inconvenience store truth? Governments, merchants wrangle over restricted hours to reduce CO2
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Amid the heated competition among local governments to prove they are environmentally friendly, a common plan has repeatedly surfaced: taking some of the convenience out of convenience stores.
At least 10 local governments said they were considering or preparing to discuss restrictions on the late-night operating hours of convenience stores to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, according to a survey of the 47 prefectures and 17 major cities in Japan.
However, the convenience store industry, which thrives on 24/7 service, has vehemently opposed. Critics of the local governments' plans say the amount of CO2 reduced under such a policy would be negligible, considering the negative impact on business, employment and the public.
Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Nagano, Aichi prefectures and the city of Kyoto are already considering restrictions on the late night hours.
The prefectural governments of Gunma and Kyoto, and the municipal governments of Yokohama and Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, plan to discuss such restrictions.
If the policies are imposed, other 24-hour businesses, such as supermarkets, restaurant chains, gas stations and rental video stores, could eventually be affected.
Local governments are competing against each other to present original environmental policies as interest in global warming countermeasures grows ahead of the Group of Eight summit in Lake Toyako, Hokkaido, next week.
The city of Kyoto, which started the debate over restricting 24-hour services, said a review of late night operations at convenience stores and regulations for vending machines were needed in its plans to create an "environmental model community."
In July, the municipality will set up a panel, including operators of convenience stores, to further discuss the issue. The city plans to ask store operators to voluntary curb operations during late night hours as early as next fiscal year.
Saitama Prefecture's draft environmental plan, submitted to an experts' committee in June, included a clause calling on convenience stores to refrain from 24-hour operations.
Kanagawa Governor Shigefumi Matsuzawa told a recent news conference that restricting late night operations at convenience stores "can (also) contribute to preventing juvenile delinquency."
Advocates say such regulations would not only reduce greenhouse gases but could change people's carbon-emitting lifestyles.
But not all local governments share that opinion.
"For rural communities, the convenience store often serves a public role," Yamanashi Governor Shomei Yokouchi told a recent news conference. He added that the prefecture has no plans to restrict convenience store operations.
Currently, 12 convenience store chains belonging to the Japan Franchise Association operate about 42,000 outlets across the nation, of which about 40,000 are open 24 hours a day.
The combined amount of CO2 released from those stores in fiscal 2006 was an estimated 2.67 million tons, or about 0.2 percent of Japan's total emissions.
"It is unfair to restrict only convenience stores," an association official said.
The official said that even if all convenience stores were to reduce operations to 16 hours a day, the amount of CO2 reduction would "only amount to about 0.009 percent" of the country's total emissions.
The association also points out that reduced hours of operation would seriously affect the livelihoods of the 1.3 million people who work at the stores or in distribution networks and boxed lunch production lines.
"The first step should be to ask people who make a living working in convenience stores," said Takeshi Niinami, president of Lawson Inc.
Similar plans for such restrictions have not surfaced in the United States and Europe. In Germany, the government in 2006 even eased restrictions on merchants operating on Sundays, holidays and during late night hours.
And how would the restrictions affect consumers?
According to a Cabinet Office survey, about 27 percent of the respondents said they visited conveniences stores during the late night and early morning hours at least once or twice a month.(IHT/Asahi: June 30,2008)