Photo/IllutrationHiroaki Nakanishi (Photo by Saki Hayashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor’s note: The United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015 and urged all member countries to achieve them by 2030.

The 17 include “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” “good health and well-being, “quality education,” “gender equality” and “climate action.”

So, how should companies introduce those goals in their businesses?

The Asahi Shimbun interviewed 10 top executives of companies belonging to the Global Compact Network Japan (GCNJ), which consists mainly of firms supporting SDGs.

The following is the first of the series. The interviewee is Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation).

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Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) made the sustainable development goals (SDGs) the guiding principles of its Charter of Corporate Behavior when it was revised in November.

It was the first revision of the charter in seven years. Keidanren urges member companies to comply with the charter.

The charter states that through innovation, member companies will strive to achieve sustainable economic growth and to resolve social issues. It also includes Keidanren’s commitment to “conduct business that respects the human rights of all persons.”

Business activity ignoring human rights is not sustainable.

That is why we laid out the guiding principles for action by placing importance on paying full respect to the human rights of people as the starting point.

Corporate Japan used to put business ahead of everything else. As a result, its approach to social contribution, donations, environmental protection and other social programs derived from the notion that companies should undertake such endeavors as they impose a burden on society because of their business activities.

But that is no longer the case.

Companies must be a beneficial presence in society. Otherwise, they cannot sell their products by receiving orders from the public.

This realization led us in economic circles to embrace SDGs, which were adopted as internationally shared goals at the United Nations in 2015, as the common aims we should strive to achieve together.

In the age of increasing uncertainty that we live in, the need is growing to contemplate mid- and long-term objectives, rather than short-term sales and earnings.

Incorporating SDGs specifically in business planning in the longer term will be effective.

Keidanren has proposed Society 5.0, a vision for a new society utilizing artificial intelligence and big data, in a quest similar to SDGs.

Society 5.0 means that humanity will experience the arrival of a fifth age after developing from the hunter-gatherer society, agrarian society, industrial society and information society.

We are witnessing a sweeping transformation of society due to the spread of digital technology.

It is important for businesses to contribute to efforts to create a wealthy and lively Society 5.0 centered on SDGs, all the more because it is becoming hard to predict where we are heading to with these changes in society.

I am aware of a shift in investors’ approach to businesses. They place a high priority on the environment, social agenda and governance.

It demonstrates their willingness to share with top business managers a long-term goal of addressing environmental and social issues.

Their thinking is that companies endeavoring to achieve such a goal will be stable and give them bigger returns, allowing them to recoup their investments.

In the field of manufacturing, the conventional thinking that products will sell as long as their quality is excellent will no longer suffice.

At Hitachi Ltd., where I also serve as chairman, it has been our policy to dispatch extremely talented personnel to our factories and research and development centers because Hitachi considers technological excellence the core of our business.

We used to embrace the idea that as long as we manufacture high-quality products, they will certainly sell.

But our stance now is to create new values through a dialogue between our customers and our employees placed on the front line of businesses guided by the philosophy represented by SDGs.

Hitachi has implemented this “social innovation” program over the past 10 years or so. It was an uphill struggle.

Hitachi is also striving to spread renewables by undertaking projects to desalinate seawater and to generate wind power.

In our railway project, we are not only endeavoring to ease the emission of carbon dioxides and traffic congestion, but also presenting Hitachi’s “smart city” solutions that are friendly to the environment and the elderly while collaborating with other public transportation systems.

Of Hitachi’s overall sales of 9 trillion yen ($81.8 billion), 1 trillion yen or so is generated by the social innovation program. But the figure is expected to surge in the coming years.

We find it difficult to carry out such a social business program on our own and need to work with other companies.

That often involves discussions on how company or business operations should work.

It is important to share the same goal if businesses aim to collaborate successfully.

SDGs serve as the guiding principles in that respect, too. But we should be fully aware that some conditions must be met before SDGs can be translated into reality.

Society needs to be healthy and peaceful. The security and financial health of the nation are also imperative. So is the stable supply of relatively cheap energy.

Making efforts to meet those conditions will amount to contributing to the fulfilment of SDGs.

(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun Staff Writer Hironori Kato.)

INTRODUCING ACTIVITIES IN PUBLICATIONS

Keidanren published a 186-page booklet in July featuring efforts by its member companies endeavoring to achieve SDGs. It discusses 165 examples, including the construction of schools in the developing world by construction companies and generation of power utilizing alternative energy. They are also carried on Keidanren’s website dedicated to SDGs programs.

Hitachi published its first “SDGs Report” this spring, describing the connection between the company’s businesses, including health-care equipment and financial systems, and 17 SDGs.