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The ‘eco-point’ scheme: Can eco-points be used to buy environmentally unfriendly products?

On 10 April, the Government and the ruling parties, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito, officially compiled the nation’s largest-ever economic package, worth 56.8 trillion yen in total, including 15 trillion yen in fiscal spending. In the new package, they proposed the introduction of the ‘eco-point’ (or eco action point) scheme.

 Then, on 21 April, the Ministry of the Environment (MoE), the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Ministry of International Affairs and Communications (MIC), announced that they would commence, from 15 May, the eco-point scheme, in which those who buy products designated in the scheme can gain eco-points, on condition that the supplementary budget for the fiscal year 2009 is to be approved. In the scheme, they seek to stimulate economy as well as promoting energy-saving products to reduce CO2 emissions. 

 The Products in the scheme includes refrigerators, air conditioners and TVs, which have been given four stars or five stars in the evaluation system for products which displays energy-saving performances of products from one star to five stars. Those who buy these eco-products can obtain eco-points: 5% of the purchasing prices for refrigerators and air conditioners and 13% of the purchasing prices for TVs for digital terrestrial television, at maximum. Then, they can use the obtained eco-points when they purchase ‘eco’ electric home appliances afterwards.       

 Although it was supposed that eco-points can be used when ‘eco’ electric home appliances are purchased afterwards, Fuji Sankei Business Eye reported that the Government is now considering the extension of the range of products that can be purchased by eco-points. The scheme originally sought to urge consumers to replace their less energy-saving electric home appliances by buying new energy-saving ones.  It has been however complained within the Government and the ruling parties that if eco-points can be used only for eco electric home appliances, eco-points cannot be used easily and the scheme would not stimulate consumption. Consequently, METI, MoE and MIC has started to consider the extension of products that can be purchased by eco-points. The electric home appliances industry strongly welcomes the extension and a managing staff of a major electric home appliances company said, ‘the range of products that can be purchased by eco-points had better be as extended as possible.’ 

Possibly, in order just to stimulate consumption, the range of the products should be as extended as possible as the industry suggests. However, the environmental effects of the eco-point scheme would dramatically diminish if it were extended to products that are not environmentally friendly. It may be however acceptable if eco-points can be used for services such as baby-sitting and day-care for children and continuing education because they are socially welcomed and environmentally harmless. It might be necessary that eco-points can be easily used and its range should be extended in order to stimulate consumption. However, it should be vital that eco-points must not result in the increase in CO2 emissions if the word, ‘eco’, is used in the scheme.

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