Japan has been attempting to use "eco points," a program designed to encourage consumer spending, but with a twist: people trade in old appliances and TV sets for more eco-friendly ones and then they're given gift certificates to go buy a bunch of stuff based on the value of the items traded in. The Japanese government has announced that the program will be extended a mere few months, until the end of 2010, but will the extension help boost the economy and the environment, as its designed to do, or is the country simply buying time?
Purchases of TV sets have increased by about 40%, but there is some confusion as to whether this is due to new flat screen options available or the upcoming shift to digital broadcasting or if the program is just genuinely working. The full list of items eligible for the eco points exchange program include air conditioners, TV sets, and refrigerators.
Sounds like a great idea for all, right? But the essential tension between boosting consumer consumption and encouraging eco-friendly investments is summed up by Takashi Sagaro: "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."
There's thus a potential conflict of interest. It's not far fetched to imagine the program, initially envisioned as an attempt to encourage consumer spending, extended to all manner of greenwashed appliances when Japanese consumers fail to buy enough truly eco-friendly devices. "Green" is often a go-to, feel-good move in desperate economic times. But we'll just have to wait and see if Japan extends the program yet again and truly stand by the side of eco-friendly investments, or if they're eager to stop or even tweak the program to just plain boost consumer spending and its economy.