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The Sloth Club -Revising Lifestyles in Pursuit of True Happiness (Recommending the Slow Life) -

Ms. Naoko Baba, Secretary of the Sloth Club

Ms. Naoko Baba, Secretary of the Sloth Club

April’s Close Up introduces the Sloth Club, an environmental non-government organization (NGO). With its catch cry of “Be a Sloth!”, this grassroots citizens’ group aims to achieve a “slow society” that places great importance on the links between life, people and the environment. The Sloth Club has as its three pillars environmental activities that seek to protect forests which represent a source of life, cultural activities that propose lifestyles which keep energy usage to a minimum, and slow-business activities that seek to support Fair Trade and social entrepreneurship initiatives. On this occasion we spoke to Ms. Naoko Baba, the Secretary of the Sloth Club, about the various activities that the organization is undertaking in order to spread the slow life concept.

Q.Please tell us what led to the founding of the Sloth Club.

©The Sloth Club

©The Sloth Club

A. A trip to Ecuador, a country now losing its wonderfully-biodiverse forests, led to the founding of the Sloth Club in 1999. The trip was taken together by three individuals: Shinichi Tsuji, an academic who teaches cultural anthropology; Anja Light, an environmental activist; and Ryuichi Nakamura, an importer and seller of Fair Trade coffee products. The Sloth Club concept helps create citizen campaigns that merge together the cultural aspects, the environmental aspects and the eco-business aspects that the aforementioned people excel in. Furthermore, we adopted the sloth as our symbol because it also lives wild in Ecuador. Concerning the sloth that moves very slowly and expends little energy, it represents a very eco-friendly creature. Using it as our example, what we propose to people is that they live their lives at a much slower pace.

Q.What is the “slow society” that the Sloth Club aims to achieve?

A. In the world around us there are numerous environmental problems. However, irrespective of how many measures are taken to “Protect Forest X” or “Save Animal Y from Extinction”, the stark reality is that as long as current society continues unchanged, there will be no fundamental resolution of such issues. We have focused our attention on the myriad of problems that are created by the lifestyles led in advanced nations including Japan, and we believe that it is necessary to start from the grassroots in making improvements. Based on such thoughts, what has come about is the idea of slowing down. How do we go about living in a manner not dependent on mass consumerism, and how do we create economic activity not built on the premise of mass production? Indeed, if you think about back when an emphasis was not placed on economic efficiency, don’t you get the impression that living then was also packed with a sense of fulfillment? In taking such ideas to heart, we use “slow” to refer to the idea of revising the manner in which we live.

Q.What sort of activities are you currently emphasizing?

A. Using the lifestyle of the Bhutanese people as a hint, we have a Gross National Happiness (GNH) campaign whose question is “what represents true happiness”. The GNH concept can be traced to Bhutan’s former king, when he noted that; “what is important is not GNP (Gross National Product) but rather GNH; the extent to which people feel happy”. Moreover, this is an idea that has gained traction around the world. At the Sloth Club, we conduct study tours to Bhutan twice a year, during which by experiencing the sense of community that ties into an agrarian culture, a culture that has been lost in Japan, participants learn a set of values in which things other than money and possessions are considered to be important.

©The Sloth Club ©The Sloth Club

A study tour to Bhutan to learn about true “Happiness”
©The Sloth Club

Q.Of the activities you have undertaken until now, which ones have received an especially strong feedback?

A. The first I should mention was our 2003 campaign entitled, “The 1 Million People Candle Night”. By turning off electric lighting for two hours on a summer evening, this campaign encouraged people to discover the happiness of not being dependent on electricity. Thinking about it, we originally tried this activity using the unwieldy name, “Voluntary Blackout Activities” (laughing). However, after revising the name and creating an implementation committee along with people who proposed the campaign be conducted nationally, we saw what was originally a small idea expand to become a very large movement. Another success was the “Hummingbird Campaign” (a global warming-prevention campaign) run in 2005. The hint behind it came from a traditional Ecuadorian song, and this campaign also spread slowly throughout the country. The backstory of the “Hummingbird” is that, in order to extinguish a forest fire, a small hummingbird repeatedly transported water drops in his tiny beak, while all the while bravely saying, “even though I am small, I will do what I can do”. This catchphrase has now come to be used in a great variety of situations.

©The Sloth Club ©The Sloth Club

The “1 Million Candle Night” and “Hummingbird” campaigns spread nationwide.
©The Sloth Club

©The Sloth Club

On the “Ampere Down” website, it is possible to
check your home’s electricity consumption levels.
©The Sloth Club

Among more recent initiatives, I might also mention the “Ampere Down Project”. This project involves having people revise ampere levels (electricity supply levels) within their homes. Whereby they are on contracts that result in their homes receiving greater electricity supplies than are necessary, we encourage householders to “ampere down” (to drop a rank). If numerous households can be encouraged to lower their peak electricity-usage levels, reduced CO2 emissions and reductions in electricity-generation will result. This project has been conducted since before the Great East Japan Earthquake; however, after the disaster more people have become interested in energy issues. Moreover, as a result of media coverage, we have seen project participant numbers expand greatly.

Q.In terms of continuing your activities, what issues do you imagine?

A. Even though we are a citizens’ group, often it takes time between when we announce an initiative, and when it begins to be taken up by the community. Thus, it is necessary to look at the measures we undertake from a long-term perspective. Furthermore, another big issue is how do we provide opportunities that will result in at least one more person becoming interested in what we do? As much as possible, in realizing that what we have to do is to create campaigns that make average people “want to know more”, we try and avoid the use of stiff wording and specialized terms.

Q.Please offer some advice to people wanting to lead a slow life in the future.

©The Sloth Club

Baba-san believes
“what’s important is to
continue things
little-by-little while
enjoying yourself”.

A. Although there are a range of options that focus on clothing, diet and accommodation, perhaps the best way to initially approach the issue is from the food perspective. What sort of food producers should you support? What sort of restaurants should you be eating at? These are the sort of issues anybody can consider without becoming overly obsessed. What about visiting a café on a holiday that provides organic or Fair Trade menu items? Such an idea also represents a wonderful form of the slow life concept. What is important is “detail and being long-term”. It might be a minute detail, but if you continue it, it forms a habit. Furthermore, to form a habit, the most important thing is a sense of enjoyment. I really hope your readers enjoy the “slow” experience and work to incorporate an enjoyment of life.