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Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become an important management guidline for small and medium enterprisesSaburo Kato (Corporate Adviser, Authorized NPO Kankyo Bunmei 21, and Director, Research Institute for Environment and Society)

<Series 1> (Total 4 series)


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Mr. Saburo Kato was appointed as the first Director-General of the Department of Global Environment of the Environment Agency (currently, Ministry of the Environment) in the year 1990, and was involved in the formulation of Action Program to Arrest Global Warming. After retiring at the age of 53 in 1993, he established the Research Institute for Environment and Society and the Authorized NPO Kankyo Bunmei 21 (Japan Association of Environment and Society for the 21st Century) and has been privately working toward the protection of global environment and human society. Mr. Kato, you have been confronting the global environmental problems both in the government and in private sector since over half a century now, what direction do you think should the small and medium sized enterprises take in the times of SDGs? In series 1 of this 4-article series, we asked Mr. Kato about the background of the formulation of SDGs and the reasons why enterprises should have SDGs.

◆What are 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 a total of 169 targets laid down for more specific goals under these 17 goals for achieving a sustainable human society. Created in succession to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) formulated in 2001, the SDGs were adopted in the presence of heads of over 150 member nations. At the July 2017 session of the United Nations General Assembly, 232 indicators were adopted for measuring the progress of each of the targets.

The 17 goals for achieving a sustainable society under the SDGs

“Sustainability” is a 30 year old concept

The purpose of SGDs is "sustainability of human societyand the earth". How and when did this concept first originate?

The concept of "Sustainable Development" first originated more than 30 years ago. In the midst of a deteriorating global environment and increasing development needs of the developing nations, the term Sustainable Development was the central ideology of the Brundtland Report released in 1987 by the United Nations World Comission on Environment and Development, and since then has become the guiding principle of development and environmental conservation”.

Furthermore, the United Nations Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which was soon followed by the creation of international goals known as the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs for the period 2001 to 2015.

Also known as the "predecessor of SDGs", the MDGs had 8 goals to be aided by the developed countries to help resolve the problems faced by the developing countries, such as poverty and starvation, education, disease, and environment. However, during the planning period, China and India, which were originally considered as developing nations, achieved a substantial economic growth, while the developed nations faced many challenges, like a widening disparity of wealth. This led to the formulation of SDGs which pursues the stability of human society as a whole, that is, sustainability with no distinction based on the development state of nations.

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Initiatives by Japan"


Strength of "corporates" expected to play a major role in achieving the SDGs

Mr. Kato emphasizes that though the SDGs unanimously adopted at the September 2015 session of the United Nations General Assembly are not legally binding, their unanimous adoption carries considerable weight.

"It is like almost the entire human society has recognized the 17 goals and 169 targets as common problems to be overcome. Global issues like climate cannot be resolved by a single country. In fact, it cannot be achieved just by the efforts of governments of different nations of the world and requires the collective efforts of all sectors, such as corporates, local governments, NPOs and the general public. Among them, it is the corporates that are the engine driving the economy and have the true ability to be able to achieve these goals as they can develop the technology to resolve the problem. The strength of "Corporates" is highly expected to help achieve the SDGs.”

When asked about how the 17 SDGs were related to the environment, Mr. Kato continued that Goal No. 7 "Affordable and clean energy" and Goal No. 13 "Climate action" are directly linked to the environment, but apart from these almost all other goals are also related to the environment.

"For example, Goal No. 1 "No poverty" is aimed at eradicating poverty, which has become a major factor affecting the environment due to deforestation for cultivating new land, overexploitation of biological resources, etc., in the developing countries. Then again, Goal No. 6 "Clean water and sanitation" also basically addresses the environmental issue of water pollution from domestic and industrial wastewater. There is a great deal of difficulty involved in solving the global problems, including such environmental problems. However, if all the sectors around the world make serious efforts towards the common goals, we can see remarkable results by the SDGs deadline of 2030, and eventually a more stable human society and global environment. This is what I believe”.


Running the businesses from the SDGs viewpoint is imperitive for the viability of a corporate

Various corporates around the world are now working toward the SDGs and sustainability with the aim of sustaining human society.

"Corporates like Apple, Google, and Amazon instantaneously joined the "RE 100" initiative, committing to 100% renewable power. Japanese companies are also following suit. Apple has gone a step ahead and asks even their suppliers to join the RE 100 and other sustainability initiatives. They may even stop dealing with the suppliers who fail to comply”.

The economy, society, and the environment are inherently interlinked. The small to medium enterprises may also realize that they cannot stay away from "social" movements on reforming the way of working, or "environmental" initiatives like green procurement by customer companies. In the finance world, financial institutions offering preferential interests rates for achieving SDGs have come up, and ESG investing, that is, Environment, Social, and Governance investing is also becoming increasingly popular when it comes to selecting the company to invest in.

“There is already an emergence of small to medium sized enterprises in Japan that are growing as a company by relating their business with these circumstances. Nevertheless, upon checking their company's activities against the 17 goals and 169 targets, even the companies that were initially unaware of the SDGs may find that they have actually achieved some of the goals.More than anything else, for the matter of their own survival and their own sustainability, all companies should incorporate SDGs in their management guidelines”.

Coverage date June 25, 2019

<End of Series 1>


Series "Creating new value with SDGs as a compass and common language"

Series 1 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become an important management
Series 2 Various business opportunities to be found within SDGs
Series 3 Increased sales and enhanced management capabilities through SDG initiatives
Series 4 Creating new value with SDGs as a compass and common language

Saburo Kato
Corporate Adviser, Japan Association of Environment and Society for the 21 Century / Director, Research Institute for Environment and Society

Born in 1939. In 1966, he completed a master's degree in engineering from the University of Tokyo and joined the Ministry of Health and Welfare (currently the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare). Transferred to the Environmental Agency in 1971, and was appointed founding director of the Environmental Agency - Global Environment Bureau in the 90s. He has been involved in the formulation of an action plan for the prevention of global warming, the creation of the Basic Environment Act, and preparation for the “Earth Summit”. He retired in 1993 to found and serve as director of the "Research Institute for Environment and Society", and was also appointed representative director of the "Forum to consider environment and civilization in the 21 century" (currently · Japan Association of Environment and Society for the 21st Century). He currently serves as a member of Mainichi Shimbun newspaper's “Japan-Korea Ministry of the Environment” review board, as chairman of PRESIDENT Inc.'s “Environment Photo Contest” review board, and as a member of NK Industrial Research Institute's “Green Forum 21” conference.

Main authored and co-authored works
・“Environmental Thought: Encouraging a Reflective Lifestyle" (PRESIDENT Inc. / co-authored) 2010
・"The Environmental Century: Views of 22 Leaders in Politics and Industry" (Mainichi Shimbun) 2001
・"Conditions for Creating a Recycling Society" (Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun) 1998, et al.

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