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

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

Then, 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 mainly consists of firms supporting SDGs.

The following interview with Hiroshi Shimizu, president of major plant-based oil maker Fuji Oil Holdings Inc., is the third in the series.

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My company was founded in Osaka in 1950, soon after the end of World War II. As many of the plant-based oil makers were founded in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) or the Taisho Era (1912-1926), my firm was one of the latest starters.

It didn’t have particular companies from which it could buy raw materials. At the time of its founding, raw materials were placed under quota systems, so I hear that the company had difficulties in securing them.

Our senior colleagues sought raw materials overseas. They had no other way except to use raw materials other companies were not using, such as coconut oil and palm oil. As a result, my company established technologies other firms didn’t have, and was able to develop its own goods.

After I assumed the role of president, my company worked out the “Fuji Oil Group Management Philosophy.” It reads, “The Fuji Oil Group seeks to develop the potential of food ingredients. We will contribute to the happiness and well-being of the people by offering delicious and healthy food.” It also reads, “We work for people.”

These are ideas that lead to SDGs. My company’s own technologies and goods are also playing important roles to realize what are described in the management philosophy.

For example, soybeans. The soybean business was in the red for many years, but the second company president, Masataro Nishimura, said, “We won’t know the value of this business until our grandchildren’s generation.”

I don’t know whether there was a basis for that prediction. But my company has a corporate culture that thinks about businesses from a long-term perspective. Therefore, we didn’t withdraw from the soybean business.

Of the soybean, oil accounts for about 20 percent. The remaining is strained lees, which was disposed of as industrial waste in old times. In fact, protein accounts for as much as 30 percent of “okara,” or strained lees produced when tofu (soybean curd) is made from soybeans.

My company focused on the protein, and developed a functional agent that made it possible to produce cooking noodles and rice that do not stick together and are easily raveled. The agent is used widely in processed food products sold in convenience stores and other outlets.

Soybeans may be able to contribute to the population issues of the future. It is predicted that the world’s population of around 2050 will be 2.5 billion larger than that of today. How will they secure food or water? In order to produce one kilogram of soybeans, 2.5 tons of water are necessary. In the case of beef, however, 20.6 tons of water is said to be necessary. The energy efficiency of soybeans is higher, and they are attracting attention as a precious protein source.

Oil palm trees grow in tropical regions, such as Southeast Asia. As the raw material is easily processed, palm is widely used from food to chemical products. The production volume of palm has become the largest among raw materials for oils and fats in the world.

However, palm production is associated with environmental problems, resulting from plantation development, as well as child labor. In 2016, my company stipulated a “Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing Policy” in which we promised that we will procure only palm oil that was produced with consideration for nature and the working environment.

Also in 2016, we started a project with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to support local oil mills and small-scale farmers. We’re supporting them to heighten productivity and improve labor conditions.

Palm oil has been referred to as “invisible oil” because its production process is opaque. Clarifying that process leads to us making my company’s management philosophy of “We work for people” a reality.

(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun Senior Staff Writer Katsuhiko Tagaya.)

SUPPORTING AFRICA WITH SOYBEANS

Fuji Oil Holdings is aiming to develop and manufacture soybean food, such as soybean "meat," in Burkina Faso, West Africa. The project is intended to improve the nutritional conditions of local people and increase the incomes of soybean farming families, in which many women are working.

In that country, the production volume of soybeans for chicken feed is increasing sharply. As the processing technologies are immature, however, the soybeans are exported to neighboring countries with low added value.

The project was adopted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) as a business for SDGs in July. As a result, its research costs are funded by the agency.