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Japan's 'Top Eco-City' Contest Providing a Path to a Sustainable Communities

Every year since 2001, municipalities and cities have been competing for the title of Japan's Top Eco-City. The aim of the contest, which is scheduled to continue for ten years, is to encourage the creation of sustainable local communities in the country. Japan's contest was modeled on an eco-city contest in Germany, with a view to creating a Japanese version of Freiburg, the German city that was awarded title of the "Top Eco-City" in 1992.

Background and Goal of Japan's Top Eco-City Contest

The Top Eco-City Contest is sponsored by the National Eco-City Contest Network, which consists of 13 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profit organizations (NPOs), and two cooperating organizations. The Network is led by an incorporated NPO, the Citizens Environmental Foundation (CEF), which acts as the Network's secretariat.

In 1996, the CEF set up the Eco City Study Group and launched the project to start a contest in Japan. And in 2000, at CEF's suggestion,the National Eco-City Contest Network was formed, then composed of ten Japanese NGOs and NPOs. In the same year, the Network held seminars at six locations across Japan with the organizer of the German Eco-City contest and officials from two German cities that won the Top Eco-City award, Hamm and Eckernfoerde. With the cooperation of 45 municipal governments, a tentative pre-Top Eco-City contest was held in the spring of 2001, and the first official Top Eco-City Contest was held in November that year.

The objective of the contest is to encourage the building of sustainable local communities. By having municipalities compete for the prize, the contest organizers hope to create more models of a top eco-city for local communities in Japan. It is also expected to have ripple effects, such as providing NGOs and local communities more opportunities to exchange information, encouraging residents to be involved in environmental activities in their regions, and promoting partnership among NGOs and municipalities.

How the Contest Works

The contest is targeted at all cities, towns, villages, and Tokyo's 23 wards in Japan. Participating municipalities answer a questionnaire on their environmental status and activities, and then are interviewed, if required. Based on these results, final evaluations are made.

The questionnaire consists of the following 15 evaluation items (about 80 questions):

  1. Local government Agenda 21, basic environmental statutes and ordinances, basic environmental plan
  2. Establishment of an environmental management system
  3. Information disclosure
  4. Initiatives for environmental activities
  5. Exchanges with other local governments
  6. Programs for improving policy-making ability and integration of environmental departments
  7. Citizen empowerment and partnerships
  8. Education to build eco-towns
  9. Conservation and restoration of natural environments
  10. Healthy water environments
  11. Creation of landscapes and parks that match the natural climate and terrain
  12. Ecological transportation policy
  13. Global warming prevention
  14. Waste reduction
  15. Promotion of environment-friendly industries.

The title of the Top Eco-City is awarded to any municipality that satisfies the following requirements:

  1. Its total score is the highest of all participating municipalities.
  2. Its total score is at least 70 percent of the maximum score.
  3. At least three items of the above 15 items are scored 90 percent or higher of the maximum score.
  4. Less than three of the above 15 items score 50 percent or lower of the maximum score.

The method in which participating municipalities fill out the questionnaire is an efficient way to collect best practices and analyze results, as well as to grasp the cross-regional picture of the environmental administration of municipalities. After the contest, the organizers send participating municipalities a compilation of the advanced cases and a report in which scores, rankings, and analysis results are summarized, and also awards municipalities with excellent achievements and advanced projects.

Municipalities can benefit from participating in this contest, because they learn about other municipalities' activities, effectively publicize their own efforts that are recognized in the contest, and create opportunities to exchange information with local NGOs. Also, regional exchange meetings are held nationwide with the aim of sharing information and knowledge obtained through the Top Eco-City Contest in order to study the most effective environmental policies employed by municipalities, and also establish strong partnerships among municipalities and NGOs.


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