If you’re out when a parcel arrives in Japan then you can specify re-delivery to within a one hour time frame. Which is lucky for us because over the last few weeks we’ve had a near-continuous stream of packages from up and down Japan arriving at our house.

Yesterday it was ready-made tempura skewers, just add hot oil. Earlier in the week it was two beautifully marbled wagyu steaks. Last week it was fugu, minus the poisonous bits. And before that it was a 10 ton bag of brown rice. And we haven’t spent a penny on any of it. Or not directly anyway…

Our recent bounty is all thanks to the ‘eco-points’ we collected when buying the electronics to kit out our new home. The three items we bought new – air-conditioner, fridge, and TV – are all eligible for points under the government-run scheme, on the basis that together they account for 70% of domestic carbon emissions on average.

‘Eco’ is the Japanese word for green and  its everywhere in Japan at the moment, with every other product on the market touting the word in it’s marketing. Our new fridge is an ‘eco fridge’, presumably deemed eligible due to it’s slightly greater efficiency than previous models. In our bathroom we have an ‘eco mirror’, so called  because it doesn’t use electricity to keep itself de-misted!

Up the road from us there’s even an ‘ecolo’ carpark clearly trying to take advantage of the craze – we’re still puzzled about this one!

It was presumably to tap into this trend that the government launched the ‘eco-points’ scheme back in May 2010 and they won’t have been disappointed by the results. In a recent survey, half the participants claim to have bought eligible products dring the period and even more believe the scheme to be a success.

An interesting omission from this survey was a question asking whether consumers consider the scheme to be a success on the basis of economic or environmental grounds. In the UK this distinction would surely be made. But in Japan ‘eco’ claims don’t seem to be subject to the same level of scrutiny in the media or by consumers. People seem far more willing to just accept the ‘eco’ tag at face value. ‘Greenwashing’ is one aspect of ‘eco’ that doesn’t seem to have made it over here yet.

So although there have been complaints about the scheme, they have mostly revolved around the administrative nightmare of redeeming the points. Very little has been said about the irony of encouraging people to buy newer, bigger, more energy intensive TVs in the name of the environment. Although perhaps that was never what the ‘eco points’ were really about…

From an economic point of view, the program has been a huge success. Th current scheme ends in march 2011, and so from this point of view it’s not difficult to see why the government is already considering the introduction of a new incentive system.

From an environmental point of view the scheme is not a disaster, as manufacturers are incentivised to make more energy-efficient products that can win customers more points. The Government also showed some mettle when it tightened up the conditions on which TVs could qualify last April.

But as long as programs like this keep encouraging the consumption of newer and shinier electronics then this Brit at least won’t be able to use the word ‘eco’ without my tongue lodged firmly in cheek. What’s not so clear is if many people here feel the same way…

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