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Tuesday, April 2, 2002

'Eco-building' offers green example

Recycled glass, solar panels and rainwater for toilets on display

Staff writer

KYOTO -- The three-story building in Fushimi Ward looks no different from other buildings, but it is an "eco-building" that provides environmental education for visitors.

News photo
Kyoto municipal official Yoshinori Oki with a display of plastic garbage collected at waste sites

To commemorate the holding of a key United Nations conference on global warming in 1997, the city established the Kyoto Municipal Center for Promotion of Environmental Protection, nicknamed the Miyako Ecology Center, which opens to the public on April 21.

"The building itself is good material for environmental education," said Yoshinori Oki, a Kyoto municipal official who has been working on creating the center, noting the building's key features are made easy for visitors to see and understand.

The bricks used in the approach to the entrance as well as the floor of the lavatories inside the building are made from recycled glass bottles. Electric wires are coated with polyethylene and not vinyl chloride, which produces dioxide when burned.

It features mechanisms to save water and energy. The water used to flush toilets is rainwater stored in the basement.

Solar power panels are installed on the roof, and geothermal energy is used to air-condition the structure.

Heat-resistant glass is used for windows, and louvers placed outside the windows block sunshine as well as heat. Such features contribute to cutting energy use by about 30 percent, compared with conventional buildings of the same size, according to the city government.

Oki said that construction of the building in an eco-friendly manner was possible thanks to various suggestions from local residents and environmental groups. Involvement of citizens from the planning process to its management is another feature of the center.

Satoru Noumura, a coordinator at the local environmental organization Miyako Agenda 21 Forum who was involved in the early stages of planning the center, said he welcomes the city's initiatives of working together with local residents and environmental groups, and actually adopting their ideas for creation of such a facility.

However, whether the center will really serve its purpose remains to be seen.

"It was good that ideas from environmental groups were reflected in the creation of the building and the contents of the display," Noumura said.

"(But) creating the center is only the first step. Making it an active base for citizen environmental education and activities will be the next important task for us."

While the center was built by the city government, its management is entrusted to a nonprofit organization, which recruited five new staff members with experience in environmental affairs.

At present, 100 people, including housewives and retired company workers, are receiving training to work as volunteers at the center. About 10 volunteers will work at the facility daily, explaining displays and discussing environmental issues with visitors.

"We want the volunteers to think about environmental issues together with the visitors by keeping in mind the viewpoints of consumers -- not those of environmental experts," said Hitoshi Nishimura, an expert in environmental education who is training the volunteers.

"They are better at persuading ordinary citizens better than environmental professionals, who tend to merely provide information," he added.

The volunteers are expected to work on a part-time basis for a few years at the center, then go back to their communities to share the knowledge with their neighbors.

Oki said the displays will be changed at certain intervals to reflect new ideas.

"The content of the displays will be changed and improved by incorporating suggestions from citizens and environmental groups," Oki said. "We want many citizens to participate in improving the activities at the center."

The first floor is arranged to inform visitors, especially children, about domestic and international environmental problems.

Various panels and hands-on displays help visitors understand the current problems with energy consumption and waste disposal, both at home and abroad.

Visitors can learn how to live in a more eco-friendly manner by reviewing their everyday life, from shopping and cooking to disposing of household garbage.

The second floor provides a space for workshops and panel displays by businesses and environmental groups. On the third floor are conference rooms and a space for teaching "eco-cooking," to avoid wasting food, as well as work space for recycling products.

Solar panels on the rooftop can generate 20 kw per hour -- enough to cover 3 percent of the building's energy needs. A miniature wind-power unit is installed on the roof, where there is also space for greenery.

"We want the center to be a place for people to become aware of environmental problems, study the issues and then take action," Oki said.

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