In January 2020, a World Economic Forum report found that businesses are much more dependent on nature than previously realised, with over half of the world’s total GDP generation “moderately or highly dependent on nature”. With ecosystems at risk from a changing climate and 25% of the world’s plant and animal species at risk of extinction, a collapse of our natural environment would have serious economic impacts, potentially more dramatic than those we are already experiencing due to the current pandemic. Despite this gloomy picture, however, there is still hope (and untapped potential) to create business practises where both the industry and the environment can thrive.
In this context, Japan’s example stands out as the first government to provide explicit support for businesses to set science-based greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. On Friday 18 June 2021, the Japanese government approved new economic policy guidelines aimed at accelerating the transition towards more sustainable business practises through a green recovery from COVID-19. The plans include a 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) fund to stimulate private sector innovation in green technology development and carbon pricing, as well as measures to promote 3,000 trillion yen of international environment investments. Importantly, these steps are designed to align both public and private finance to achieve the bold environmental action we urgently need. Action that is already happening at the local government level.
The city of Kawasaki, for instance, is the poster child of how a formerly polluted manufacturing city can become a low emission, energy efficient industrial hub. It is demonstrating how citizens, businesses, and the city administration can work together towards a shared goal – namely, full decarbonisation by 2050, which is endorsed by more than 300 civil society organizations. Yet, with 80 percent of the city emissions coming from the industrial sector, liaising with businesses to combine environmental protection with economic opportunity is crucial.
Here come to play events such as the Kawasaki International Eco-Business Forum, whose 17th edition was held in January 2021. The event gathered political and eco-business leaders to discuss the potential for expanding eco-business during and beyond the Covid-19 era. Eco-business can protect citizens from climate crises, boost economic activity, generate income, and reduce inequalities. In his opening address, Kawasaki Mayor Norihiko Fukuda noted how the international nature of businesses located in Kawasaki will translate the climate action undertaken by the local business sector to the global stage. This point was echoed and furthered by Ligia Noronha, Director of UNEP Economy Division, and Mark Radka, Economy Division Deputy Director and Chief of UNEP Energy and Climate Branch. Following, eco-business leaders shared their experiences and insights in developing their business models. Supporting local communities during business expansion was highlighted as a strength of eco-business models, while the cultivation of partnerships between businesses and customers was a common theme. Many of the businesses used pilot schemes to gauge customers’ willingness for lifestyle changes, which in turn provided them with unique insights that could potentially be scaled up to the regional level.
Similarly, co-business models can help companies access new markets or segments, and become more resilient to market changes, especially if this is accompanied by information transparency and sustainability performances. For instance, Riva Rovani, Forestry Attaché of the Indonesian Embassy in Japan, noted in the Forum that the rising demand for environmental technology in Indonesia is providing a new opportunity for business connections between Japan and Indonesia. Echoing these remarks, Director Yukio Kobayashi of the Kawasaki Environmental Research Institute, closed the event by noting that the way eco-businesses develop between countries will be an important element as this sector expands.
To watch the event in English, please visit the Kawasaki Environmental Research Institute website.
The panel discussion participants were:
- TAKAHASHI Gen, JFE Engineering Corporation General manager, Business development group manager
- KAWAMATA Tsunehisa, NEC Solution Innovators. Ltd Innovation Promotion Division General manager
- WATANABE Hajime, Project Manager, Water Resources Department, International Division, Consulting Headquarters, Yachiyo Engineering Co., Ltd.
- TENGEJI Hiromi, Kopernik Japan Representative Director
- SUGIMOTO Ryuz, Director, International Cooperation and Sustainable Infrastructure Office Ministry of the Environment
Facilitated by TAKEJIRO Sueyoshi, Special Advisor to Mayor of Kawasaki City and Special Advisor to UNEP Finance Initiatives