Sustaining the Future: Innovative Buildings in Japan Foreshadow a Nationwide Movement toward Green

Article excerpt

Japan's Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, recently surprised the world at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Summit, when he announced his nation's aggressive goal to "decrease heat-trapping gases by 25 percent by 2020."

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Prior to Hatoyama's statement, many Japanese corporations had often wrestled with the decision to go green due to the costs for construction and equipment. The real estate market in Japan did not concentrate on resolving environmental problems or building green properties, and there had been no clear move toward proactively recognizing the value in sustainability. But now that Japan is expected to pass new laws to help achieve the goal announced at the summit, the responsibility of building owners and property managers in reducing emissions will be monumental.

Although specific policies have not been made public yet, the new focus on green has already begun. In April 2009 Japan revised its Rationalization in Energy Use Law, which expanded the energy management responsibility from the business location level to the business owner's level, and instituted a penalty for the first time, making green regulations much tougher.

With this emphasis on sustainability growing rapidly, Japanese companies must develop new methods for energy and emissions reduction in buildings. Fortunately, a number of sustainable developments have been initiated in recent years, incorporating cutting-edge technologies and serving as models for Japan's green future. Below are some examples.

Otemachi, Marunouchi, Yurakucho (OMY) Area Joint Development

The OMY area in Tokyo has been supporting economic growth as a representative of the international business center of Japan. Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd. has been playing a major role in development and redevelopment of the area. The company established the OMY Area Redevelopment Project Promotion Council" in 1988, and in 1996 the Tokyo metropolitan government, Chiyoda city and the East Japan Railroad company joined the council to form the OMY Area Urban Development Society.

The OMY Area Management Association was also established to solicit participation of workers and visitors, and to promote comprehensive urban development through private and public partnerships. The OMY environmental vision, published in 2007, deals with various aspects of environmental issues--everything from large-scale problems to something more familiar, with an eye on creating a future "sustainable, environmental, symbiotic city that leads Asia and the world."

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One of the typical area-wide efforts is proactively making grounds, walls and roofs green. Parts of the new Marunouchi Building, for example, have green walls that block direct sunlight and lower temperatures of the interior and the surrounding areas. Some sidewalks in the area are also equipped with "dry mist" sprayers, which lower ground temperature when the water evaporates. There is an old custom of sprinkling water in front of your house to prevent rising temperatures and to cleanse the home, according to Shinto religion. Such customs may have faded today, but the principle of cooling the ground using vaporization remains an effective countermeasure to heat.

Marunouchi Park Building

The 39-floor Marunouchi Park Building, which opened in April of 2009, is one of the most cutting-edge green facilities in Japan. The building rooftop has a 6,296 square-foot garden that helps to lower temperatures throughout the structure, as well as photovoltaic panels with a maximum output of 60 kilowatts (kW). These solar panels can store enough power to light the entire Marunouchi Park Building district at night. The building also features energy-efficient district air conditioning, which handles cooling, heating and fueling by supplying cool water and steam to area buildings and subway stations through conduit pipes from a heat reservoir facility. …