Japan is often associated with its economic prosperity of the 70s and 80s when it continually had higher growth rates than other western countries and gained prevalence in important markets. Since a few years substantial changes have been taking place in Japan and their characteristics are well-known in Germany alike: economic miracle, structural crisis, interwoven interest groups, lobbying, holdup of reforms. Japan is altering from a consensus society to an open society, from an industrial policy under the leadership of the ministry of economics to a free market economy, from a welfare state with strong alliances on the corporate level to a stronger responsibility of the individual. The steps Japan is taking in this context are of great interest to Europeans. Japan is similarly interested in European concepts, because cooperation and social responsibility in connection with economic success complies with the notions in both countries.
Against this background the Economic and Social Research Institute and the Cabinet Office of the Japanese government initiated a study program to explore long-term questions of the Japanese society. Entitled "Millenium Collaboration Projects", 40 research groups are participating worldwide. The Wuppertal Institute is the only German representative.
Within this program the cross-divisional project group of the Wuppertal Institute explores concepts of eco-efficiency that enhance resource productivity ("factor four"). The study is dealing with good-practice examples and incentives for implementation. The working hypothesis is that enterprises and markets are very well capable for the open process of societal change towards sustainability. Governmental action can be confined to the composing of particular framework conditions and impulses, since markets for sustainability are constituted by innovative enterprises and open-minded consumers accompanied by active transfers of know-how. The actors may gradually take over functions the state had been held responsible for a long time. From this perspective the Wuppertal Institute is seeking for a "third way" between a free market economy and a governmental leviathan of environmental politics.
Different policy and corporate concepts are investigated and case studies are undertaken in order to evaluate examples of examples of successful governance. Sweden and Great Britain are examples for resource taxation. A project municipally initiated with an active involvement of industry is called "eco-profit", which is conducted in the local region. As international examples the study analyzes the system of tradable emission permits for greenhouse gases of the oil company British Petroleum that has exceeded the expectations and the voluntary environmental initiative of the chemical industry "Responsible Care", that has been implemented in 47 countries meanwhile and aims to improve health, safety and environmental performance of chemical products.
On October 13/14, 2003 the Wuppertal Institute held an international policy dialogue with scientist and industry representatives at the Japanese-German Center in Berlin that explored and discussed the strategies of sustainability in both countries. Facing globalization the horizontal diffusion of good concepts across countries, regions, enterprises and societal groups is gaining growing importance. The conference proceedings are published soon.
Project publications are carried out by Edward Elgar Publishing, UK.