Student Sustainability Workshop in Tokyo

16-20 March 2010, The University of Tokyo, Japan

Text by Yoshimasa Takahashi and Susanne Droescher

The AGS-UT Student Community hosted an international student workshop in Tokyo in March 2010. Our goal was to discuss and propose solutions for sustainability problems in Asia and to launch a sustainability network among Asian students. 50 students from Bhutan, China, India, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian countries, as well as Japan, were joined by students from the other AGS universities (ETH, MIT and Chalmers).

Our main motive was to focus on sustainability issues in Asian countries, so we focused on the theme “Growing Asian Cities: Structuring Sustainability Problems”. Asia has some of the world’s fastest growing economies, and global sustainability discussions often neglect the problems that accompany this growth.

We achieved our goals at the meeting through the group work. Each group of six students represented an Asian country and tackled an issue the group decided was important for this country. For example, groups addressed solid waste management in Malaysian cities, and the Bhutan government climate change strategy. We used methods introduced by Marc Neff from Arizona State University, who showed us interactively how to structure a problem and identify its causes and effects. This gave us a broad picture of the situation, which then allowed us to analyze possible points for intervention. This stage of identifying pros and cons of different ideas for solutions raised very interesting discussions that lasted whole nights. In a final session all groups presented their work and were given feedback from the other groups and from representatives of the AGS universities and industry. We also had welcome and closing parties and a field trip to Toyosu, Tokyo, as a case study for the urban remodeling project.

“The most difficult challenge was reaching consensus in group work, not only because group members were very diverse in nationalities and academic backgrounds but also the sustainability issues themselves were diverse, complex and ambiguous. The most memorable experience, though, was sharing each group’s ideas and solutions in the presentation session. Though it was a big challenge to discuss and reach consensus, we were able to unite and propose innovative ideas together and this gives us hope for the future. Now our network has been launched, and we look forward to cooperating and initiating sustainability events with the friends we have made.”
Yoshimasa Takahashi, AGS-UT Student Community, The University of Tokyo

“The most impressive experience for me was the intensity with which every participant was drawn into the group work. Our different backgrounds provided a large number of viewpoints onto our chosen issue, which was later displayed in the (sometimes) unconventional proposals for solutions. Besides learning about “Coal mining in the province Jiangxi in China” I learned a lot about social systems and the economic situation in the countries of the other group members, and about their concerns.”
Susanne Droescher, president of [project21] students for sustainability at ETH Zurich.