Sustainability Leadership In Japan In A COVID-19 World

Goal 17 Partners joined the UN Global Compact for their 20th Anniversary Leaders Summit featuring 26 hours of continuous programming. Goal 17 Partners hosted a panel entitled  “Sustainability Leadership in Japan in a COVID-19 World.” The panel focused on challenges facing Japan as it attempts to further social and environmental goals while tackling a global pandemic.

The panel featured Atsuhito Sakai, President and Representative Director of Guggenheim Partners Japan, Ken Shibusawa, CEO of Shibusawa and Co. and SDG Impact Steering Group member, and Kaoru Nemoto, Japan Director of United Nations Information Centre, and was moderated by Takuji Okubo, North Asia Director for The Economist Corporate Network. 

Sakai noted that Japan will need to overcome some cultural challenges in order to achieve SDGs. “Regarding gender equality, with the declining birthrate and aging population, the Japanese government must clarify the national commitment to support childcare and families,” he said. “The balance between women’s workplace involvement and childcare is critical. Discussion concerning how to properly devote resources lacks in this matter.”

Japan’s public and private sector leaders also need to find ways to work in concert on the event of major national disasters, such as the Nankai Trough and Great East Japan earthquakes, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have a contingency plan in place when this pandemic started,” Sakai said. “Had we learned something from the Spanish Flu of 100 years ago, we might have prepared better.”

Senior leaders in Japan tend to rely on scenario analyses generated by junior staff within their organizations, Sakai said. By contrast, “overseas-company senior leaders discuss management problems and risk scenarios cross-industry and with regulators to seek solutions and global standards,” he said. “From a long-term perspective, I think we should consider countermeasures and analyze the scenarios in advance to avert crises when large-scale disasters occur.”

Guggenheim Partners is better positioned than many companies in Japan to react to social and environmental challenges because of its commitment to partnering externally to share best practices for advancing the goals. “It’s indispensable to make efforts to address the discussion of common shared value more specifically, such as ESG standards and SDG evaluation,” Sakai said. 

Shibusawa said that other organizations are also making inroads, such as developing certification programs for private equity, securities, and corporate guidelines. This focus can help keep the SDGs on track even through a global crisis like COVID-19, he said.

“When the stock market fell in early March after the coronavirus outbreak, people shifted their focus away from SDGs and ESGs. However, I think in this crisis, SDG is the goal and ESG is the means, especially for companies, because ESG is the means for sustainable value creation,” Shibusawa said. “Neither companies nor investors have a grasp. Through this, we realized the importance of sustainable corporate activities. I think the challenge and opportunity for us is to create a common language and a measurement for sustainability.”

While COVID-19 represents an immediate threat, it is vital that global leaders in the public and private sectors do not abandon longer-term environmental and social goals, Sakai said, noting Guggenheim’s partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and other partners to develop sustainable investing as an institutional asset class. Private sector funds are crucial in raising the capital necessary to achieve the SDGs by the U.N.’s 2030 deadline while countering near-term exogenous shocks such as COVID-19 along the way. 

“In a COVID-19 world, discovering how to prevent the spread of infection, protect public health, and, at the same time, maintain economic activity, is a monumental challenge that humanity faces,” Sakai said. “For the private sector, it is a great challenge for companies to harmonize relationships to maintain continuity and secure employment and income. The goal of corporate SDGs is to coexist with nature. There is no contradiction between the efforts to recover from the crisis and the efforts of SDGs.”

You can watch the full event here: