Photo/IllutrationKohzoh Takaoka, president and CEO of Nestle Japan Ltd. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor's note: The United Nations adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) in 2015 and urged all its member states 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 Kohzoh Takaoka, president and CEO of Nestle Japan Ltd., is the seventh in the series.

* * *

The 17 sectors covered by the SDGs are all major issues facing society. There has been a rapid spread in recognition among companies that they had to think about how to engage in those issues.

What are the reasons that make it necessary for companies to become involved in such issues? One is because such social issues will never be resolved unless there is long-term engagement, while another is that no project can be maintained for long unless there is some profitability in it. Continuing with charitable activities will not be possible if corporate performance worsens and that would limit the number of people who benefit from such activities.

Even before the SDGs were adopted by the U.N., the thinking of "creating shared value" (CSV) spread among companies in the West from about 2011.

We have made the concept of resolving social issues through business activities as our corporate mission and responsibility. But it also provides us with business opportunity. Responding to social issues can lead to the development of groundbreaking products and services. The concept is also quite compatible with the thinking on the part of companies of including SDGs within their own company management.

One proponent of CSV was Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman emeritus of Nestle. It became more widely known after the noted business management scholar Michael Porter wrote an article about the concept. The concept is often confused with CSR (corporate social responsibility), but the two concepts are totally different.

Among the CSV themes that Nestle has focused on globally are nutrition, protecting water resources and improving life in farming villages. In Japan, which boasts the top longevity rates in the world, the CSV theme we are emphasizing is the health of senior citizens.

For example, in 2013, Nestle Japan cooperated with the city government of Kobe, where our company headquarters are located, to begin a project involving cafes designed to prevent the need for elderly care. We now have 76 such cafes in various locations around Japan. We have donated Nescafe Barista coffee machines so that senior citizens can gather together periodically for a cup of coffee. Having them walk to the cafes and converse with others there can prevent the need for elderly care and will also lead to a reduction in medical costs.

This is in line with the SDGs that calls for ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages.

We have also marketed a barista coffee machine that has a communication function installed. Whenever a cup of coffee is consumed, that information is transmitted to friends and children who may reside at a distance. That helps friends and family know the senior citizen is well. Some families have purchased two such machines and in the first two months after the machine went on sale, we were able to sell about 100,000 units. By also connecting a specialized tablet computer, messages can also be sent by talking to the machine.

There are many companies that have become interested in SDGs. But simply staring at the 17 themes will not lead to any sense of what each individual company should do. The Japanese have been educated to solve problems they are presented with, but they are less skilled at discovering what the problem is or where problems may exist. I believe they should first start by trying to find specific problems that need to be resolved.

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

NESTLE FOUNDER DEVELOPED POWDERED MILK

With its global headquarters in Switzerland, the Nestle group is the world's largest food products company. Since its founding in the 19th century, the company has always dealt with issues facing society.

At that time, Switzerland had a high infant mortality rate due to malnutrition. Henri Nestle, one of the company founders, developed powdered milk as a substitute for mother's milk.

Even today, Nestle continues to provide technical instruction as well as saplings to farmers of cacao used to produce chocolate.

As one way to protect water resources, Nestle has reduced the amount of water used for every ton of its manufactured products by about 40 percent in comparison to fiscal 2007 levels. In terms of nutrition, the company is working on cutting down on the sugar and salt content of its products.