As the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals outline the diverse challenges facing the world, it’s important for businesses and municipalities to consider exactly what they can do and who they can partner with to maximize impact. of their actions, fully aware that what they do today can ultimately lead to global sustainability.
Seiji Watanabe, Mayor of Oguni City, Kumamoto Prefecture, and Pina Hirano, President and CEO of Asteria Corporation, explained how a collaboration between the city and a private company could help solve regional problems through the conservation of natural resources and supporting digitization, among other efforts. They said they thought it would be an ideal partnership to pursue the SDGs, in a recent online interview with The Japan Times.
Oguni is a rural town of less than 7,000 people. Its climate is typical of the cold highlands of Japan, with a relatively low average temperature of 13 degrees Celsius, frequent rains and high humidity, which is suitable for maintaining healthy forests. Mountains and forests make up about 80% of the city’s area.
Oguni is also the hometown of Shibasaburo Kitasato, the physician and bacteriologist known as the father of modern medicine in Japan whose portrait is set to appear on the fiscal year 2024 ¥1,000 note. The Shibasaburo Kitasato Museum, part of which is a renovated house where Kitasato was born in 1853 and a guesthouse and library he later built became one of the city’s tourist destinations along with the area’s hot springs and Nabegataki Falls.
Thanks to its abundant natural resources, the city is also advanced in the use of geothermal energy and other renewable energy sources. Watanabe explained that the city itself is becoming a popular destination for school trips and study tours to learn about the efficient use of natural resources. But Oguni also faces problems common to many other rural towns in Japan, such as depopulation and increasing natural disasters.
Asteria, a Tokyo-based publicly traded high-tech company, develops and distributes software, platforms and services that connect systems and devices enabling everyone to design and deploy customized solutions without requiring specialist knowledge. in coding. “To do this, we are always mindful of global standards, including the SDGs,” Hirano said, noting that Asteria’s sustainability efforts cover 11 of the UN’s 17 goals.
Oguni and Asteria launched their first collaboration in 2015. To celebrate the acquisition of the first 5,000 customers of ASTERIA Warp, one of the company’s main products, “We intended to plant 5,000 trees, thinking that would best represent the green color of our company,” said Hirano.
But they soon discovered during their planning talks that Oguni was struggling with a forest management problem.
Due to the intense demand for cheap imported wood, the domestic forest industry has shrunk, leaving little manpower and funds to maintain and preserve the nation’s forests.
“‘So this is where we should help,’ we thought, and started looking for a partner to do it,” Hirano said, explaining how Asteria and Oguni made the first contact. In addition to donating money for forest management in Oguni, Asteria has used cedar for its office interior decor and produced original calendars and SDG badges using thinned wood from the city’s forests.
In 2017, this collaboration became a certified project under the corporate version of the furusato nozei (hometown tax gift). When businesses make donations to support local governments’ regional revitalization plans, they can qualify for tax credits. This means they gain economic benefits while supporting regional development and helping to achieve the SDGs at the same time.
Hirano pointed out that the good thing about this program is that companies donate to specific plans that are documented and certified, which ensures their feasibility. Recently, Asteria received a Ministerial Award from the Cabinet Office for its contributions to promoting the tax gift scheme.
The collaboration between Oguni and Asteria extends to disaster response based on Platio, one of Asteria’s solutions for building mobile apps without coding. Due to its vast area and shrinking population, Oguni had personnel problems. To move away from older, less efficient methods of data sharing, such as phone and paper, the city adopted a damage status app created with Platio last year to improve and speed up damage reporting. areas affected by disasters and other emergencies. This was made possible by the close relationship maintained by Oguni and Asteria and the meetings they held not only to manage the forest maintenance project, but also to discuss other regional challenges. “Being able to learn more about the challenges facing the region directly from the people who live there helps us create and deliver new value together that is uniquely helpful to the region,” Hirano said.
Watanabe explained that increased rainfall in the region, which is believed to be caused by climate change, is causing more frequent disasters, such as landslides. The reporting app makes it easier to share information using geotagged images and text, reducing the number of people needed for inspection and reporting, the mayor said. This is because the app helps pinpoint a location and quickly disseminate information, he explained.
“When there is a bushfire for example, you have to go and fight it immediately, but it is often difficult to locate the location on the map. It is even more difficult to explain it verbally via public announcements. Place names rarely help in large remote areas,” Watanabe said Effective information sharing directly saves more lives.
The app was created in a single day by two members of the city government, neither of whom had a computer background. “That means you don’t have to hire or hire professional engineers to do this,” Hirano said.
“There are things that only become visible after you start using it. The more we use and update it, the better and more useful it becomes,” Watanabe added.
The proliferation of natural disasters is a common challenge faced by many countries and regions feeling the effects of climate change. Likewise, depopulation and aging are issues that affect other rural areas in Japan and around the world. Partnerships such as the one between Oguni and Asteria could provide clues on how to build an effective public-private partnership and use the power of technology and digital transformation to solve regional problems. Such indices can be expanded, adjusted and applied to other areas with similar issues, which can eventually lead to the achievement of a more sustainable world.
Since its foundation, Asteria has connected systems, people, things and minds to the future, contributing to the realization of a sustainable society and serving as a green company (our corporate color). While working to increase diversity and dedicating ourselves to environmental conservation, we have managed environmental, social and governance factors at a higher level through flexible working styles and forest conservation activities.
To learn more about our ESG activities, please see our “ESG FY2021 Report” via the link or QR code below.
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