Fukurochan: How to raise environmental awareness

This week we are moving onto an environmental related topic. Charles Ward has been living in Japan since 2006 (born in England and raised in Spain). While living and working in Matsumoto (own English conversation school), he realized that rather many goods get disposed, although recycling could be possible. Charles decided to use the power of kawaii to draw attention to the growing problem of one-time-use and disposable items. By drawing Japanese comic strips centered around a plastic bag called Fukuro Chan. Charles has started a new movement in Japan. For sure I am impressed about his drive and passion to increase environmental awareness.

Sibylle Ito: Fukuro Chan has started to create awareness of unnecessary waste. Recently Japan started with the eco boom. Did you notice any difference in regard to the response to your characters?
Charles Ward: Fukuro Chan is the main character, it’s neither a he or a she, but an it… it’s a plastic bag. The secondary characters are so numerous they are not worth naming all, but my favorite one is PET, its Fukuro Chan’s “pet”… something like a dog but without legs or a tail. Ohashi San is a disposable chopstick set, Spoon Chan is a disposable spoon, and so on. It’s just there to remind us that we live in a disposable society. When I started drawing seriously the ECO boom was already under way, but few people were actually doing anything to change their habits. I guess “changing behavior” is the challenge or goal. “Raising awareness” is important, but we should not stop there.
The response to Fukuro Chan was good. I think it has little to do with the eco boom. I try to portray my character as a character, like any other character. There are no strings attached, no dogma, no guilt trip – it is just a lovable funny character. The joke is always related to behavior we can identify with, and that might have something to do with our environmental impact. But the main attraction is that it is a funny and cute character.

SI: Promoting a new idea can be rather challenging. What was for you the biggest lesson learned?
CW: I try not to reinvent anything. I don’t think Fukuro Chan is a new idea. Think about all the countries in the world – is there anything more ubiquitous than a plastic bag. We are facing new challenges with plastic bags. Production relies on oil, disposal causes pollution if burnt, it is not biodegradable when buried, it impacts the marine wildlife… and we could just do without it. Getting people to stop using plastic bags is not a new idea. Telling people to do that is not new. What I wanted to do is to get people to fall in love with this plastic bag, and see it as something finite, of value, with feelings. A bit of a long shot, I guess. But I think it is more effective for people to realize things for them selves than for them to be told something that they can’t really empathize with.

SI: I understand your next step is to convince department stores to accommodate used bags. How is this process moving along?
CW: This proposal, like most of my ideas, will most likely be shot down in the first meeting. However, I did get my store to accommodate my request, making it national will just take time, more requests, or some national emergency like the end of oil. Right now we are not focusing on that proposal, we need a bit more commercial leverage before we can translate that into eco leverage. There are many steps ahead of us, getting supermarkets to stock used plastic bags will be much more than a step in the right direction, it would be mayor a triumph.

SI: In all the actions taken so far in regard to Fukuro Chan, where do you see the weakest link? Is there anything you wish you had known earlier?
CW: That is a good question. Please tell me! We have a fantastic team and I owe them a lot, so, I guess people power is the most essential aspect of any kind of campaign. We are looking for international members to help disseminate the first seeds of Fukuro Chan in different languages across the web, press and TV. I would like to say “Have an impact, Have fun, make Fukuro Chan your own”, because everyone has something to contribute. Perhaps someone in Korea will come up with a really cool Fukuro Chan product that is ecological and has a retail value that will allow for a tree to be planted/donated. We want to open up different teams across the world and benefit from each other’s creativity, imagination and energy.

SI: How much does Twitter help you to get your message out?
CW: I’m not sure, but I find Twitter very useful to find people who are interested in helping. Social media will play a bigger role once there is more media for audiences to enjoy, such as films, songs, cartoons, comic strips, etc… It will be a fun way to interact with fans and run campaigns locally and globally.

SI: What are you working on now?
CW: There is always a never ending list of things on the go. The website is being redeveloped and will be finished in a few days. We have just started a one year campaign to reduce Junk Mail in Matsumoto City with funding. This month we found our first sponsor for our 2011 Tree Planting Partnership. There are three new products being made: a hand-made broach, organic t-shirt, and a hand-made soft toy (all of the goods we sell include a donation to plant a tree). It’s all very exciting!

Thank you so much for taking time to answer all my questions. I learned two lessons from this interview: First, when will I get used to have always my reusable bag with me? Then secondly, it is so much easier to take the necessary extra steps for an environmental behavior with a smile on your face. Environmental awareness does not have to be thought in a stern tone, kawaii is truly cool!

More info about Charles Ward on the following websites
Charles Ward http://www.ex1st.com
Fukuro Chan http://www.fukurochan.com

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤

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