The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) were established in January 2016 as the goals that international society must achieve by 2030. Companies around the world have begun efforts for the future to make the environment, society, and economic activities sustainable. However, many companies in Japan seem unsure about how to proceed with the SDGs. We will discuss what is needed today from the perspectives of co-creation and ICT in order for Japanese companies to contribute to the SDGs as a member of international society and to grow sustainably.
[Fujitsu Forum 2017 Conference Report]
Starting Full-scale Efforts towards the SDGs
In the first half of the conference, we had four experts - Mr. Tetsuo Kondo, United Nations Development Programme（UNDP）; Mr. Koichiro Tokuoka, Dean of the Tama Graduate School of Business; Mr. Fumihiko Imamura, Tohoku University; and Mr. Masao Takahashi, World Economic Forum - take the podium. Additionally, Fujitsu's Nobuhiko Sasaki introduced Fujitsu's business efforts aimed at solving social issues.
The Essence of the SDGs and Companies' Roles
Efforts to address the SDGs began in 2016. The MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), which were promoted until 2015, had been set on behalf of public sector agencies specializing in development. The main objective of these goals was the advancement of developing countries, including the eradication of poverty and the spread of education. By contrast, the SDGs were adopted by the United Nations as goals to attain by 2030 in order to sustain the environment, society, and the economy. The SDGs target all nations and people, including developed countries. The word "sustainable" has been included to emphasize that without becoming sustainable, the earth and we humans will not have a future. The essence of the SDGs is to align the efforts of business and government to tackle the major issues of our time so that we can hand down the best possible future to our children.
The SDGs cover every requirement for all humans and living creatures on earth to live sustainably. They consist of 17 goals, 169 targets, and 230 indexes. The achievement of each goal will be impossible without securing technology, innovation, and an industry technology platform. Among these, the ninth goal, "Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation," and the seventeenth goal, "Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development," are important elements for attaining the SDGs, and companies will play a crucial role in achieving them.
Considering the SDGs from two aspects-social issues and business-one can see three major trends that lead to achieving the goals. First, we are in a time where everyone must think of the future as their "own business." Secondly, "ESG(Environmental, Social and Governance) investment"-in other words, investment criteria which recognize companies that contribute to the environment or social issues-is attaining greater recognition. Thirdly, Creating Shared Value (CSV) has become important, in which companies make efforts towards the SDGs as part of their regular business rather than contributing back to society separately. In other words, companies are considered good for being highly valuable to society or by having high social impact.
From this point of view, among the many Japanese companies contributing to attaining the SDGs, I will focus on a case of collaboration between Fujitsu, the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University, and UNDP. These three bodies are cooperating and beginning to contribute to disaster prevention globally through the construction of a global database of disaster statistics. As a result of this spotlight placed on the impact of companies' operations in society, companies are now expected to achieve the SDGs through their core businesses.
Do Not Settle for Small Innovations; Strengthen the Capability to Imagine the Future
I would like to talk about innovation's importance to companies tackling social issues. When it comes to innovation, Japanese companies often end up being improvement-only, following precedents or inward-facing, stuck to their in-house policies. However, this is insufficient to address major global issues such as the SDGs. To back this up with numbers, there is data showing that while ESG investment totals 6,200 trillion yen worldwide, investment by Japanese companies totals only 56 trillion yen.
The purpose of innovation is gradually evolving. Until now, innovation has often been viewed as simply creating new technology, ideas, and markets. However, when facing the major social issue of "a world where no one is left behind," as proposed by the SDGs, Japanese companies should be more conscious of people around the world and grasp things at a larger scale.
I believe the major battlefield for innovation is in creating new value from new technologies and ideas to carry out activities for creating new markets, and changing lifestyles and ways of thinking to create significant change that is meaningful for society. This can be seen with Google and Apple. Additionally, I define it as efforts to start a transition in actual society or expected problems to achieve sustainable growth, social justice, and the common good. To generate such large-scale innovation, the "ability to imagine the future" to see a better future and change reality-in other words, "innovatorship"-is needed. I see innovatorship as the ability of leaders to change reality through their passion and practical knowledge, and to generate innovation aiming at a better society. To demonstrate innovatorship and address the SDGs, now is the time to position the SDGs at the center of our corporate strategies, to hold principles that can be transmitted to the world, to be conscious of the extent to which these are transmitted to people around the world, and to get down to work in a sustainable way.
Advancement in the Science of Disaster Prevention with Support from AI and Supercomputers
To introduce the mission and activities of the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS) at Tohoku University, I will talk about the Global Centre for Disaster Statistics (GCDS), which was established in April 2015 as a research organization within our research institute.
In March 2015, the third UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction (Sendai Conference) was held in Sendai City to discuss the target mode of behavior of UN member states for the next 15 years. At the conference, the "Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction," an international disaster reduction framework, was adopted as a specific action plan for disaster prevention/reduction. In April following the conference, the Global Centre for Disaster Statistics (GCDS) was established under an agreement between UNDP and Tohoku University. Behind this establishment was the strong desire of a disaster science researcher to share experiences and lessons from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake with the world and to avoid repeating or at least reduce similar damage.
However, even with this framework established, unlike Japan, other countries did not have data on similar historical damage and could not grasp actual conditions. Additionally, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction sets seven global indicators that should be adopted around the world, including the reduction of disaster fatalities. However, since there were no statistics collected on disaster losses and damage, it was difficult to assess progress against these indicators. Thus, GCDS built a collaborative system based on its UNDP partnership with UN organizations and other disaster prevention-related organizations, and it is now contributing to international disaster prevention strategies based on collection, analysis, and utilization of disaster damage statistics. From the private sector, Fujitsu is supporting the construction of a global database platform.
IRIDeS is also capturing actual damage data using the "K" supercomputer as well as using observation prediction technology for disaster prevention/reduction. We feel that tsunami prediction accuracy must be improved further. However, more importantly, the data obtained must be utilized and provided such that local residents can use it to determine whether they should evacuate after an earthquake or tsunami. We, as the people who experienced the Great East Japan Earthquake, will continue to seek to transmit and provide region-specific disaster prevention/reduction information by collaborating with various universities/research organizations through technologies such as supercomputer technology and AI.
Co-creation for Drawing the SDGs Closer as Our "Own Business"
Fujitsu's business model can be summed up as "creating innovation for our customers by providing various technologies, such as ICT platforms, to contribute to social development as well as to create a virtuous cycle of reinvesting various resources based on the growth of our customers and society while growing sustainably ourselves." To fully contribute to attaining the SDGs, the key is incorporating their elements into this business model.
Worldwide, environmental pollution and worsening natural disasters are concerns as the continuing population explosion causes an increase in the number of megacities with populations exceeding 10 million. Meanwhile, in Japan, sustainability is a concern due to the aging population. These issues are intricately linked and are not unrelated to corporate activities. What is important is how we can consider the issues our "own business" and make serious efforts to solve them.
If the 150,000 Fujitsu group employees worldwide envision different futures, we cannot demonstrate our collective strength. The key is for each location and department to recognize the SDGs as a common language and overlay them atop their business goals. It is also essential to coordinate with partners and create new ecosystems through co-creation.
Fujitsu currently has a partnership with UNDP and Tohoku University to work on designing and constructing a global database of disaster statistics. This project is not only a social contribution activity; it also builds a global business model that can be promoted continuously as well as contributes to the SDGs. As part of our efforts to attain the SDGs, we will also work on efforts to create a "food and smart agriculture" ecosystem, IT drug discovery using supercomputers, and preventive medicine utilizing AI.
Not Your Issue-Our Issue
The technological innovations that together have been called the "fourth industrial revolution"-such as automatic driving, needleless injections, blockchain, AI, and 3D printers-are progressing rapidly. Business leaders need to co-create a social system that incorporates the advantages of these technological innovations and prepare the necessary policies/regulations collaboratively. Meanwhile, rather than blindly accepting the goals defined in the SDGs, attention must be paid to the background and context as to why such items were published by the UN as the SDGs.
Can you speak of the SDGs as your own issues? Leaders in the West always speak of issues as "our issues," but many Japanese leaders often refer to "your issues." I feel many are unaware of how important it is to understand issues by bringing others closer to oneself.
Japanese companies working on the SDGs must take the step of asking themselves what they want to achieve first, why they are doing so, and if there is room for ingenuity, all the while rethinking the premises for attaining the goals, and then search for necessary partners. What a single company or single industry can do to attain the SDGs is limited. What is important is how to form a collaborative relationship across sectors and satisfy both what the SDGs aim to achieve and the desired impact on society.
The Global Cooperation/Co-creation Needed to Achieve the SDGs
In the panel discussion, Ms. Kaori Fujita of Nikkei BP served as moderator and the five speakers mentioned above further discussed the two themes: "the role technology can play in attaining the SDGs and challenges" and "how to build partnerships for the SDGs."
The Role Technology Can Play in Attaining the SDGs and Challenges
Various issues emerge when consolidating companies' technical capabilities towards attainment of the SDGs. According to Fujitsu's Sasaki, "With or without the SDGs, technology changes the world significantly. When companies think about how they adapt their technologies to the world from a bigger perspective, the SDGs are certainly major guidelines. The SDGs have shown us many ways we can make people happy with our technology."
Mr. Kondo from UNDP spoke about his expectations for innovation: "The MDGs had successful aspects, such as decreasing poverty and the number of areas that are still struggling with the maternal mortality rate and other issues. Regarding the latter, the fact that expectant and nursing mothers could not sufficiently access adequate medical support was the key factor. The SDGs try to overcome this through the power of technology. By using a remote medical system and automatic translation technology, barriers of language and distance can be overcome."
On the other hand, how to link new technologies born from innovation with existing policies and regulations is another important issue. Mr. Takahashi from the World Economic Forum noted: "For example, there is an innovation called needleless injection. Traditional medical agencies have not anticipated the arrival of this technology. To connect revolutionary innovation to attainment of the SDGs, startup companies, facilitators, technology service firms, and government officials must come together to hold discussions to draw up a bigger picture."
How to Build Partnerships for the SDGs
Tackling the SDGs is a large-scale effort that cannot possibly be achieved by a single government or company alone. There must be global cooperation/co-creation among various sectors, and techniques to strengthen such partnerships are needed. When asked about his experience, Mr. Imamura, who promotes cooperation with UNDP and Fujitsu at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science of Tohoku University, replied: "The UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction/Sendai Conference was an important step in promoting partnerships, but at the same time, I felt that although the level of disaster prevention technology in Japan is high, it cannot be adapted elsewhere in the world as is. By enlightening the world through the UNDP network, it can be spread more widely and data can be gathered from around the world. A partner company was essential to analyze such data, and that partner was Fujitsu. By utilizing the network and ICT, information such as tsunami predictions can now be transmitted to the world in visualized form. Herein also lies the key to elevating disaster prevention research from being limited to a specific region to a global science of safety."
Mr. Kondo assessed the situation as follows: "Until now, UNDP collaborated with various countries, but with the SDGs, not only collaboration with governments but 'A, B & G' relationships involving the academic and business domains have become important. The Tohoku University collaboration was an important experience to acquire that knowledge. The presence of Japanese companies in international society is not as strong as Western companies, but with the common theme of the SDGs in sight, Japanese companies are catching up."
Mr. Sasaki explained the need to consciously create partnerships for co-creation: "Though the goal of companies is to pursue profits, at the same time, they want to be respected by society as businesses. In Japan, there is a business philosophy called 'good for everyone.' The SDGs are a chance to spread this globally. To attain the SDGs, innovation must be generated through co-creation, and in areas where traditional corporate organizations find it difficult to support realization, support must be enhanced by establishing project organizations and so forth."
Mindset Changes Necessary to Attain the SDGs
Meanwhile, it is also true that global partnerships are not achieved simply through harmony. Based on his experience at the Annual Meeting in Davos, Mr. Takahashi also pointed out that "at global meetings, it is essential that participants not only define the terms clearly, but also bring their own agendas for discussion. Additionally, they must not only propose their country's/company's experience and solutions, but also present an ideal future image while demonstrating intent to solve problems together."
Mr. Tokuoka summarized the day's discussion as follows: "In order to build larger scale partnerships, mindsets must be changed." He proposed that "from now on, a mindset which envisions the future together within a larger framework of governments, international agencies, NGOs, NPOs, companies, and universities-which extends beyond the traditional corporate partnership mindset-is essential. Since we are entering a domain without rules, a positive attitude that creates rules is required, rather than a negative attitude of simply following the rules."
Tetsuo Kondo Director
United Nations Development Programme （UNDP）
Office in Tokyo
Koichiro Tokuoka Partner/Senior Vice President
Dean and Professor, Tama Graduate School of Business
Fumihiko Imamura Professor, Director of the International Research
Institute of Disaster Science
Masao Takahashi Head of Forum Members and Technology Pioneers
Member of the Executive Committee
The World Economic Forum
Nobuhiko Sasaki Corporate Executive Officer
Kaori Fujita Biological Diversity Producer
Nikkei Ecology & Nikkei BP
Eco Management Forum
Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.