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  • Writer's picture黒木志穂 (Shiho Kuroki), NGP Associate Consultant

Time to make the impact of the Mottainai spirit visible (Part 1)

Calbee, the manufacturer of potato crisps, launched a marketing campaign in a very Japanese way last year. They realised that 84% of consumers fold a crisp package after they eat. The beauty of folding is to reduce the size of waste volume, which leads to reducing the environmental load. They started a campaign called ‘Oripake,’ which means folding a package. They printed a four-leaf clover, which appears when customers nicely fold the package, and photos taken with the Calbee App can transfer to points, which can be used for gifts, e.g., growing potatoes.

Japan and Sustainability

This campaign represents the current situation of how the majority of food companies in Japan integrate sustainability into their products; they prioritise using less energy, raw materials and reducing waste. Japan sees the sustainable future from the point of environment, often from the view of society (education and inclusion, etc.), and people (health and well-being and equality, etc.) are left out. Equally, sustainability can often be seen as cost, not the engine to create economic benefits.

In addition, unlike Calbee, the majority of Japanese food businesses are still in the stage of CSR; they give back some portion of profits to good causes. On the other hand, the world has already shifted its focus to the sustainability of the life cycle and supply chain — from sourcing of raw materials through to product manufacture, distribution, consumer use and disposal. This is a different approach where everyone who has been involved in the creation and sales of the product can get their shares equally, rather than just a particular group of people benefitting. Upon the increase in interests for lifecycle sustainability management, France has passed a regulation which requires some industries to put the product/service’s carbon footprint on the packages within five years*.

Japan is positioned 17th out of 166 countries in the SDI index and Dashboard report in 2020; however, the interests among Japanese consumers are increasing: According to the survey conducted in 2019, it is clear that 81% of consumers are willing to shop more with products sustainably produced and manufactured, even though they are not currently doing so. Rakuten Insight reports that 32% of people think they intend to shop in a sustainable way strongly/somewhat strongly compared with before COVID-19*. The needs for sustainable and organic products are underserved, which means there are business opportunities.

In fact, Japanese people appreciate their own sustainable philosophy. Mottainai is the Buddhist-origin word that links to the action of ‘reuse,’ ‘recycle,’ ‘reduce’ and ‘respect’ to what we have. Eiichi Shibusawa, father of Japanese capitalism from the late 19th century, put public welfare over his own interest. But somehow, when the Japanese economy had grown rapidly, it was busy importing the way western companies run their businesses, not paying much attention to how to appreciate our sustainable way of living. Given Japan has the foundation, I am hopeful that the movement of sustainability will be growing rapidly.


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