Recharging the Region: Sustainable Business in Post-Pandemic Asia

Goal 17 Partners, in collaboration with Global Perspectives, hosted a series of online discussions the week of July 20-21, 2020. The aim of these discussions was to  highlight and support the sustainability movement in Asia and drive continued momentum around equality and diversity.

 The kick-off event for the week was a panel on “Recharging the Region: Sustainable Business in Post-Pandemic Asia” moderated by Heather McLeish of EY Japan. Speakers included David Malone, Director of UN University in Japan, former Canadian ambassador; Kwon Key Joon, VP of Social Value Committee, SK Group; Akiko Nakamura, Director, Social Value Creation Division, Shiseido; and Masao “Jack” Watanabe, President & Representative Director, Climeon KK.  

The panel discussed the unprecedented disruption in Asian markets and regional supply chains because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also addressed how leading companies can continue to support sustainable and inclusive growth even in this difficult time.  

David Malone said digital transformation had a very powerful positive impact in some Asian countries. He said that in a country like India, which was economically liberalizing just when digital came on the scene, they went into high tech service provision industries and created a huge expansion to the Indian middle class, which is more environmentally conscious than its peers. Digital services have made a significant, almost silent contribution to sustainability that is underestimated, but varies greatly from society to society.  

During the discussion about greenwashing, Kwon Key Joon explained that digital access is changing the sustainability agenda, but there is no global agreement or consensus at the moment on ‘greenwashing’. He said that what is important is sincerity: how sincere and transparent you are making the process, and how precisely you communicate to your stakeholders. 

For example, if you look at financial work, everything in the company should be run with transparency, and clearly disclosed to the society with numbers. SK has developed its own impact valuation system to measure the social value created, including negative value for harm, and monetary value. They run KPIs with 50% of social value indices. This is how they send the message to the world that they’re not greenwashing, that they are sincere, and it’s how they’re getting trust from stakeholders 

Are companies changing their sustainability agendas due to COVID-19? Akiko Nakamura shared that Shiseido has increased their commitments. She said that since COVID-19 their ESG management accelerated alongside social value creation. The company has disclosed high commitments to climate change, water, and packaging. They have selected 13 goals, corresponding to materiality, hitting all the targets of the SDGs with an environmental focus and have added a new human rights focus to their ambitions.  

She also shared that there has been a change in consumer perceptions and behavior, so now is a good opportunity to think about sustainability and reflect on how we can contribute to society and the environment. This momentum helps consumers choose the right thing.  

Masao “Jack” Watanabe asked listeners to imagine an image with three waves of increasing size. The first and smallest wave is COVID-19, the wave behind it is the recession, but then the giant wave coming after the first two is the climate crisis. He also said that because of the current uncertainty and decreased demand for resources we are in a good space to make an energy transition: everybody is ready for a change now, with lower energy demand. Watanabe said he would like people and companies to start looking at new energy sources, such as waste for heat.

Each panelist emphasized that sustainability still matters and that they are still working hard to create a more sustainable world.