Faculty Interview: Hikaru Kobayashi
Field of Study:Environmental Economics & Policy Studies, Ecological City Development, Green Economy
Making “Environmentally-Friendly” Profitable
Environmental economics and policies as well as city planning are my field of research. The objective of my field is to examine issues such as environmental policies and taxes, carbon-dioxide emissions cap and trade programs, and Eco-Points. If I were to state my research simply I would say I am trying to explore how to create a society that finds “doing something good for the environment” more cost effective than not doing so. When we try to develop environmentally friendly cities this is the principle by which we begin. We have been working on cities that have more green space, that work with alternative sources for energy such as exhaust heat, and in the process examine things such as which types of solar panel provide the most effective source of energy, and so on.
The earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster of March 2011 showed us in a moment that the promise of cheap reliable energy in the form of nuclear power was in fact a difficult and expensive burden once containment, cleanup, and disposal were considered in light of the aftermath. Electricity that is sourced without these associated burdens ought to be considered differently; charged at a different price because of its “green advantage.”
This kind of valuation is a product of innovation. When we say we are “creating social value,” we mean thinking of businesses that can combine ideas that are profitable for both society and businesses and that produce a fundamental change in thinking. The new bottom-line is to change the way that businesses approach environmental concerns.
Learning from the Revival of Minamata City
As part of the Environmental Innovator’s Program I am working intensively on the restoration of Minamata City, which suffered a case of pollution so severe it caused the town to nearly die out—but after significant efforts hasnow become one of the most environmentally sensitive cities in Japan. Once this environmental consciousness took hold in Minamata, the city found itself functioning in a kind of renaissance. Minamata has undertaken several projects, including the establishment of an industrial park powered solely by solar power, as well as the establishment of a graduate school specializing in environmental preservation and revival. It is at this school that I serve as an advisor to various projects and work with students from around the world who wish to learn from the Minamata’s examples about dealing with large-scale environmental pollution.
My ultimate goal is to foster the creation of an economic system that produces businesses that find investing in the environment a lucrative and profitable endeavor. It was my hope that the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and its theme of “Green Growth” would provide a platform for this objective; pushing forward with that concept could help transform our economy, and could lead to financial engineering that is based on what we actually need rather than just unsustainable profit.
SFC hopes to foster not only researchers, but individuals who see problem solving as a matter to be dealt with in reality—that is, not simply as an academic exercise. I welcome those individuals who brim with both curiosity and vigor. The environment is a large topic and covers many fields, so whatever connections a student may bring to the table and further the discussion is a prime candidate. I think it is this kind of person is who the most useful to the world. While many skills are necessary, all specialties are valid and useful to start with. Working together as a team is how we will find useful answers.