In 2007, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald started the Earth Hour campaign, designed to raise awareness of the effect of power consumption on climate change, and to act as a call to action for both businesses and individuals.
Taking place on the last Saturday of March each year, the idea of Earth Hour is that all non-essential electric lights and appliances be turned off for one hour. Years ago, when the initiative first launched, 2.2 million Sydney residents responded by turning off non-essential lighting for the requested period. In the following years the message has spread, to the point where it is now a truly global event, with up to one billion people all over the world now participating. Naturally, saving one hour of electricity is little more than a drop in the ocean when compared to the world’s overall annual electricity consumption. Indeed, it has been reported that power production (as opposed to consumption) remains largely unchanged in many regions during Earth Hour events. Even so, the overall effect of so many people turning off their lights can be quite impressive–for example, Vietnam reported a drop in electricity demand of 500,000 kWh during this year’s Earth Hour. However, the main goal of the event is not to save electricity and energy per se, but to raise awareness of the effects of electricity consumption on the climate.
Earth Hour 2010 saw some 4,000 cities in 128 countries and territories participating worldwide, including Japan, where the Tokyo Tower and Hiroshima Peace Memorial, among others, were darkened for 60 minutes. Organizers claimed that part of the reason for Japan’s first significant participation in the event has been the Hatoyama government’s pledge towards a significant reduction in carbon emissions which has raised public awareness of the issues involved. Also included in the roughly one billion participants worldwide were an estimated 90 million Americans, and in the U.S. (as elsewhere around the world) many famous illuminated landmarks, including Mount Rushmore, had their lights turned off for the hour. In fact, Mount Rushmore from now on will be darkened on a permanent basis from 9 p.m. rather than the previous 11 p.m. Even if Earth Hour itself is seen merely as a token step towards energy conservation, it has acted, in this case at least, as a call to action, with other famous landmarks and building complexes also engaging in more permanent energy-saving efforts, such as in Chicago, where the Building Owners and Managers Association has developed guidelines to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings in that city.
In Japan, a similar movement to turn off lights, a “Cool Earth Day,” has been in existence for some time, but in order to promote the international nature of Earth Hour within Japan, the ACCJ’s Energy & Environment Committee encouraged members to participate in the 2010 Earth Hour. Leading by example, all lights and non-essential appliances in the ACCJ offices were turned off for this 60-minute period.
Companies who participated in this initiative were asked to fill in a pledge form, to turn off the lights in their offices for the requested period, and also to encourage their employees to do the same at their homes.
Rebecca Green, co-Chair of the Committee, explained that there were no definite targets set for this year, partly because this was the first year in which the effort has been given special focus here, and said that, “We didn’t really know what to expect.” However, in the end Green said that she was “very pleased” by the response, given that the only real push for the event was through a limited Internet communiqué rather than a concerted “hard-sell” promotion. “We didn’t set out to do a mass campaign this year,” she explained, “seeing that this was the first year we have been involved and it was, quite frankly, a little late when we started. It was very much a voluntary effort this time.”
Despite this, 32 companies returned their pledges, which Green describes as “impressive,” given that there was no active recruitment involved, and the companies’ involvement was purely based on their respective individual responses to the email invitations.
Those companies that returned their pledges and participated in the 2010 Earth Hour included: Air Products Japan, Inc., Asian Tigers Premier Worldwide Movers, Bodycote Japan K.K., Cabot Microelectronics Corporation, China Airlines, Chuo Sogo Law Office, P.C., Crimson Phoenix K.K., ERM Japan, Fullcircle Innovations K.K., GE Japan Corporation, GE Nissen Credit Co., Ltd., Hill & Knowlton Japan, IBM Business Consulting Services/IBM Japan, Index Consulting, Inc., IPE Academy, Jones Day, Kaneko Law Office, Microsoft Co., Ltd., Morrison & Foerster LLP, Ito & Mitomi, Newport Ltd., Nippon Becton Dickinson Company, Ltd., NK Plastics, Oakwood Serviced Apartments, Peter Hahn Associates Limited, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Quint Wellington Redwood Japan K.K., Richco Japan Inc., Robert Walters Japan K.K., Toys ‘R’ Us-Japan, Ltd., United Airlines and The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
Next year, the Energy & Environment Committee intends to increase ACCJ membership participation in Earth Hour with a larger publicity push and an encouragement to collectively “turn off the lights.” As Green notes, “It’s an easy thing to do, and we hope that next year more companies will participate.” It’s likely that the increased publicity and support from the ACCJ will also help to inspire Japanese companies and individuals to participate in this unique event that ultimately points the way to a brighter, more sustainable environment for the entire planet.