The SDGS (Sustainable Development Goals) are Just a Waypoint: Nurturing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future


Shun Kawakubo, Associate Professor

Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering and Design
Posted June.15,2020

Faculty Profile

Associate Professor Shun Kawakubo is investigating how to create cities of the future from the standpoint of environmental engineering.
He is working toward popularization and attainment of the SDGs, a set of guidelines for a sustainable future that are currently the focus of activity across the globe.

Committed to Achieving the SDGs to Sustain a Better Future

As a specialist in architectural environmental engineering and urban environmental engineering, and I explore models for the buildings and cities of the future. Our world faces many problems in the areas of economy, society, and environment. In pursuit of an integrated solution to these problems, I focus on promoting the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).*1

Ever since I first thought of becoming a researcher, I aspired to do research that would help solve some of the world’s many problems. “Sustainable future” became the keyword for me. Our pursuit of an abundant lifestyle must not leave our children and grandchildren with a negative legacy. I hope to explore ways to sustain a sound environment both today and into the future. This hope corresponds well with the ideals of the SDGs.

The SGDs are a set of seventeen different development goals addressing universal challenges existing in all parts of the globe, such as health, education, technological innovation, and cities and communities. By working to achieve the SDGs from the standpoint of environmental engineering, I hope to contribute to the development of a more sustainable world.

However, the SDGs are fixed-term goals that are meant to be achieved by 2030, so they are no more than one waypoint in our pursuit of a sustainable future. The SDGs’ vision of transforming the world is a wonderful ideal that should not end as a transient concern. I want to do further research with an eye to the future beyond the SDGs.

Contributing to Promotion of SDGs in Local Government by Shedding Light on Current Conditions

Combining the SDGs with environmental engineering generates all sorts of research potentials. For example, our research on Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3) involves using experiments and questionnaire surveys to explicate the causal relationships between living environment and residents’ health, and exploring models for better housing. For Quality Education (SDG 4), I’m surveying the impact of the environment on students’ motivation and concentration, and looking for factors that raise learning efficiency.

One project that my entire research lab is working on together is a nationwide survey of how local government authorities are tackling the SDGs. We’re collecting data from this survey and making it publicly available through an online application, the Local SDGs Platform.

I hear that no matter how strongly the national government calls for achievement of the SDGs, many local communities remain confused about what concrete steps they should take. If we make the current conditions more visible, we’ll get a clearer picture of the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges in each local government authority. Moreover, authorities will be able to gain a more objective grasp of their own circumstances and their own local identities if they know more about what other authorities are doing.

In this kind of survey-based research I place emphasis on fieldwork, which involves going out to visit the communities we study. Working together with my students, I listen to what local people have to say and get a grasp of actual conditions on the ground, then work collaboratively to formulate optimal solutions. I believe that what comes out of this process is the essence of “practical wisdom.” Conditions vary across different local authorities so there is no single correct answer, but students grow through the collaborative process, and their third-party input also gives locals new awareness. It’s my hope that these experiences will provide the energy for people and communities to grow.

Inspiring Students and Providing Learning Opportunities

I’m only midway through my training as a researcher, and hoping to learn and grow day by day. I find myself surprised and inspired by the energy my students bring to their research activities.

There are many different projects going on in my research lab, covering all seventeen of the SDGs, and students are taking the initiative in most of these. If I prompt students to decide on the direction of their research and give them the “space” and “opportunities” they need to carry it out, they think and explore for themselves, and come up with some astonishing research findings. It’s really encouraging.

I believe that research findings are meaningful only if you can present them at conferences and the like, and share them with wider society. For this reason I encourage even my undergraduate students to produce outputs pro-actively. By sharing your research you can learn how the research has met the needs of wider society, and if the research has practical applications, you may even be approached by a company about collaboration.

Possibly because students have more opportunities to present their research thanks to pro-active participation in academic conferences and the like, in the last few years we have received a constant stream of prizes. The Local SDGs Platform that was developed as a major project in my lab was awarded an incentive prize at the second EcoPro Awards.*2 I’m often asked what provider we outsourced platform’s development to, but in fact we didn’t outsource at all: the students did all the programming and development themselves. The experience of working so hard to develop something themselves and then having it recognized in wider society with the award of a prize will surely be a great asset to students. I hope they won’t forget that feeling of tackling a new challenge, and will nurture their “practical wisdom” freely and openly.

Focusing on public information activities to raise awareness and understanding of the SDGs

The SDGs call for a sustainable, inclusive world, in which nobody on the planet is left behind. To achieve this will require not only national and local governments, companies, educational institutions and researchers, but also every individual across the world to consider what they can do to help and take action. As a first step, I’m focusing on public information activities to help people understand what the SDGs actually are.

For example, in April 2019, we made a television program (available on YouTube) titled Latest Findings in Environmental Research—Putting the SDGs into Practice Locally— in cooperation with the Open University of Japan and the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency. This program was designed to introduce research on SDGs to a semi-professional audience, but in October 2019, with the aim of allowing a more general audience to learn more about the SDGs, we launched an Introduction to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) as part of an online learning service available free of charge (registration and access ended on January 6, 2020).

In December 2019 we participated in EcoPro*3 and exhibited the activities of our research lab centered on the Local SDGs Platform that was recognized the EcoPro Awards. Students worked to share information with visitors, taking turns to explain the Local SDGs Platform, and demonstrating how we’re raising the visibility of information on the SDGs.

Following up on the Local SDGs Platform, we’re now developing a Business SDGs Platform which will make corporate SDG-related initiatives more visible and enable companies to exchange information with one another. In the future, through the collaboration of government, industry, and academia we hope to grow a SDGs platform for the matching of SDG needs (local challenges) with seeds (science and technology innovations developed by companies and research institutes).

Initiatives related to the SDGs are starting to take shape across Hosei University too, beginning with the inclusion of a commitment to “contribute to the future of sustainable societies” in the Hosei University Charter adopted in 2016. In December 2018 President Yuko Tanaka released a statement on Hosei University’s Initiatives toward the Sustainable Development Goals, and 2019 saw the launch of the SDGs+ Project, a series of cross-faculty educational activities to improve understanding of the SDGs. I hope to take advantage of these developments and continue to help sow the seeds of a sustainable future, both as a researcher and as an educator.

*1 SDGs: Short for Sustainable Development Goals.

*2 EcoPro Awards: Awards given to outstanding environmentally-friendly initiatives. Formerly known as the Eco Product Awards, and re-branded in 2018. Organized by the Japan Environmental Management Association for Industry, and supported by the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and Ministry of the Environment.

*EcoPro: An exhibition of environmentally-friendly products and services. Held at Tokyo Big Sight in December every year since 1999. Organized by the Japan Environmental Management Association for Industry and Nikkei, Inc. The EcoPro Awards ceremony is held on a special stage in the exhibition venue.

Shun Kawakubo, Associate Professor

Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering and Design

Born in Nagasaki in 1985.

Graduated from the Department of System Design Engineering, Faculty of Science and Technology, Keio University, and completed the Doctoral Program in the School of Science for Open and Environmental Systems, Graduate School of Science and Technology at the same university. Doctor of Engineering. Appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering and Design at Hosei University in 2013. Became Lecturer in 2016, and Associate Professor in 2017.

Has worked as the leader of the university’s SDGs+ Project since 2019. Currently exploring approaches to architecture and urban design from the standpoint of environmental engineering. Recipient of numerous prizes and awards including the Encouragement Prize of the Architectural Institute of Japan, the Encouragement Prize of The City Planning Institute of Japan, and the Yamada Kazuie Award.