Photo/IllutrationKao Corp. President and CEO Michitaka Sawada (Photo by Shinji Hakotani)

  • Photo/Illustraion

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.”

But 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 Michitaka Sawada, president and CEO of Kao Corp., is the sixth in the series.

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At Kao Corp., we are involved in 11 of the 17 sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations, including measures to deal with climate change and conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

In 2009, Kao became the first Japanese company to join the supply chain program established by the British nonprofit organization CDP, which was once known as the Carbon Disclosure Project.

One aim of the program is to seek information disclosure from suppliers about the environmental effects of their corporate activities. At the root of our thinking in joining the program was the feeling that unless we know how raw materials used in our products were procured, we will never be able to take action that leads to cutting carbon dioxide emissions in a true sense.

Since last year, we have also begun an assessment of the carbon dioxide emission reduction measures provided by our suppliers through their information disclosure. Along with the assessment, we are also thinking together with our suppliers about how to reduce the burden on the environment by, for example, deciding on the most appropriate volume and shipping frequency of raw materials as well as thinking about how to reduce such emissions during transport of the materials.

Another step we have taken in promoting recycling of resources with local communities is what we have called "recycreation," which is a combination of the words recycle and creation.

In Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, we have produced recycled plastic by processing used containers for detergents, shampoos and other products we have collected from local residents. The plastic was used to create with those residents models of the train cars used by Enoshima Electric Railway, a local rail line.

While returning resources into new products might be a good idea, we also feel that children will become more interested in the environment if they are involved more enthusiastically in reusing projects.

We have emphasized various activities to contribute to a sustainable society because we feel that becoming a company that is supported by consumers and local residents will lead to long-term growth as well.

There has been an increase in the number of consumers who choose products that are eco-friendly. Institutional investors have also begun focusing on "non-financial" factors that may not pop out of financial statements to determine the long-term potential growth of a company.

To further strengthen our efforts in such non-financial areas, we established a new in-house section in July that we call ESG. The three letters are the first ones in the words environment, social and governance.

We feel this new section will closely tie in with our SDG efforts. We have placed an American to head the section in the hope that its activities can be expanded around the world.

Kao is a manufacturer of daily consumer goods, such as shampoos, beauty care products, detergents and cosmetics. As a company that manufactures products that are among the closest to consumers, we feel there are many messages that we can pass on to them.

I intend to play a leading role in an aggressive management style to establish Kao as one of the top companies in SDGs.

(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun Staff Writer Shinji Hakotani.)

'ECO TOGETHER' MARK ON CERTAIN PRODUCTS

In 2009, Kao released its Environmental Statement to demonstrate its intent to reduce the burden on the environment at every stage, from procurement of raw materials, manufacturing and delivery of those products to the consumer.

It has created an index to determine the environmental effect when it comes up with a new product to assess and analyze the process of introducing a new item.

It has also included an "eco together" mark on labeling for products that have met certain criteria established by the company.