The United States is home to a growing number of eco-villages, some of which were established simply to allow their residents to share natural and renewable-energy resources. Many other eco-villages are based on cohousing agreements in which residents shape the site plan and, in many cases, focus on building energy efficient homes.Yet another approach to developing ecologically friendly communities has been picking up steam in Japan ever since the earthquake and tsunami there in March prompted interest in alternatives to the grid. One of the most heavily publicized initiatives in this area is the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (Fujisawa SST), a mixed-use community planned for a 45-acre site about 30 miles west of Tokyo.Panasonic Corporation, the project’s lead developer, and eight other companies are collaborating on an infrastructure plan, based on a green-lifestyle initiative Panasonic calls “Eco Ideas,” that includes an integrated photovoltaic and battery storage system, and household fuel-cell systems. Although regulations currently forbid households from channeling excess electricity they might generate from renewable-energy systems to other households, Panasonic will install an energy management system, dubbed SEG, that will allow the town to meet its basic electricity needs in an emergency.A showcase projectThe community will include about 1,000 homes – accommodating about 3,000 residents overall – as well as commercial and public facilities. Plans call for Fujisawa SST to open in 2014, with all of the housing units sold or leased by the end of 2018. By then, project costs are expected to top $770.4 million.Part of the partners’ strategy behind this investment is to showcase their expertise as co-developers of ecologically sound mixed-use communities. Fujisawa SST will be marketed by Accenture, for example, while conglomerate Mitsui & Co. will help develop the infrastructure and its energy-management systems. Real estate developers Mitsui Fudosan and PanaHome Corp. also will collaborate on infrastructure details and will help handle sales of homes and lots. Sumitomo Trust & Banking Co. will provide financing services for the community’s occupants.As noted in a recent New York Times story, the notion of carefully planned, energy efficient developments has caught the imagination and interest of many people in Japan, and Fujisawa SST is not the only such project on the drawing board in Japan: Honda, Hitachi, and Toshiba all have been working with towns near Tokyo to transform their own eco-town visions into reality.