Innovative Sustainability: How 5 Japanese Companies are Implementing SDGs
By Kana Kono
The 14th of May was World Fair Trade Day. World Fair Trade Day, organised by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), is a day dedicated to thinking about and raising awareness of “alternative solutions to the planet’s economic and ecological challenges”.
Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, are an increasingly important set of goals for our planet to achieve sustainability, peace and prosperity. In the United Nations’ 2030 agenda, the following 17 SDGs were put forth, with aims to achieve them 2030.
- Eradication of poverty.
- No more Hunger.
- Good Health and Well-Being.
- Quality Education.
- Gender Equality.
- Clean Water and Sanitation.
- Affordable and Clean Energy.
- Decent Work and Economic Growth.
- Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.
- Reduced Inequality.
- Sustainable Cities and Communities.
- Responsible Consumption and Production.
- Climate Action.
- Life Below Water.
- Life on Land.
- Peace, Justice and Institutions.
- Partnerships for these Goals.
In this blog, we aim to focus on Japanese companies that are eco-friendly, socially inclusive and sustainable. With new policies from the Japanese government that aim to increase the use of renewable energy, more and more forces are pushing for a sustainable society. While government efforts are crucial, we also see a growing trend amongst Japanese companies to become more sustainable and implement SDGs in their company policies.
In fact, the fair trade market in Japan has increased 20% in value in a span of only a year between 2020 to 2021. There is clear growth in the Japanese sustainability market and we can expect even more growth to come. Japan is currently ranked 18th amongst 169 countries in achieving SDGs, and many industries and government entities are working harder to improve this result.
As plenty of Japanese companies aim to achieve SDGs, today we have picked 5 outstanding Japanese companies from different industries that do just that.
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Fermenstation : Finding Value Where No-one Else is Looking
To begin with, Fermenstation.
Fermenstation is a company that produces (rice) ethanol through a unique process of fermentation and distillation. Their production method includes recycling and reusing resources to promote sustainability. On top of such practices, their most remarkable method for producing ethanol is; finding value in otherwise unusable products such as food waste and biomass. Fermenstation is bringing life to resources that many would quickly deem useless.
Beyond the sustainability of their production methods, Fermentation also works closely with the local community to promote sustainability. They offer workshops to children to teach them about the issue, and collaborate with local companies to produce small sustainable products such as cosmetic goods by repurposing their rice ethanol. Their rice ethanol is pesticide and chemical-free, and has been rewarded with both national and international certificates such as JAS organic and SDA certifications.
Musubi: Japanese Tradition x Sustainability
Furoshiki are traditional Japanese wrapping cloths used to carry goods. Once very popular for this purpose, the tradition has since died out, and is now considered a part of Japanese history. They are making a comeback however – this time being made from sustainable materials. Companies such as Musubi are bringing this beautiful tradition back to our everyday lives.
Furoshiki often feature beautiful patterns, and allow users to carry goods in numerous ways. They have certainly caught the eyes of many and are becoming a popular alternative to their regular shopping bags.
Musubi has launched their furoshiki by reusing materials that were, in other cases, deemed unusable. furoshiki that do not meet their strict standards but are still suitable for use are repurposed as other products. Musubi’s values and goals lie in making our world more sustainable. They do this by reusing what they can, limiting waste.
While Musubi’s goals and mission have largely been to produce furoshiki using eco-friendly methods by limiting the use of plastic, reusing resources, and developing organic cotton, they have also been committed to other social and economic matters. This has included collaboration with disabled artists by partnering with organisations and donating part of their profits to the Green Belt Movement.
Hito Bito: Finding new values with the local community
Hito Bito is a sustainable company that produces cosmetic goods and processed foods from the local resources of Fukushima prefecture. As one of the most popular and sustainable cosmetics companies in Japan, they work with the local community, finding previously unseen value in local produce and resources. For example, Fukushima is known for its delicious Japanese persimmons. However, their peels are often disregarded and thrown away due to their inedibility. Hito Bito focused on this peel and developed a new product, which went on to be highly successful.
While Hito Bito produces sustainable products by limiting waste, they are simultaneously promoting Fukushima itself as well. By making use of the local community’s produce, Hito Bito empowers the people of Fukushima, spreadings their products nationwide.
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Bring: Creating new clothes from old clothes
Bring collects unused clothes from brands and individuals and reprocesses them into entirely new garments. Bring understands the damage that petroleum-based polyester, which is still commonly used due to its convenience, can cause to the environment. With this in mind, they developed their own “Bring Technology” that makes polyester sustainable.
Bring collects used clothes, recycles them down to raw materials and creates threads, fabrics, and clothes. With Bring Technology, clothes can continuously be recycled and repurposed. This continuous cycle is what is innovative about Bring Technology’s approach. Formerly, clothes could not be recycled more than once. Through Bring however, you can keep recycling your clothes to repurpose them into new ones. Given this, they have become one of the most sustainable fashion brands in Japan.
Tabechoku: Directly linking producers to their consumers
Tabechoku is a platform where consumers can buy fresh ingredients directly from producers. There are no intermediaries such as supermarkets and other retail stores, so all products are shipped directly from where they are made.
While consumers can benefit from fresh ingredients, local producers are also empowered as they can set their own prices for their products and negotiate with their consumers. On top of empowering producers, Tabechoku is also promoting sustainability, having created a directory of producers who are committed to ethical and sustainable practices. Such producers include those who limit food and plastic waste; ethically grow livestock; do not use chemical fertilisers/pesticides and practice sustainable fishing.
Producers also limit plastic and food waste by using newspapers and other reusable materials to wrap their products. Food left unsold is processed as jams, jelly, and other long-lasting goods.
In summary, Tabechoku has created a platform that empowers local producers while satisfying their customers with fresh ingredients, all while staying loyal to their core value of sustainably.
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Mottainai, a Japanese concept that leads to sustainability
The now universally recognised word “mottainai“, meaning “what a waste”, is a commonly used Japanese phrase. This concept can be found at the core of many Japanese traditions, as well as sustainable practices. With “mottainai” comes the idea that nothing should go to waste, and that we should continue to reuse what we have until no longer possible.
Beyond the case of mottainai, many Japanese companies are finding hidden value and opportunity where others have not, be that in old traditions or in cultural concepts. This proves that innovation does not necessarily have to involve developing something entirely new, and teaches us that opportunities to innovate and improve are always present, and can come from anywhere.
New Opportunities in a Positive Cycle of Sustainability
Sustainability can no longer be a simple trend, and requires immediate action. All of the companies featured in today’s blog have greatly impacted society and their respective industries. When a company makes a sustainable choice, its consumers follow suit, creating a positive cycle of sustainability, and many companies are doing this – becoming more green, inclusive and sustainable. Whether to take inspiration for the new in the old, or find value in otherwise useless material, there is immense diversity in how one can practise innovative sustainability.
With governments implementing new policies to become more green, socially inclusive and sustainable we can only expect for more companies to ride this wave, and there will be great business opportunity in the field of sustainability.
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