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Japan has been strongly focused on energy conservation ever since the first oil shock of 1973-74. The country has sparse supplies of energy domestically and relies on imports for 80% of its consumption. Most of Japan's efforts have been devoted, with great success, to increasing automobile and industrial efficiency. However, in the past decade, a much greater emphasis has been placed on public sector strategies. Ostensibly, this is a sensible policy emphasis, since the public sector accounts for about 18% of Japan's gross domestic product (with the federal government representing about one-quarter of that).

The public sector push began in the mid-90s with the "Action Plan for Greening Government Operations," a national government attempt to, for the first time, set efficiency targets for federal government entities. For instance, one goal was to reduce by 10% the per-area consumption of electricity from the base year (1995) to the goal year (2000). Though this target was not reached, others - such as the goal to reduce water consumption similarly - were successful.

The Action Plan also included directives on purchasing eco-labeled products, installing energy-efficient lighting, leaving substantial (8° C) dead-bands (the temperature range where neither heating nor air conditioning is called for) in office space, promoting the use of electronic media and telephony to reduce travel, and increasing the use of bicycles instead of cars. A high-level official was named in each agency to oversee progress on the plan.

In 1997, Japan signed the Kyoto Protocol, committing itself to a 6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels) by 2010. The country's Kyoto signing led to passage of the "Law Concerning the Promotion of Measures to Cope with Global Warming" and its "Guideline of Measures to Prevent Global Warming." The law required national and local governments (including 47 prefectures, 320 cities and over 3,000 towns and villages) to develop and implement action plans for limiting their greenhouse gas emissions.

Due to the economic slump that has afflicted Japan since the early 1990s, there has been an increasing interest in the role that energy service companies (ESCOs) and performance contracting can play to help municipalities achieve energy savings. The Law for Private Finance Initiative (LPFI), passed in 1999, encouraged and simplified the use of energy savings performance contracting (ESPC) by governments (despite the fact that this was apparently not one of its main intents). Osaka engaged in the first substantial project utilizing an ESCO in 2000; Ishikawa Prefecture followed in 2001 with an ESPC on a horseracing track. Interest in using the LPFI policy to conduct performance contracts is allegedly growing rapidly in Japanese government.

The "Law on Promoting Green Purchasing" was passed in 2000 and went into effect the following year. This law superceded the purchasing directives of both the Action Plan for Greening Government Operations and the Guideline of Measures to Prevent Global Warming. It demanded implementation plans from federal agencies and encouraged the same from municipalities.

After the passage of the green purchasing law, the government developed a "Basic Policy on Promoting Green Purchasing,"[2.pdf - 308 KB] which applies to all national and government entities (including the courts and other independent administrative bodies), as well as the 47 prefectural governments, requiring them to practice green purchasing. Some of the Basic Policy's directives even apply to local governments. Specifications in the policy define a procurement standard for 199 items in 18 categories (as of April, 2004) of energy-related products and services (ranging from PCs to energy audits); lists of complying products are published. Each of the state ministries and agencies, the diet, the courts, and independent administrative bodies are expected to report annually to the Environmental Minister and make public their record of compliance.

There have been several encouraging responses to the green purchasing law. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) conducted an energy-saving audit in its building; following publication of the study's results, other agencies were expected to conduct similar analyses of their energy-saving potential. Another initiative being implemented based on the green purchasing law is the "Low Emission Vehicle Initiative," which requires that all vehicles for administrative use in all ministries and agencies be replaced with low emission vehicles by the end of FY 2004.

In addition to the various mandatory drivers, there is also a considerable voluntary movement in the Japanese public sector towards improved energy efficiency, mostly as part of a greater environmental trend. For example, the Eco Up Office Plan in Tokyo was launched by the Tokyo Metropolitan government in 1999 with the purpose of supporting voluntary activities by offices to reduce their burden on the environment. 365 governments (as of March, 2004) are members of the Green Purchasing Network, a non-governmental organization that publishes data books rating the environmental attributes of various products. Also, several hundred Japanese cities have achieved ISO 14001 certification. These kinds of actions have a greater impact in Japan than they might in other countries, as voluntary standards of conduct often exert substantial influence in the culture.

Clearly, Japan is one of the world's leaders in governmental energy management. There can be little doubt that this public sector leadership is helping to promote the country's general move towards a greener and more energy-efficient economy.