In Japan, all corporations have “Corporate Social Responsibility” groups, and most of them focus on the environment. Some corporations have grant-making foundations (such as Coca Cola Japan), and others have green businesses (Japan’s largest car company Toyota and largest beverage company Suntory both have green roof subsidiaries).
Starting on April 1, 2008, nineteen large companies formed the Japan Business Initiative for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity (JBIB). Members include major electronics, construction, housing, insurance, food and telecommunication companies. I am hoping to learn more about this group, and its efforts to become corporate leaders in advocating for biodiversity.
Shortly before it closed for renovations, I visited an unusual basement farm set up by one of Japan’s largest staffing agency Pasona. Named Pasona o2 (a summary in English here), this underground farm aims to raise popular awareness of agriculture, provide relaxation for nearby office workers, and attract media attention:
In a basement atmosphere, removed from natural sunlight, PASONA O2 has successfully harvested rice, vegetables and herbs using artificial light and hydroponic cultivation methods.
As a facility that allows the general public to gain firsthand experience in rice planting and harvesting and a place of recreation and relaxation for busy workers in the city, PASONA O2 has been featured in a number of newspaper articles and television programs.
In six rooms, the 2005-2009 underground demonstration farm included six rooms: flower garden, rose and herb garden, rice terrace, tomato room, vegetable garden, seedling nursery. Trained gardeners tended the plants, a variety of experimental grow lights were being used (including metal halide, high-pressure sodium vapor lamps, LED, and fluorescent), and the rooms buzzed with a strange glow.
I am conflicted about this particular type of corporate ecology. As a former Californian, I know of only one crop that is cost-effective to grow indoors under artificial lights, and that is due to its non-legal status. Yet I can also appreciate the wow factor of so many experimental technologies in a central urban setting.
What are the total costs of growing vegetables under artificial conditions, including energy expenditures? Are there other ways to connect urban residents with farming that makes them more active participants? Is urban farming a spectacle or a real possibility for producing food? Can this staffing agency provide agricultural jobs for unemployed urban dwellers or revitalize an aging farming population?
Below is a photo board featuring former prime minister Koizumi. Like him, at the end of my tour, I sampled the lettuce.