Problem Solving Tips from the Changemakers
Trying to realize a new idea can be fraught with many challenges. Perhaps no one has more experience of this than the social entrepreneurs out there solving the world’s social problems called Changemakers. In this short series, ANA BLUE WING interviews the Changemakers of its ANA BLUE WING Program to learn more about their concrete problem-solving strategies and ideas. Whether you are embarking on a new business project or just trying to solve life’s little problems, these articles may provide helpful hints to assist you in your endeavors. In this article, ANA BLUE WING interviews Michihiko Iwamoto, who is devising innovative solutions to solve the world’s resource problem. At the end of the article, there is information about how you can help support the Changemakers and their work.
Using Shared Fun to Motivate Companies and Individuals to Create Recycling-oriented Societies Together
Michihiko Iwamoto and his company JEPLAN—originally named Nihon Kankyo Sekkei Inc.—are making steady progress towards realizing a sustainable, recycling-oriented society. They have devised horizontal recycling initiatives that leverage chemical recycling technology to turn clothes back into clothes and pet bottles back into pet bottles. Fifteen years since the company’s establishment, Michihiko says they have “finally made it to the starting line.” But what challenges did he face along the way, and how did he overcome them?
If There is Belief and Significance in Your Idea, Negative Feedback Will Not Derail You
Petroleum-based polyester accounts for over 50% of the world’s fiber production. The fashion industry creates approximately 92 million tons of waste. Therefore, a lot of this polyester is incinerated or buried in landfills, which adds up to immeasurable environmental damage. It’s a similar story with petroleum-based PET drinking bottles. In Japan, only 20% are recycled back into drinking bottles. Even if recycled into apparel or plastic containers, the next destination is often the incinerator or landfill. In other words, the harsh reality is that the world continues to consume limited oil resources. Moreover, there is a direct link between mining these underground resources and serious social problems such as environmental destruction from CO2 emissions and conflicts caused by competition over resources. The solution to all these problems is to halt the consumption of new underground resources and incorporate recycling into infrastructure, both on a global scale and at a rapid pace. That is why Michihiko and JEPLAN have spent years developing recycling technologies and educating businesses and general consumers as part of a wider goal to create sustainable societies that recycle everything.
There are various issues with conventional recycling of polyester and PET bottles, such as maintaining quality through multiple recycles. Michihiko believed that “ breaking down the collected resources to the molecular level and removing the impurities, chemical recycling could facilitate a recycling cycle reproducing the same quality of that made from petroleum.” With this idea, he set out to create a recycling-oriented society where the economy and environment coexist. At first, he struggled to gain the understanding of those around him, but his conviction that “his theory was correct” and that “one day he would make it a reality” enabled him to shut out the negative feedback. It took ten years, but with everyone on the JEPLAN team performing their respective roles and tasks, he built a plant to use the company’s patented BRING Technology™ and made what conventional recycling had never achieved a reality.
New ideas often meet with negative feedback. While this feedback might be born out of concern or anxiety, there is no denying that it can stifle an idea’s potential. However, just as Michihiko realized recycling was “essential for the environment and peace,” identifying the significance of an idea is the key to shutting out the noise and moving forward.
Show Proof of Concept to Gain People’s Understanding
Michihiko founded JEPLAN in 2007 with a starting capital of only 1.2 million yen. The company’s small size made it difficult to get people to understand his grand vision for a recycling-oriented society. People tend to have a hard time accepting something that has no precedent or that they have never seen before. Michihiko realized that “there was a limit to what he could communicate in words” and decided that the next step was to show a concrete proof of concept.
JEPLAN presently runs two chemical recycling factories: one in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture—just outside Tokyo—and one in Kita Kyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture. The former plant is the world’s only commercial plant recycling PET bottles through chemical recycling technology. The plants enable JEPLAN to demonstrate the value of their technology and quickly get people onboard with their wider vision. With more partner companies involved in the project, they have been able to forge ahead and promote the significance of chemical recycling and their activities for forming a recycling-oriented society.
The Idea Has to be Fun To Get People Interested
Wanting to get as many people as possible proactively involved in recycling, Michihiko has carefully marketed JEPLAN’s “BRING™” recycling platform to give recycling a cool and fun image.
Recycling is correct because it halts the environmental destruction that provides sparks for conflicts. However, this alone is not enough to move people. Mixing in fun and excitement is the first step to getting the public interested in participating. If recycling becomes ingrained in their everyday lives and values and a no-brainer, there is a greater possibility of their action positively influencing others around them who see it. Recent years have seen a noticeable change in individual behavior, such as “taking used clothes to a collection box” and “buying products that are made from recycled materials.” Companies are changing in the same way. Currently, more than 300 companies, including top companies in Japan and around the world, are partners. Each company embodies the concept of “right × fun” uniquely, creating a synergistic composition which makes recycling fun for their consumers.
When Lost, Take the Challenging Path
※The Ebisu branch of the brand “BRING™” which JEPLAN distributes. For a while after JEPLAN’s launch, Michihiko says that he sometimes felt lost and confused in the absence of reference case studies. He had a strong belief, significance and will to see it through, but the problem was that the results were hard to predict. However, his basic stance was always to take the challenging path when in doubt. He elaborates that “steering the rudder towards the more difficult direction enables you to foster skills and build up experience by making mistakes.”
The backbone of Michihiko’s unflinching attitude are the words of his mother: “‘Once you can work and feed yourself, then you should live a life beneficial to the world and others.’” Even though there may be many challenges, the underlying desire to help others/society motivated him to dedicate time to developing the recycling technology and set high goals. Deep empathy for others is undoubtedly the reason he was able to face such a large-scale global project in such a non-defensive, natural way.
JEPLAN created “BRING™,” that is both a clothing collection platform and a clothing brand made from sustainable materials recycled using their proprietary technology. In addition, they have established a consortium of companies aiming toward complete domestic recycling of PET bottles, a step towards establishing a recycling system that transcends the boundaries between industries. Their one-of-a-kind chemical recycling technology is attracting attention worldwide, and there are plans to license the technology to overseas businesses. With global expansion gathering momentum, a recycling-oriented society where everyone can live peacefully may not be too far away.
With just a few clicks, individuals like you can support Changemakers like Michihiko Iwamoto and make a real difference in people's lives. By purchasing your plane ticket through BLUE WING (at no additional cost to you) or donating miles directly to a Changemaker of your choosing, you too can be involved in the solutions to the global problems affecting our world today.