GX and UTokyo: Student perspectives

June 14, 2024

Photos: Junichi Kaizuka

GX and UTokyo students

Members of environmentally minded student groups exchange their views

UTokyo’s GX (green transformation) initiatives
stretch far beyond those of just the academic and administrative staff,
with numerous students having taken all kinds of action over the years.
We brought together members of three student groups
that are tackling environmental issues and got them to talk about
what they are doing, their thoughts about their activities and their current concerns.
The discussion was moderated by Associate Professor Masahiro Sugiyama,
who was a keen environmentalist in his own student days.

There are about 900 crayfish in this pond!

SugiyamaLet’s start by introducing your groups.

ItoKankyo Sanshiro (“Sanshiro”) started in 1993, most likely inspired by the 1992 Earth Summit. Our slogan is “Learn and Act – don’t Criticize but Suggest – Interact and Grow.” We have 451 members including alumni, but most of our activities are being carried out by a dozen or so first- and second-year undergraduates. In the past, we supported the university lecture series “Kankyo no Seiki” (“The Environmental Century”)*1) and the biotoping of Komaba Pond, and worked with the organizers of the Komaba Festival to collect trash.
*1) Lectures at the College of Arts and Sciences, supported by Kankyo Sanshiro from 1994 to 2012.

SugiyamaI remember working as a member of both the Komaba Festival Committee and Sanshiro to deal with the trash problem at the festival in my student days. Separating trash was still an unfamiliar concept back then.

ItoThese days, we mainly do educational activities along with projects related to the pond. For the former, we send members to two elementary schools in Meguro, Tokyo to teach the kids about the environment*2). We also use biotopes to do environmental training three times a year. The Komaba Pond projects include conducting surveys and thinking about practical ways to use the pond. Last year, when we did a population survey, we found that there are about 900 Louisiana crawfish (a species of crayfish) living in the pond.

NakamuraThat many! How did you count them all?

ItoBy using a method known as “mark and recapture.”*3) First, we trapped some crayfish, marked their tails and then let them go. A few days later at the same time of day, we caught another batch in the same way, and estimated the total population from the ratio of marked to unmarked crayfish. In June 2022, we took part in the “Gomihiroi Koshien” litter collecting contest, where teams of students from various universities competed to pick up the most litter along a riverbank. We didn’t win, but it was great fun.

*2) A visiting lecture conducted during the 2021 academic year
*3) Sanshiro members carrying out the “mark and recapture” method

NakamuraThe TSCP (Todai Sustainable Campus Project) Student Committee was formed in 2015. The University had established the TSCP Office back in 2008 but came to realize that student involvement was critical for its success, and thus the Student Committee was created. We currently have about 20 members and are active in three main areas: promoting energy conservation, sustainability awareness and providing opportunities for learning and thinking about the environment. To promote energy conservation, we analyze how much energy is consumed on campus and propose measures to reduce it. We evaluate the environmental performance of each building and have also implemented the SHUT the SASH project*4). When the fume cupboard sashes in the labs are left up it wastes electricity, so we are asking people to pull them down when not in use. For sustainability awareness, we have been surveying and reporting about the SDGs awareness of UTokyo students since 2017*5). Providing opportunities for learning and thinking about the environment involves the planning and running of workshops and campus tours. To get our message across, we also exhibit at the major environmental exhibition EcoPro each December, and in January 2023 we introduced our activities at an online event hosted by a Saudi Arabian university.

ItoI’ve also noticed your stickers urging people on campus to close the lids on toilet seats*6). I saw them when I was taking my entrance exam and thought, “What a great university!”

NakamuraEven little things can lead to positive impressions!


*4) Project sticker


*5) Poster with summarized results of the 2022 survey of UTokyo students’ SDGs awareness


*6) Sticker posted in restrooms on campus about energy conservation

A network born in the classroom

LeahUTSN (UTokyo Sustainable Network) was created as the result of a diversity-themed GLP-GEfiL (Global Education for Innovation and Leadership) lecture in 2020. In a discussion during that lecture, someone mentioned that climate change is something that all students can do something about. This caused us to realize that our various environmental interest groups were not well connected, and we thought it would be a good idea to create a framework to bring them all under one umbrella. After setting up the group Climate Action UT as a forum to discuss networking between four student environmental groups, we further developed the organization under the name UTSN, to reflect the original “network” concept. There are currently about 100 students connected on Slack, of which about 40 are actively involved. Among our working groups, we have a group that supports our overall operations, a group that holds meetings every month and a group that hosts a joint welcome party for students joining the environmental groups each spring. Each team acts independently on its own projects, and the first of these projects was the initiative proposed at the GLP-GEfiL to install water dispensers on campus. As the TSCP had made a similar proposal around the same time, we were able integrate our plans and negotiate with the University, even getting the chance to present our idea to the President. Although we still had to wait a long time afterwards, we knew our proposal was on its way to being realized.

SugiyamaIt’s great that you refused to give up and continued to put your idea forward.

LeahOur other activities include creating a Race to Zero roadmap, proposals aimed at restoring biodiversity and projects like the introduction of plant-based dishes at the Co-op cafeteria. We also manage a prototype community garden called Komabatake*7), where we interact with others while growing and harvesting vegetables in an old greenhouse and the small garden near it on campus.

SugiyamaQuite a few students had already belonged to multiple groups before, but do you feel that UTSN has helped strengthen your networking?

Nakamura Yes, UTSN has made it easier to speak to other groups. It’s a very valuable platform.

SugiyamaWhat concerns do all of you have about your activities?

ItoI really want more people to join us. There are never enough of us to get everything done.

*7) At the Komabatake, close to the North Gate on Komaba Campus…
…garlic was being grown.

Is it safer to keep your interest in the environment to yourself?

SugiyamaThis lack of student involvement in environmental groups comes up often, doesn’t it? In their 2022 survey, the TSCP Student Committee found that only a mere 2.7% of all students were active members of groups like yours. As the environment is attracting so much attention in society, I think it should be higher than that.

NakamuraYet the majority did express an interest, and many said they would like to take part in related on-campus jobs if there were any. So maybe they just need an incentive to turn that interest into concrete actions.

SugiyamaWhen I studied abroad at MIT, there was already a large number of energy-related student groups even back then. These days, with more environment-related initiatives leading to business opportunities, I imagine that students could leverage that type of experience in the job market.

ItoI think it can sometimes be scary to express your interest in the environment in public. Some people take it as an attack on their own lifestyle when they hear us saying that we have to change the way we do things to overcome all the damage humans have caused to the planet. So, while I’m happy to tell my friends at Sanshiro about my efforts to reduce my household trash to zero, I hardly ever mention it at my other club activities.

SugiyamaI see… Leah, you recently went to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Canada, didn’t you? How was it?

LeahI met a student from the University of Oxford there and was impressed at how strongly their university is supporting its environmental groups with both personnel and funding. Here at UTokyo, it feels like getting involved in environmental issues still depends on one’s individual interest, but it seems that Oxford has positioned environmental activities as one of its core objectives and then backed that up with sufficient investment.

SugiyamaLet’s all hope that UTokyo goes in the same direction. Finally, is there anything that you want to tell our alumni and other readers?

NakamuraWhen I first heard about GX, I thought it was just scientific stuff, but it’s actually connected to every field. It does feel like a huge issue, but I think that rather than being something that’s too big to handle for one individual, the enormity of GX stems from the fact that it involves everyone on our planet. I’ll continue with the belief that my own behavior might change something, and would really appreciate everyone’s support.

ItoPlease come and see our display at the Komaba Festival. Also, I hope that everyone will start doing something connected to GX, even if it just means switching off the light in an empty room.

LeahUTSN is always short of money, so our goal is to establish a sustainability fund and green bonds. We hope that everyone, including all alumni, will support us.

SugiyamaI hope to relay your messages to the University. Thank you very much!

Main photo taken at Komaba Pond, January 17, 2023

Produced with the support of Lever son Verre Komaba

* This article was originally printed in Tansei 46 (Japanese language only). All information in this article is as of March 2023.

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