The Tokyo Olympics is suddenly already half-over. Throughout the games, it seemed like every competition and event came with a discussion–about the relationship between government and the people, the needs of athletes, mental health, public health…the list goes on and on.
Despite all these issues though, the theme of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is “Bet better together”. But did you know there is another theme as well: “Sustainability”? With everything going on, it hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves. But this theme, as you probably have already guessed by now, is related to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
SDGs are everywhere these days–on billboards, advertising, commercials, news clips. Businesses and governmental agencies have been working hard to make sure that everyone (at least in Japan) knows about SDGs.
But with SDGs being so ubiquitous, many people might not know what SDGs are actually about. It’s easier to just follow along with what everyone else is doing than to dig deeper and look at what the reasoning behind this all is.
In the following blog post, we will delve into the why, what and how’s of SDGs. Why are so many businesses engaged in this project, what part do individuals play, and how will it affect our lives?
What are SDGs?
In 2015, the UN formulated 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” for its members, which were meant to be accomplished by the year 2030. These 17 goals were a means to ensure that the state of the world would continue to prosper, and be a safe and secure place to live for future generations to come.
The 17 SDGs were actually based on an earlier set of goals, called the “Millenium Development Goals” or MDGs (these were eight goals that were meant to be accomplished by 2015). The goals that were not fulfilled were placed into the new SDG framework and extended.
The 17 Goals
Looking at the 17 goals, some of them are easier to imagine than others. From a Japanese perspective, it is easier to contemplate ending hunger and clean energy than gender equality and reduced inequality. Even “good health and well being” is hard to define.
One major difference between SDGs and their predecessors (the MDGs) is that SDGs include developed countries, as well as industries. MDGs mostly focused on quickening the advance of developing countries. This time around, there is plenty for developed countries to accomplish.
So in contrast to the MDGs, SDGs seem to be telling us that we may have come far in terms of human civilization, but we still have many challenges that we need to face.
The goals may look simple enough, but actually there is a lot more to them. For each of the 17 SDGs, there are a total of 169 targets that help support the main goal. Don’t worry, I won’t go into all of them here, but if you are interested you can find more about the SDGs’ targets here.
What’s in it for businesses?
In a survey from June 2021, 14.3% of businesses in Japan said that they “understood the meaning and importance”of SDGs and “are participating in accomplishing the goals” while 25.4% said that they “were thinking about participating in accomplishing the goals”. In total, 39.7% of companies said they were either on board or thinking about getting on board. This might seem a bit low, but thinking about it positively, it means that it’s not too late for everyone to join in.
Of course, there are companies that are focused on research and development and companies that are focused on consumer markets. Each of these spheres has their own interests at stake. But generally speaking, what are the benefits of the SDG campaign for businesses, who have to invest a lot in order to market it?
The first is that it can improve a company’s image. Nowadays, consumers aren’t just looking for the cheapest product, they’re also looking for some extra added value. In many cases this comes down to the value system that they feel they are supporting when they buy the product. Companies that are seen as “sustainable” and “organic” are getting consumers to essentially support these causes through the purchase of their products.
We saw a similar example of this during the Olympics, when some major companies like Toyota tried to distance themselves from the games by cutting Olympic advertising. They were trying to promote themselves to the Japanese public by advertising a value system instead.
The second is that it can attract more talent and people who actually want to work for the company. Nowadays companies’ internal affairs aren’t kept as secret as they used to be. In Japan, there are what are called “Black Companies,” which are infamous for being terrible places to work. Scandals like harassment and corruption are also much more likely to come to light and impact companies’ image negatively.
In this age of information, skilled employees have more power in terms of choosing where to work. Like consumers, they also want an extra value added–in this case, the feeling that they are working for a company that is doing good for the world. Therefore, companies nowadays need to be aware of their image in order to attract and keep top talent.
The third benefit is that getting on board with SDGs can open companies up to developing into new fields and reaching new horizons. I will talk about this more later, but our company began developing new products once we started promoting SDGs. At first we didn’t think that we had anything to do with SDGs, but as soon as we started researching and delving down into the information, we discovered new ways that we could fulfill our clients’ needs and develop our own potential. From this perspective, there are so many ways for companies to expand through SDGs, from becoming more international-minded to finding new collaborations.
Thus, companies should take a long view and see how much SDGs can have positive effects on their continued growth and endurance. There’s really nothing to lose.
SDGs and Morals
While the above shows that there are many benefits for companies, there are also reasons for individuals to take an interest in SDGs. While some of the goals may seem abstract, they are actually based on pretty fundamental principles that are important for individuals and communities.
In Japan, especially in elementary school, we are taught certain values relating to how we treat the environment and each other. Being kind to others, caring for nature and the environment, not wasting–these are lessons that are inculcated in Japanese people from a very young age and can be called “morals”. These morals are not very far off from the values behind the SDGs.
Students nowadays actually have a better handle on these values than many adults do. Lessons about SDGs are common in schools, and students seem to be much more conscious and aware of sustainability issues. We may need our children to help us review these values and morals once more.
What we can do
I think it’s clear from the above that we have to stop thinking of SDGs as just another trendy term. We have to start thinking about them as a path towards our future that we must go through together as a society.
First, we need to start with the things that we are aware of, and that we can do. From there, our interests and knowledge will expand, and we will naturally take actions towards a brighter and healthier future.
The most important thing to remember is that we are not just individuals and that our actions have consequences for other people and the larger world. In other words, we are all connected. By being more aware that our actions can affect the future, we won’t be so hesitant to change.
•Don’t waste food.
•Separate garbage and don’t just throw things on the street.
•Take a reusable bag when you go to the store.
•Use items respectfully.
•Be considerate to others.
•Accept other people’s differences.
•Don’t reject other’s friendship.
These are all basic things that many of us have internalized since we were young. But they are not just actions, they have principles and values behind them, many of which we can connect to SDGs and build more awareness in ourselves. So let’s start with the very basic, with things that we all know how to do. And from there we can develop outward, as more conscious and respectful citizens, neighbors, and inhabitants of this planet.
SDGs around the world
I’ve been talking a lot about Japanese society and education, but SDGs, being a part of the UN, are a global project. We at Invite Japan are lucky to have an international staff from a bunch of different countries. So I asked them “What is your impression of how your home country is dealing with SDGs?” The answers that I got from them were fascinating.
However, it would be a waste to try to squeeze them all into one paragraph, or even one blog post. So throughout the rest of the month we will be devoting one blog post a week about each of the countries where our staff is from–the U.S, France, the Philippines and Germany–and how well they are accomplishing the SDGs. Get excited.
Invite Japan’s SDG Program
We have two exciting programs that relate to SDGs.
The first is our outdoor puzzle scavenger hunt game Nazotabi Nihonbashi. The theme and story of the game revolve around protecting the environment, and this is a really fun way to learn about SDGs with your family and friends.
The other program is geared towards schools and class trips: School Tantei. This program was developed after doing lots of research on education, and SDGs specifically. It combines our puzzle scavenger hunt adventure with SDGs, to create an event that gives students the ability to search, discover and explore the real world around them while getting hands-on learning about SDGs. We also have supplemental class lectures on SDGs that deepen students’ understanding of what they mean while promoting critical thinking skills.
Like all of our programs, School Tantei is also about building and strengthening relationships. This not only works really well with SDGs, but it also serves as a great substitute or supplement to class trips and activities, whose goal is to foster stronger class unity.
In this blog post, I have tried to communicate the meaning and significance of SDGs, and how we all can get on board with promoting them. By simplifying global issues, SDGs show us that they are not too complicated to understand and that they do affect all of us. We are all connected, even with other countries.
Instead of thinking that this is all some sort of punishment, or that the bill for all our waste and consumerism through the years has finally come due, we can choose to think in a different, more positive way. Up to now we have been focused on ourselves and have built up knowledge and strength. But now we are ready to expand outward; to mend the frayed links in our communities and societies. And we are ready to work together towards a common goal (or even seventeen of them).