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Thursday, June 13, 2002
Consumer empowerment key to saving energy, expert says
By ERIKO ARITA
Japan should reduce energy consumption and establish an environmentally sustainable society, according to a Danish energy conservation expert.
Jorgen Stig Norgard, a professor at the Technical University of Denmark, said his country has managed to maintain energy consumption at the same level as that of 30 years ago by adopting a drastic energy-saving policy, but energy consumption in Japan has meanwhile been growing over the past decades.
"I think Japan has the technological capability to make efficient products (to save energy)," Norgard said in an interview with The Japan Times during a recent visit to Tokyo.
Norgard and Bente Lis Christensen, a sociologist and ecologist, coauthored "Managing Energy — Managing the Home" in 1982. A chapter was added to the book covering developments since its publication, and a translated version was published here in April under the title "Energy to Watashitachi no Shakai" ("Energy and Our Society").
The book explains in plain language and with humorous illustrations how people can save energy in everyday life and achieve an environmentally sustainable society.
Although 20 years have passed since his book was written, Norgard said it is still relevant in his country, as well as in Japan and other industrialized nations.
"We can live with very low energy consumption," Norgard said. "From the environmental viewpoint, it is very necessary to reduce our energy demand dramatically."
In the book, Norgard describes a "high energy society" lifestyle, in which an increasing amount of energy is consumed in accordance with economic growth.
He then outlines a "low energy society," in which energy consumption is greatly reduced by altering living habits, such as utilizing improved insulation and more efficient use of household electric appliances.
He advocates a simple, enjoyable lifestyle that places greater value on leisure and work quality than high income and economic growth.
In 1976, the Danish government predicted that electricity demand there in 2000 would be three times that of 1976.
Alarmed, Norgard and other researchers submitted an alternative energy plan to the government, suggesting that it promote conservation to establish a society with low energy consumption.
The Danish government adopted the alternative and has taken such measures as subsidizing insulation systems and promoting energy-efficient electric appliances. The government also ruled out nuclear power as an energy source in 1985 and set a target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 20 percent from 1988 levels by 2005.
"We have a choice (for a better future). We should not just try to estimate or guess what the future will be, but we should decide which future we want," Norgard said, adding he is still critical of inadequate energy-saving policies in his own country.
As an example of effective measures to reduce energy consumption, Norgard suggested that Japan apply a labeling system to let consumers know the efficiency level of electric appliances.
The system was introduced in the European Union in the early 1990s based on a proposal made by Denmark and the Netherlands.
Manufacturers are obliged to attach labels that rank their products' energy efficiency.
Although Japan introduced a labeling system to show the efficiency of electric appliances in 2000, it is not mandatory and the labels are only found in catalogs, not on products.
Norgard emphasized the importance of consumer awareness of energy conservation and said that consumers have the right to know how much energy is used by the equipment they own and use.