A newsletter published by Japan for Sustainability on November 29, 2001 had an article about Office Chonai-kai. Japan for Sustainability is an NGO that provides a platform for promoting environmental communication.

"Unique NGOs in Japan" Article Series

ARTICLE NO. 1: OFFICE CHONAI-KAI, "A PAPER RECYCLING SUCCESS STORY" Many countries have non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with unique systems, organizations and activities. In this series, we will introduce some of Japan's unique NGOs.

Office Chonai-kai (in English, "Office Community Network"), established in August 1991, is an environmental NGO working on collaborative collection of used paper in Tokyo's business districts.

In 1990, the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) started the separation and collection of used paper, with the objective of reducing and recycling waste. This was the first major activity of its kind at offices in Japan. After a six-month trial gave encouraging results in terms of the amount of paper collected and cost calculations, the organizers started to think about the next phase.

TEPCO employee Mr. Eiju Hangai, who would later become the chief of Office Chonai-kai, dreamed up the idea of networking about 50 TEPCO offices in the Tokyo metropolitan area to expand the scope of paper sorting and collecting. A trial simulation indicated, however, that traffic congestion and transport costs made this idea difficult to implement.

Then came Hangai's inspiration: Why not connect different companies together? If the same collection trucks make the rounds in the neighboring office districts, he could expand the circle of paper collection. That idea was the starting point for this environmental NGO, which grew into a network of companies in business districts.

They established partnerships with existing paper collection companies and started the pilot operations with about 30 offices. Since then, they have been expanding their activities and reached 1,091 offices in Tokyo as of March 2002, including Matsushita Electric, Fuji Xerox Office Supply and IBM Asia World Trade Co. with approximately 722 tonnes of used paper being collected and recycled each month.

One of the success factors behind Office Chonai-kai is what they call "Three Economics."

1. Members pay less to recycle paper than to throw it away.

Member companies in Tokyo pay an average of 28.5 yen (about 24 cents U.S.) per kilogram of office paper it is disposed along with other waste. Under the Office Chonai-kai scheme, however, the rate is only 17.6 yen/kg (about 15 cents), a savings of over 10 yen/kg.

2. Paper collection companies must be ensured viability even in depressed paper markets.

The sales and profits of paper recyclers normally fluctuate with the conditions of the used-paper market. In soft markets, sometimes they cannot even cover the costs of paper collection. To solve this problem the Office Chonai-kai companies that generate the used paper pay the costs of collection, so the paper recyclers can continue to operate regardless of market conditions.

3. Pricing ensures that operation of the secretariat of Office Chonai-kai is covered.

The 5.8 yen/kg cost of running the administration is included in fees paid by member companies. This guarantees that the administration of the system by the secretariat is viable.

Since inception, Office Chonai-kai has never posted a deficit. Not only that, it saves members money. In fiscal 2001 they saved more than 86 million yen (about U.S.$710,000) in costs by recycling about 8,600 tonnes of paper.

A principle that drives Office Chonai-kai is this: Without economic viability, even the noblest of initiatives cannot survive. Any activity that appeals only to people's sense of ethics is likely to be only temporary. By focusing on economic viability and creating win-win system for all involved, they have proven their theory and flourished.

Office Chonai-kai was started by employees from just one company, and its support now comes primarily from companies. This formula makes it quite a unique NGO, even in Japan.

In 1996, the top management of TEPCO re-confirmed their non-binding and flexible support for Office Chonai-kai. They regarded support for this NGO as a corporate contribution to society, but didn't want to operate it with their own internal logic or practices. They valued its independence and stated that their support was "not-binding and flexible" so that Office Chonai-kai could continue its own activities with a focus on all of its members, not just its original host.

Nevertheless, TEPCO's Environmental Division does continue to support Office Chonai-kai, loaning staff and providing other kinds of help to the secretariat.

Office Chonai-kai started as a project for the joint collection of used paper. They soon realized, however, that the key to closing the "paper loop" was not only the collection but also the recycling or re-use of that paper. They also recognized that this closed loop would only take root in society if it made economic sense.

The systematic separation and collection of used paper and the expanded use of recycled paper are closely connected to each other in the paper cycle. Office Chonai-kai realized the importance of expanding the use of recycled paper and decided to enter a new stage of activities: addressing the issue of the paper "whiteness."

One criterion that Japanese corporate purchasers consider when selecting paper is whiteness. Office Chonai-kai decided to focus on paper used for photocopying, and made an effort to convince users that a whiteness rating of 70 percent was adequate for use in copiers.

Compared to paper made from virgin pulp (whiteness rating of 80 percent) or paper made from recycled paper and bleached to 80 percent whiteness, the 70 percent whiteness they promoted has many advantages. Production costs are cheaper, old newsprint can be used as a raw material, and the use of bleach and other chemicals can be reduced. By introducing a new "yardstick" for the whiteness of copy paper, Office Chonai-kai tried to expand use of recycled paper.

From 1997 to 1999, they held several "Whiteness 70 Symposiums" in Japan, urging local governments to use recycled copy paper with 70 percent whiteness. The first local government to respond was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It stipulated "whiteness 70" as the standard in their official purchasing guidelines for recycled paper in October 1996.

In 1998, the country's Ministry of Environment stipulated that "whiteness 70" was the standard for recycled copy paper in guidelines for lists of recommended products. The mass media have also covered this issue, adding further momentum to the use of recycled paper. Japan's Green Purchasing Law, formulated in the year 2000, also clearly stipulates "whiteness 70" as a standard.

Office Chonai-kai started in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but has expanded in many locations from the north to the south of Japan. In each area, member companies, used-paper collection companies, citizens' groups and local governments work together to create their own Office Chonai-kai (Office Community Network).

Thanks to these initiatives, almost all large companies now use recycled copy paper with a whiteness rating of 70. Now efforts are expanding to target small-to-medium companies and the general public to proclaim the message that a rating of 70 provides "adequate whiteness" and to promote the use of recycled paper. Many people have high expectations for these activities.

This has been the true story of one company employee who started to network with local companies for a common cause -- the recycling of used paper. Eventually, the movement attracted the support of his own company and expanded to include many other major companies. This one NGO, with its strategies to change Japan's paper use patterns, has actually moved local governments and even the national government into action.

To conclude, here are the words of Mr. Hangai, the founder, nurturer and current head of Office Chonai-kai: "When you try to do something new, don't just do it. Overdo it. That will be just the right amount."


Office Chonai-kai is a unique NGO in Japan and we would like to hear about similar NGOs or activities, starting from employees of a company, evolving by networking with other companies, impacting local and central government as well, in other countries. If you know of or are part of such an organization, please share information with people in Japan!

"Japan for Sustainability is a non-profit communication platform to disseminate environmental information from Japan to the world, with the aim of helping both move onto a sustainable path"

URL: http://www.japanfs.org/