials for recycling are coming into place."

To ensure growth in environmental business and technology, Kurimoto wants the government to impose stricter environmental standards, rather than extending subsidies to promote eco-business.

"Introducing stricter standards would accelerate competition among businesses," Kurimoto said, citing how carmakers have engaged in fierce competition and made technological innovations to meet tightened exhaust emissions regulations.

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