Transforming business models and culture, measuring progress, and creating shared value through partnerships, the keys to sustainability success, says a panel of experts in Tokyo.
Great minds in business management gathered at Panasonic's Cross-Value Innovation Forum 2018 to discuss how organizations can successfully apply SDGs, or Sustainable Development Goals, introduced in 2012 at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, to successfully navigate the environmental, political, and economic issues facing global business.
Key questions asked included how the global community can achieve these goals and more importantly, what roles companies can play in building a better world. To answer these questions, leaders from various organizations, including Panasonic, Sumitomo Chemical, the Japan Innovation Network, and CSO Network Japan, which promotes sustainability practices, offered insights at a panel discussion called "Efforts Towards SDGs by Japanese Companies."
"One of the biggest misconceptions is that SDGs are only about environmental causes or corporate social responsibility programs," said Naohiro Nishiguchi, Executive Managing Director of Japan Innovation Network and Senior Innovation Advisor, United Nations Development Program. "This limited interpretation, however, negatively affects the potential of SDGs."
He explained how attaining sustainable goals involves multiple interrelated factors and stubbornly clinging to this idea restricts the scope of the financial and innovative contributions businesses could potentially make. Closing this gap opens possibilities for innovation.
"Building a better life and a better world has always served as the foundation of our corporate philosophy," said Rika Fukuda, General Manager, CSR & Citizenship Group, Panasonic. "Through our core business, we are able to create and deliver solutions that impact people in a positive way." Fukuda highlighted how the company converted a product assembly factory in Fukushima into a laboratory to pioneer new farming techniques, and that by discovering similarities between its management philosophy and several objectives in the SDGs, Panasonic is poised to contribute to the development of society through its business activities.
Reaching these goals could aid in creating inroads into new markets. "Business goals and SDGs are not mutually exclusive," said Hiroshi Niinuma, Senior Managing Executive Officer, Sumitomo Chemical. "Organizations that help developing markets today might eventually open up new business opportunities once the economy matures," he said.
One way to effectively work toward SDGs is the establishment of key performance indicators. "Many Japanese companies already have the technology and capabilities to effect change, but many don't know how to get from point A to point B," said the UN's Nishiguchi.
This makes having goals essential. In the case of Sumitomo Chemical, the company developed the Olyset Net, a long-lasting insecticidal net, which helped in the fight against malaria. "The UN estimates that the mosquito nets have saved about 6.2 million lives since their introduction," Niinuma said.
According to Rika Fukuda, Panasonic itself has helped to bring light to developing nations in Asia and Africa through its 100 Thousand Solar Lantern Projects. The project fulfilled its promise to deliver 100,000 solar lanterns to people living without electricity. The program lowered kerosene lamp usage, which can cause health problems, by 37.7 percent in Myanmar. The program also ensured that over 2,400 babies were born under bright light, reducing risks to mothers and infants. And the lanterns improved the success rate of promotion exams from 57 to 100 percent as more students could study at night.
Panel members discussed the idea that the spirit of partnership is extremely important to realizing sustainability goals, and that no one company can or should try to go it alone. "SDGs can be the common language that speaks across sectors," said Kaori Kuroda, Executive Director, CSO Network Japan. "We must include the perspectives of organizations, people, and societies to ensure that no one is left behind."
Kuroda highlighted the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, a joint project between 18 companies, including Panasonic, and the Fujisawa City Council in Kanagawa Prefecture. The 19-hectare site utilizes advanced technology infrastructure to supply energy, security, and mobility for wellness and to foster a sense of community. The project represents the skillful integration of Panasonic's comprehensive technology offerings and the knowledge of the local government as well as a group of partner companies. Moreover, residents can also share their ideas on how to improve their lifestyles and the town. Feedback is taken by management and applied to the introduction of new services and technologies, ensuring that the facilities constantly evolve to meet and exceed the needs of the residents.
"Companies can adopt this approach when it comes to interacting with government bodies, NGOs, NPOs, and communities," Kuroda said. "Open collaboration allows for continuous innovation and creates shared value that benefits all involved."
Sumitomo Chemical's Niinuma noted that, since it's the people who must drive change, companies must champion a change in mindset encompassing all levels of the organization and its partners. "When it comes to motivating the company, participation from the top down is critical to creating change among the employees," he said.
Niinuma explained that Sumitomo Chemical was one of the first organizations to encourage its C-level executives to wear SDG badges, openly conveying to employees their commitment. The company also uses its leaders to communicate objectives and to encourage participation among employees and partners in related programs, and has implemented various creative approaches, such as encouraging employees to offer ideas via visual media such as comic-based publications (manga) and websites.
In conclusion, panel members agreed that the success of SDGs requires commitment, partnership and innovation. The journey to a better world with better lives is a long-term process - one in which business can serve as the catalyst.
An important first step, is to focus on the transformation of business models and the mindsets of staff members to drive effective change. To innovate and ensure that efforts have a sustainable impact, companies must collaborate, incorporating insights from multiple parties, and measure progress. It is a combination of these approaches that will allow communities, societies, and nations to move toward a brighter future.
[Leader Session] Efforts Towards SDGs by Japanese Companies - Seize the SDGs' potential and create innovation
Date and Time
October 30, 4:30 p.m. -5:50 p.m. JST
Mr. Naohiro Nishiguchi, Senior Innovation Advisor of UNDP / Executive Managing Director of Japan Innovation Network
Mr. Hiroshi Niinuma, Director and Senior Managing Executive Officer of Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd.
Ms. Kaori Kuroda, Executive Director of CSO Network Japan
Mr. Satoshi Hanzawa, Editor of Nikkei ESG Editorial Department, Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.
Ms. Rika Fukuda, CSR & Citizenship Department, Groupwide Brand Communications Division, Panasonic Corporation
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