"The Mazda-no-Mori (Mazda Forest) program is basically one of the ways that Mazda helps to preserve the natural environment in Hiroshima Prefecture. But it is also much more. By creating opportunities to learn about the environment, I hope Mazda-no-Mori will support the education of the next generation." So says Yoshika Hongo, Assistant Manager of Mazda's CSR & Environment Department and the driving force behind the program.
In 2010, as part of celebrations commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Company's foundation, Mazda concluded a Forest Preservation and Management Pact with the government of Hiroshima Prefecture. The pact outlined a series of activities in which Mazda and the prefecture would partner for the preservation of forest resources. A forest area of 5.85 ha on the grounds of the Hiroshima Prefecture Ryokka (afforestation) Center was named Mazda-no-Mori (Mazda Forest). With this forest serving as a base of operations, the two partners began collaborating on a range of regional forest management activities. Mazda also joined Hiroshima-no-Morizukuri Forum, an environmental association dedicated to the upkeep of Hiroshima Prefecture's forests with support from companies and organizations in the prefecture.
Hiroshima Prefecture is home to Mazda's corporate head office. Bounded by the Chugoku Mountains in the north and the Seto Inland Sea to the south, Hiroshima Prefecture blesses its residents with rich natural features. Its mountains are home not only to timber but also to water rich in minerals, and the rivers that stream down from the mountains nourish abundant marine life. "About 70% of the area of Hiroshima Prefecture is covered in forest," explains Yoshifumi Tominaga, Director General of Hiroshima Prefecture's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Bureau, and a primary promoter of Hiroshima-no-Morizukuri Forum. "To the people of this prefecture, the forest is the basis of our way of life. It is a veritable wellspring of life for us."
For Mazda, the sea is a blessing in other ways. "Mazda's corporate head office is on the waterfront," Hongo explains. "The sea is indispensable to us, as we ship Mazda vehicles by sea to our customers in countries around the world. Preserving the forests that nurture the sea is our way of giving back to the sea to which we owe so much."
In April 2011, a group of Mazda employees and their families paid a visit to the Hiroshima Prefecture Ryokka Center. After receiving briefing on working in the forest, each member of the party picked up a saw and set out for Mazda-no-Mori. A total of 72 members, including Ryokka Center staff and local forest volunteers, cut and stacked wood. This carefully planned forest thinning effort is vital in returning the forest to its original vigor.
Within an hour of the start of work, swaths of ground that had been darkened by thick overgrowth began to glow with the bright sunshine. The participants smiled to see the fruits of their labors. "This is great! Good exercise, and a wonderful learning experience," "This refreshing walk in the woods is just what I needed," and "I'll be here the next time, too!" were some of the comments.
"The work has just started," said Hongo, thinking about the tasks ahead. "I really want lots of people to come to the mountains and experience the forest. Seeing the variety of little living things in the forest gets people thinking about biodiversity. People also learn about the water cycle, as they see how small mountain streams collect into rivers that flow to the sea."
The first conservation exercise at Mazda-no-Mori drew high praise. Even as the organizers sighed with relief, however, many were bracing themselves for the tasks ahead. "We need to develop a good working system for managing and advancing these activities," said one. It is said that fishing is a day-by-day world, and farmers work on a one-year cycle, but forestry involves cycles spanning decades. "That's why it's so important to steadily continue these activities while training new generations," observed Tominaga. Yoshitada Masamoto, who as General Manager of the Hiroshima Prefecture Ryokka Center directed the activities, added, "Families with small children visit Mazda-no-Mori and talk about the forest. That's how knowledge of the forest's importance is passed to the next generation."
It may be a small step, but when many small steps are put together, great progress can result. "Thanks to Mazda's leadership, other companies are becoming increasingly interested in adopting 'company forests' of their own," noted Tominaga. In order for a wide cross-section of people, including companies, private citizens, and people in the forestry industry, to work together to continue the activities over the long term, it is necessary to make things visualized in an easy-to-understand manner. This process, Tominaga explained, is useful not only for verification purposes but also for the creation of a thriving industry, with markets developed for thinned wood and timber harvested in the prefecture. By bearing this perspective in mind and linking people across generations, forest conservation initiatives like Mazda-no-Mori are expected to broaden the circle of activity still further.