Nowadays, there seems to be no end of challenges faced by the international community, including climate change, famine, and unequal access to education. How must business address these challenges, and what steps must they take towards building a brighter future and sustainable societies? In this, the first installment of our new series on changes underway in the corporate landscape and the values that businesses will be expected to uphold in the years ahead, we speak with Mr. Takejiro Sueyoshi, Special Advisor to the United Nations Environment (UNEP) Programme Finance Initiative.
Special Advisor to UNEP Finance Initiative
After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Takejiro Sueyoshi worked for Mitsubishi Bank (now the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ) and Nikko Asset Management Co., Ltd. before assuming his current position as Special Advisor to the UNEP Finance Initiative. He also serves as a representative for the Japan Climate Initiative (JCI), a body of roughly 600 companies and organizations dedicated to decarbonization. His other positions include Executive Board Vice-Chair of the Renewable Energy Institute and Chairman of World Wildlife Fund Japan.
- —— The theme of last year's World Economic Forum was “Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism,” which is further evidence of the growing pressure on businesses to fulfill their societal responsibilities. Companies are also starting to change their approaches when it comes to addressing societal challenges. Why is all of this happening?
I think it is probably because so many people are realizing the impact that environmental changes in recent years are having. Those changes have caused the very foundations on which businesses are built to start changing as well. Take for instance the heavy floodwaters that hit Thailand in 2011. Many factories, including those owned and operated by Japanese companies, were inundated, which effectively cut off global supply chains. But that is just one example. The damage caused by unusual weather patterns has had massive impacts the world over. In 2019 alone, there was significant destruction caused by typhoons in Japan, forest fires in countries like the US and Australia, hurricanes, heat waves and so on.
Our climate is already changing, but what are the underlying causes? What can be blamed for our planet's loss of biodiversity as well as the poverty, child labor and all manner of other problems that are plaguing modern societies around the world? I think the root cause can be traced back to businesses' constant pursuit of short-term profit. Sustainable businesses can only be realized with safe and secure quality of life. This is the very reason that companies must take it upon themselves to lead initiatives dedicated to solving societal problems——. Businesses are changing because all kinds of enterprises are starting to wake up and realize that.
- —— Governments are responsible for demonstrating long-term commitments to those solutions and coming up with the roadmaps to find them, while companies are expected to align their activities with those roadmaps. Would you agree that both the public and private sectors play equally crucial roles?
Yes I would. The UK has made a pledge to ban all new sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered automobiles within its borders after the year 2030. While on the one hand that can be viewed as a very strict policy on global warming, on the other hand it can be seized as a game-changing strategy that will give the electric-vehicle (EV) market a competitive edge.
Also gaining momentum in the EU are green recovery initiatives, which seek to rejuvenate the pandemic-ridden economy through investments and other activities that place emphasis on eco-friendly practices. The premise of the Build-Back-Better philosophy, which is to make improvements on limited budgets, is a very rational one, and insofar as it will make businesses more selective about choosing their partners, I think that it will also be an effective strategy in the EU.
All of this change is why the ability to solve societal problems is already being considered a new form of economic competitiveness, and the global power struggle in the ESG space has begun. The most important message being conveyed by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals is changing current societal systems, and the world must now accept that it is in the midst of the greatest social refroms since World War II. I want companies to start reconsidering the significance of doing business during such a crucial time in human history.
- —— Can you give us some specfic examples of the sort of changes that companies should be making?
Well to start, they need an accurate understanding of the problems our world is faced with. Then they have to identify which of those problems their operations are best suited to address and consider how they should change their portfolios and practices to find the right solutions. They must be sincere and serious in their thoughts and actions. Mitsubishi Corporation has an extremely diverse porftolio and is already reviewing its activities in a variety of fields, but it must also recognize its impact as a stable provider of resources. The company has so many upstream-to-downstream industry connections throughout the resources value chain, so I would like to see it leverage that network to stimulate more reforms. In order to drive Japan's efforts to decarbonize, Mitsubishi Corporation should be a leader of societal reforms by effectively communicating its activities to the world. I expect to see more of that kind of disclosure, both here in Japan and overseas.
- —— Do you have a message for our readers?
We have reached a pivotal point in history, a time marked equally by destruction and creation. I urge your readers to embrace this time for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities it will provide to solve the world's most serious problems. They must also remember that if they are unable to adapt to change, then they risk being left behind. Obviously, taking the lead at such an important crossroads is not something that only our governments and businesses are capable of. Each of us can use our lot in life to address society's challenges and change our habits or work practices in ways that can help realize a brighter future. When combined, our individual changes can have the power to change the world.