In recent years, the phrase “sustainable development goals” (SDGs) has often appeared in newspapers and on the news. SDGs were set out at a UN summit in 2015 and are shared goals for the international community. The 17 SDGs are to be achieved by 2030, spanning issues including poverty, environmental issues, gender inequality and work, and governments across the world are working toward achieving them.
Recently, companies have been consciously investing in environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), and more and more organizations are incorporating SDGs into their business plans as well as launching dedicated departments. This trend is only going to accelerate in the future.
Even though societal interest is growing, social issues like hunger, poverty, and environmental issues are often seen as problems that are just too great in magnitude for any one company to tackle. There must be plenty of leaders who are worried about the fact that they have set up departments to work toward the SDGs, but don’t know where to go from there.
What is the best way for companies to approach SDGs? One way forward might be the OMY SDGs Act 5, a project headed by an executive committee with members from Mitsubishi Estate, Norinchukin Bank, Nikkei Inc., and Nikkei Business Publications, of which one part is the OMY SDGs Film Festival 2020. The planning and running of this film festival were managed by members of Mitsubishi Estate’s Sustainability Promotion Department.
We spoke with Yorihiro Nagai from the sustainability promotion department and Tomoko Taguchi from the area management and planning department about the background leading up to the event and their work on SDGs.
Deputy Director of the Sustainability Promotion Department, Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd.
Joined Mitsubishi Estate in 2013.
Worked in residential development where he developed experience in everything from land acquisition to planning and sales, before moving to his current department in 2017.
After gaining experience in ESG information disclosure and various SDG-related project management, Nagai launched the OMY SDGs ACT5 in May 2020, of which he is executive director.
Deputy Director of the Area Management & Planning Department, Mitsubishi Estate
Joined Mitsubishi Research Institute (MRI) in 2014.
As a researcher at MRI, Taguchi helped to formulate national urban and regional policies and was involved in the planning of public-private partnership projects.
Taguchi was seconded to Mitsubishi Estate in October 2018 as part of the company’s human resources development program.
Taguchi is in charge of OMY area management for sectors including food and agriculture, healthcare, and SDGs.
・First comes communication. Create “sparks” that lead to SDG activity
・Gaining understanding within the company. How can we get other departments and organizations involved?
・”Why do we need to work on SDGs?” If you can eliminate these doubts, it becomes a sustainable activity
・Moving forward by working together on SDGs. Aiming to work from the bottom up
First comes communication. Create “sparks” that lead to SDG activity
SDGs are commonly seen as being difficult to approach. However, companies increasingly believe they need to contribute their efforts to SDGs in the face of great societal demand. Where is the best place to start with SDGs?
Nagai: I think any company should start somewhere where they have something to offer, an area that is closely linked with their business activities, or an issue in which the company has an interest. For us, that includes areas where our companies can contribute, such as building the foundations for industry and technology, creating rewarding work, and creating sustainable and inclusive cities.
So, it doesn’t matter if it’s closely linked with the company’s work?
Nagai: Pretty much anything goes. Business is based around helping someone who has a problem and receiving compensation in return. If you identify a need that’s out there in the world and provide value, you’re more likely than not to be helping the furthering of SDGs. To do that, it’s important to know what is happening in the world.
The film festival is actually linked with Mitsubishi Estate’s business operations. Mitsubishi Estate’s business is about constructing buildings and leasing them out to others. If turning our streets into theaters to communicate on various topics makes more people want to work and live on those streets, then that will ultimately help our bottom line. That’s why we proactively host these kinds of events, to bring energy to our neighborhoods. The film festival is part of that effort.
How did the SDGs film festival come about?
Nagai: The film festival was carried out as part of the OMY SDGs ACT5 corporate partnership. The partnership has eight companies from the OMY area working together, including Norinchukin Bank and Nikkei Inc. The partnership is hosting development seminars and publicity events about sustainable urban development across a seven-month period. The sustainability promotion department participated in ACT5 as the secretariat of Mitsubishi Estate, but we didn’t have the knowhow to make the most of the OMY area. That’s why we asked for the help from the area management and planning department, which has managed and developed the neighborhood in various ways and has extensive experience in events.
Taguchi: The ACT5 project reinterpreted the 17 SDGs into five themes based on them being activities unique to city center business districts. This year’s themes were sustainable food, climate change, wellbeing, diversity, and communication. The film festival’s remit was communication.
Gaining understanding within the company. How can we get other departments and companies involved?
So, the festival was an event that arose out of this big multi-company framework. Given that the SDGs are such ambitious goals, I imagine it must be important to collaborate across departments and company organizations to make the most of everyone’s strengths. What advice would you give to others about getting the right people involved like ACT5 successfully did?
Nagai: It helps a project to go well if you look for the right people to involve on a regular basis by thinking “who from that department would be good for this particular thing” and build relationships with them. Big companies have difficulties unique to big organizations, and it can be hard to get things moving without getting key players on side. But if you look hard enough you will find people doing work that has surprising affinities with SDGs, and those are the people you should get involved.
Taguchi: Since SDGs are rooted in social issues, they have many universal elements. People who are enthusiastic about solving an issue will happily get involved. The participation of thoughtful people accelerates our activities.
That being said, it can be hard to find thoughtful people. How can we increase the reach of our activities?
Nagai: In this sort of case, I think it’s alright to be pushy and get people to give something a go once. That’s how thoughtful people are identified and could lead to the next stage of action. People won’t get a sense of the issues if they’re not exposed to them.
Taguchi: When ACT5 was first launched in May, not that many people got involved. But we gradually brought in those around us and carried on talking about what we were doing, and from around June, people from other departments started telling us they wanted to get involved. If you just get going and carry on publicizing what you’re doing, eventually you’ll reach people.
“Why do we need to work on SDGs?” If you can eliminate those doubts, it becomes a sustainable activityく
The sustainability promotion department served as the secretariat for the OMY SDGs ACT 5 project; how did that come about?
Nagai: Originally, Mitsubishi Estate’s CSR work was focused on environmental issues, and largely fell under the remit of the environment and CSR promotion department.
Since then, the demand for companies to contribute to society has grown stronger, and those contributions have become a basis of measuring a company’s value. To embed the solving of social issues more firmly within the company, the environment and CSR promotion department changed its name to the sustainability promotion department in 2019, heralding the beginning of a deeper level of effort and work.
Part of the department’s work is to act as a point of dialogue for institutional investors, aggregating company-wide data about the work we are doing and communicating that from the perspective of sustainability. In recent years, investors have commonly started asking for ESG data (three indicators that measure the long-term growth of a company and social impact). The preparation of this data is done by the sustainability promotion department and is the backing for the department’s existence.
Some people question the point of having these departments since corporate SDG activity does not generate revenue in the short term. I agree that it’s hugely important to create that meaning for existence.
Nagai: SDG work done by for-profit companies is always going to be influenced by the company’s business plan. The work should be done based on its social significance alone, but it’s important for management to understand why the company should be involved with SDGs to secure a budget and carry on doing the work we are doing.
The money spent on sustainability is a means of gaining the trust of consumers and investors, which increases the company’s value in the long run and contributes to the creation of a sustainable society. But it’s true that not all departments put sustainability at the top of the priority list. It’s crucial to reach out and secure the support of decision-makers both during and after the department is set up.
There’s so much that needs to be considered. It seems many companies have trouble spreading awareness about and establishing sustainability into KPIs and other evaluation indicators.
Nagai: Lots of people struggle with that in different companies. It took us about three years including the preparatory phase to incorporate sustainability indicators into KPIs and establishing them throughout the company. As well as communicating the significance of the work to the rest of the company, we also publicized examples of top progressive companies that have done lots of work on SDGs to get other departments involved. We’re not going to get where we want all at once; the process requires steady work.
Moving forward by working together on SDGs. Aiming to work from the bottom up.
Let’s go back to the film festival, which ended on September 5. What kind of impression did you get from the people who came?
Nagai: In a feedback form, we received lots of positive messages from people. Some said the festival exposed them to topics they normally wouldn’t come into contact with and was very enlightening, while others said they were looking forward to coming back to the festival next year. We often had full attendance at events. I think the festival created interest in SDGs among quite a few people.
Getting people interested will add to the momentum behind SDGs. We need to spread awareness among all sorts of people from now on. Lastly, can you tell us about your plans for next year and onwards?
Taguchi: For this year’s festival we gathered collaborators from the sustainability promotion department and the area management and planning department but going forward, I hope people from all different departments come to us with their own ideas. Furthermore, we’re hoping for greater involvement from OMY area companies and organizations next year. I hope we can work together beyond the boundaries of companies and organizations.
It would be ideal if SDGs could be worked on from the bottom up rather than being centralized. What does Nagai think about that?
Nagai: With ACT5 this year we managed to create an event that involved lots of people. It would be great if we saw even more people getting involved in the future.
As I have worked in the sustainability promotion department, I’ve come to think that the only way we can change the world is if we change individuals’ awareness. There is an academic who argues that if you can get more than 3.5% of people in a community aware and actively participating on an issue, you will gradually gather the momentum to effect change. We won’t get very far just by having companies and governments leading on SDGs; we need individuals to get actively involved too.
Events that create awareness and interest like the film festival are crucial, and I would also like to create activities that lead to small cycles, things that are incorporated into work and everyday life. I want to carry on working to further spread the word about SDGs.
SDGs were established to promote sustainable development for society. If we can achieve these goals, we will come closer to a world where the majority of people can live well. My advice to anyone who is interested but unsure of where to start would be simply to take an initial step. A path will emerge where people tread. The people who follow in your footsteps could become part of the great wave that changes the world.
・When it comes to SDGs, companies should start somewhere where they have something to offer, an area that is closely linked with their business activities or an issue in which the company has an interest.
・If you identify a need that’s out there in the world and you provide value, then you’re more likely than not to be helping the furthering of SDGs.
・Look on for the right people to involve on a regular basis by thinking “who from that department would be good for this particular thing” and build relationships with them.
・The participation of thoughtful people speeds up activities.
・It’s important for management to understand why the company should be involved with SDGs to secure the budget and carry on doing the work.
・Not much will be accomplished on SDGs by governments and companies alone; individuals need to be actively involved as well.