BreakThrough Study Idea

Galvanizing the "corporate middle class" in order to exist as a sustainable company after 2030Koichi Yokota

<Series 4 (Total 4 series)>

2020.03.24

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The SDGs are international goals with a plan that extends until the year 2030. This means that we have about 10 years to achieve the SDGs. After 2030, will the environment surrounding corporations change? In the final part of this series, we asked expert Koichi Yokota about the post-SDGs forecast, why the companies should work to address the SDGs now, and his advice for SME owners.


◆What are the SDGs?
SDGs or the Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of global goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 for the years 2016 through 2030 under the "2030 Agenda for sustainable development." The agenda consists of 17 goals such as "poverty," "hunger," "climate change," "energy," and "education" and 169 targets laid down for specific targets under these 17 goals for achieving a sustainable society. They were adopted with the participation of more than 150 member state leaders to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) formulated in 2001. At the July 2017 session of the United Nations General Assembly, 232 indicators were adopted for measuring the progress of each of the targets.

17 goals of the SDGs (from the United Nations Information Centres website)

The concept of the SDGs will remain the same even after 2030

Before the issuance of the SDGs, the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) were set as goals for advanced countries to support developing countries from 2001 to 2015. The SDGs were defined to resolve the inconsistencies and challenges of the MDGs, as well as to pursue the sustainability of the Earth with participation from everyone in the world.

"There are many elements of the SDGs that cannot be achieved by 2030. In response, international goals for the next era should be formulated. However, even under the next set of goals, I do not anticipate any major changes in the concept of "backcasting" that was discussed in the first installment, or in "innovation born from connection among different societies" as discussed in the third installment. As mentioned in the first installment, some major companies have already created a vision for 2050. Therefore, it is unlikely that the trend of using the SDGs as a base concept will change significantly in the future."

In other words, it is highly likely that any initiatives which are taken to address the SDGs today will continue to be of value in the future. On the other hand, it would be extremely risky to avoid addressing the SDGs based on the idea that the remaining period of less than 10 years is not enough time to take action. Corporations who fail to act soon may not be in time for trends arising in the post-SDGs era.

Increase in human resources with high awareness

As a factor which prevents companies from responding to the SDGs, Yokota points out the "middle class" of employees who form the backbone of corporations.

"Top executives who pay attention to business trends and young employees who are at the level of business support are quick to understand new concepts and implement response. These two groups have a different way of viewing things and a desire to make improvements. The real issue is how to receive cooperation from the "middle class" of employees. These are the employees who handle daily operations and take responsibility for projects.

The SDGs are also being actively featured in education and seem to be steadily spreading among young people.

"In recent years, the SDGs have been adopted as part of Project Based Learning (PBL) at junior and senior high schools. Personally, I have more opportunities to teach classes on the SDGs at my university. From my work, I get the impression that many young people are eager to solve social issues. Additionally, the new curriculum guidelines being implemented at Japanese schools from the 2020 academic year will also introduce Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)."

The generation which grew up receiving such education will soon be part of the workforce. Furthermore, this generation will be more sensitive to the environment and society as consumers, and will take related action. For example, when thinking about backcasting, it may be necessary to seriously consider whether changes should be made to the corporate middle class which is slow to understand concepts related to the SDGs.

The SDGs are a form of management

As people and society change in response to the changing times, corporations are also expected to respond to such changes. Yokota concluded the interview with a message of encouragement for SMEs who need to make changes.

"Previously, some SMEs regarded the SDGs as ideals which should be addressed by companies with an abundance of resources. The SDGs were even regarded as being contrary to profits. It's now clear that such ways of thinking are wrong. Instead, SMEs should have a sense of urgency that ignoring the SDGs will endanger their future. When I reflect back on the pursuit of sustainability at our company, it can be said that the greatest opportunities existed in encouraging groups of employees which were slow to take action. Even if a company is struggling with earnings today and in the near future, the act of ensuring a long future for the company is of great importance for all employees. The first step is for executives themselves to consider matters and take action based on the perspective of using the SDGs as tools."


Series Galvanizing the "corporate middle class" in order to exist as a sustainable company after 2030

Series 1 Two reasons why SMEs should work on SDGs
Series 2 Driving the SDGs will give you an advantage in the race for talent
Series 3 Identifying business tips for social entrepreneurs who succeeded through collaboration
Series 4 Galvanizing the "corporate middle class" in order to exist as a sustainable company after 2030


Koichi Yokota
President, Yokota Associates, Inc./Project Professor, Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance

Entered Nikkei Inc. in 1988. After leaving Nikkei in 2011, he established Yokota Associates, Inc. Yokota has been a Project Professorr at the Keio University Graduate School of Media and Governance since 2015. He is involved in branding, marketing, CSR, CSV, HRM, innovative fields, and work-style reform at numerous companies, as well as regional revitalization in various regions. Yokota also conducts numerous lectures on SDGs at the Japan National Commission for UNESCO, the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation (JAPAN), and training held at major companies.

◆ Main Written Works
"30 Keywords Changing Digital Workshift Marketing" (co-authored/Sangakusha Publishing) Published in 2018
"Tomorrow Will be Pioneered by Tomorrow" (co-authored/ Sekigakusha) Published in 2015
"Social Impact—Creating Shared Value (CSV) Changes Corporations, Business, and Work Style" (co-authored/Sangakusha Publishing) Published in 2014
"How to Created a Beloved Company" (co-authored/ Sekigakusha) Published in 2014

Coverage date January 9, 2019

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