Green Business Practices in Japan:
|Case Study Series E-075. May 2020 [Revised February 2021].|
|Businesses||Avoid disruptions due to environmental risks, reduce overall costs through water saving, energy efficiency, waste minimization etc.|
|Customers||Purchase eco-products and adopt environmentally friendly lifestyles|
|Local and national governments||Reduce negative impacts of environmental problems and climate risks, improve quality of life for its residents through a clean environment|
◼ Environmental context for business action
Japan's Commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change 25% reduction is a significant starting point, which is premised on the establishment of "a fair and effective international framework in which all major economies participate and on agreement by those economies on ambitious targets (for a base year 1990)"  This, however, was drastically reduced to 3.8% emission reduction in 2020 compared to the 2005 level.
More recently, with Japan playing an increasingly important role in the United Nations efforts towards sustainable development, particularly in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the pressure to drive change within the economic and social spheres (without affecting the overall quality of life, (QoL) or the competitiveness of the economy) has always been high.
For example, the SDG #13 on "Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts" has been promoted as a means to reduce CO2 emissions that Japan has committed to under the Paris Agreement on Climate Changr.
The above priorities was driven domestically by a number of high profile pollution cases in the 1960s and 70s (such as the Minamata disease or the Itai-itai disease that resulted from industrial pollution) and internationally by Japan's signing of a number multilateral environmental agreements (such as the Paris Agreement on climate change). Operationalizing these commitments at the national level has resulted in a number of government policies and laws that protect the environment and reduce human imapcts on it.
List of some of the Japanese environmental laws
Basic Environment Laws
All of these trends have highlighted the business sector's green business practices that maintain and sustain good environmental quality, which have not only directly reduced risks and costs for the businesses, but has also increasingly becoming a vital component of their economic competitiveness.
Figure 1: Japan's multistakeholder partnerships
The key aspect Japan's efforts in reducing its CO2 emissions has been a multistakeholder approach that brings together governments, businesses and citizens - each aiming to reduce their environmental impacts using priorities and tools that are relevant to them. For example, the compulsion for businesses to implement changes in their manufacturing processes that are friendly to the environment is essentially for -
Figure 2: Cost savings and profit maximization from reducing climate change and environmental risks
◼ Review of Actions taken by Japanese businesses
A survey  of company websites and sustainability/environmental reports has shown them to be addressing CO2 challenges by reducing climate risk and by reducing broader environmental risks. Both of these are risks are ultimately grounded in the overall economic goal of reducing costs and increasing profits. A quick summary of the survey results are illustrated in the table below:
|Reducing climate risks||Less waste||Produce less wastes and recycle/reuse materials as much as possible|
|Less Pollution||Use design and technology to reduce air, water and land pollution|
|Less GHG Emissions||Change product design and manufacturing processes to reduce GHGs, especially CO2|
|Reduce broader environmental risks||Water saving||Ensure that amount of water used in manufacturing processes is low, and reuse water where possible. Clean up waste water before releasing into the environment.|
|Energy saving||Reduce energy used; Increase energy efficiency; Reduce use of fossil fuels; Increase use of renewable energy sources|
|Material efficiency||Use less natural resource Reuse and recycle as much as possible; Use alternative reusable, recyclable materials|
Specific examples of companies and their actions are illustrated in the table below
|Less waste||Glico||Recycled raw garbage generated in the cafeteria. Aims for "zero emissions" throughout the Glico Group|
|Starbucks||Abolished the use of plastic straws at approximately 28,000 stores worldwide, including stores in Japan.|
|Disneyland||Eliminated disposable plastic straws and muddlers from all theme parks and resorts owned and operated by the company.|
|Skylark||Abolished plastic straws and utensils in all its establishments.|
|Less pollution||NTT Nishi-Nihon||Increased the use and utilization of ICTs in its operation, to reduce virgin materials and wastes.|
|FujiFilm||Changed production processes to create "pollution free" companies|
|Taisei Kensetsu||Developed soil remediation technology to tackle land pollution|
|Nihon NUS||Implemented measures to reduce marine waste|
|Less GHG Emissions||SONY||Developed energy-saving air-conditioning system that reduces more than 65% of CO2 emission|
|YAMAHA||Modified production and manufacturing processes to significantly reduce CO2 emissions|
|Kirin Brewery||Implemented a "Cool Choice" Challenge|
|Asahi Brewary||Implemented a programme - "Asahi Carbon Zero", implemented car sharing in the office, and used eco-drive|
|Water saving||Ebisu Marine Company||Developed water quality equipment that eliminated the use of chemical agents|
|Suntory Brewery||Implemented measures such as 3R for water, contributing to the natural water cycle, reduced the water used to make its products and modified its production process to increase reuse of water|
|Toshiba||Developed technologies to reduce water intake during its production process|
|Material saving||Mitsuo Sumitomo||Eliminated the use of plastic straws and cups|
|Nanami International||Implemented a campaign called "Spring has Come" that deplasticized bags|
|NTTHigashi-Nihon||Reduced the use of paper with electronic systems|
|MiniStop||Implemented measures for food recycling and oil recycling|
|Nihon Food||Set up an "Ecology Center" to reduce food losses and wastes|
|Energy saving||Looop||Implemented technologies towards "Power liberalization" to reduce energy consumption at homes, PPA business and industries with solar energy.|
|Nihon Natural Energy||Developed initiatives such as "Green Power Certificate" and "Green Heat Certificate"|
|Orix Company||Set up the Mega Solar Project|
|Mediotech Company||Initiated a new power service "Direct Power" utilizing cutting-edge IT technology such as block chain and AI|
◼ Business Action for the Environment
Some of the measures that businesses have taken action on are listed below. They can be listed under five categories: (1) Resource input measures such as energy efficiency, packaging, recycling and waste reduction, resource conservation; (2) Pollution prevention measure such as air pollution prevention, water pollution prevention; (3) Management measures such as Environmental Management Systems; (4) Non-production measures such as environmental building design; (5) Community measures such as environmental philanthropy
Figure 3: Five categories of measures implemented by Japanese businesses
The survey showed that there are many issues that are generally covered under 'energy efficiency'. These include:
Recycling and Waste Reduction
Recycling and waste reduction is a recurring theme that is an integral part of most of the above environmental measures taken by businesses. Most popular and tangible among these measures have targeted paper. Efficient use of paper, streamlining processes and tasks that need excessive paper, paper source sorting and disposal systems (both in-house and external systems), are covered here. Other wastes such as glass, aluminum, cardboard, wooden pallets, polyurethane and polystyrene foam, furniture etc. have similarly been targeted for source sorting and disposal systems.
Besides cost consideration, companies have included waste disposal methods and techniques, recycling efforts etc. as criteria to select trash contractors.
Another measure incorporated by companies is the purchase of recycled materials for office supplies. Products with higher percentages of post-consumer content, reused copy/printer toners cartridges, recycled tissue and napkins etc. have been incorporated in purchasing decisions.
Online internet and intranet networks have been used as an alternative to inter-office memos and conventional communication methods. Centralized information, leadership, and a corporate commitment have been found to be critical in developing a culture for the 'reduce, reuse, and recycle' corporate environment.
Packaging issues have come to the fore for businesses due to increasing quantities of municipal waste, with a significant portion coming from consumer goods packaging. This has highlighted the need to both increase recycling and minimize the amount of material used in packaging. This would reduce waste and decrease the use of virgin/new materials.
Most efforts to streamline packaging have focused on three aspects:
Water, electricity, office supplies, manufacturing and production materials, building materials etc form resources that a company uses. Conservation of such resources is an important environmental measure taken by companies. These include restrictions and reductions in the use of resources, recovery of (re)usable resources from waste products, recycling of resources after adequate processing. Companies also resort to the use of certified products that have had minimum environmental impact, and have been included in a comprehensive resource recovery cycle, including post-production processing.
Thus company purchasing decisions are increasingly including environmental concerns in their choice of supplies, materials and refills.
Resource conservation measures have also covered maintaining regulatory compliance, chemical source reduction, emissions control, equipment review and construction support, and product stewardship. Increased 'returnable' content in a product or its packaging has also been used in conservation efforts.
Air Pollution Prevention
Air pollution prevention efforts of businesses have generally focused on both source and waste reduction, and on reuse and recycling. Preventing air pollution within a company's manufacturing processes remains the key approach. Cleaning and processing, switch to non-polluting technologies and materials, reduced generation of waste water, converting hazardous by-products to non-threatening forms, etc. have been attempted in this regard.
Indirect air pollution prevention measures by businesses also cover transportation. Examples of such measures include: providing company transportation to employees; offering commuting information and selling public transit passes; and encouraging employees to carpool and use public transportation. Businesses have also initiated successful programmes such as the use of bicycles to commute to work, telecommuting, and work-at-home etc. to reduce pollution due to commuting.
Water Pollution Prevention
Measures taken by businesses to prevent water pollution essentially strive to conserve and protect water quality - in terms of its use reduction and disposal, waste water treatment, procedural changes and recycling.
Water conservation programmes have also included the substitution/reduction of hazardous materials and the generation of hazardous wastes. Employee awareness, education and training in pollution identification and reduction is critical in achieving successful results.
Environmental Management Systems
Environmental Management Systems are tailored to each businesses' own needs. While the results can vary, self-audit programs focus on company-specific environmental issues, enabling among other things, a high awareness of environmental issues. Implementation of EMS covers areas such as policy, organizational restructuring, marketing identity and standards etc.
Businesses achieve this by developing checklists, marking realistic environmental compliance targets, encouraging transparency and accountability, and similar measures. Effective communication of such measures, internally and externally, remains critical to better understanding, acceptance and compliance. It also serves as a focus to challenge all involved to develop new approaches to environmental improvements
Environmental Building Design
The survey showed there are many ways in which efficient building design has lead to efficient energy use. Such measures are taken both in the architectural design of the building itself, as well as in the various infrastructure and services that are installed in it.
These include: proper building to site orientation, high efficiency lighting, optimized day-lighting, oversized low restriction ducts, variable speed drives in the HVAC units, increased building insulation, heat mirror glass, reflective roof coating, occupant sensors throughout the building, and efficient office equipment.
A committed approach to environmental improvement goes beyond mere cost-benefit analyses and concerns broader, universal issues. Many businesses do not rule out philanthropy as a means to achieve environmental consciousness. Those favouring this typically take measure such as access to environmental technology, access to engineering support, free educational classes, staff volunteering in community programmes, information dissemination of activities and measures, and assistance in publishing research and promotional materials.
Besides supporting existing environmental efforts and actions, companies are also directly involved in activities such as tree-planting.
The emerging lessons of Japan's green business practices point to an increasingly "enlightened" business sector that not only focusses on its economic goals of reducing costs and increasing profits, but also using these goals to address environmental challenges. These lessons are critical for a sustainable future where multistakeholder partnerships between customers, businesses and governments will help the country meet its local environmental problems and global commitments.
As the lessons illustrated above show, the ultimate driver for businesses to undertake action on environmental issues lie in not "greening" the environment, but in ensuring cost savings and profit maximization that result for those actions. This is a key policy objective that has to be kept in mind when developing programmes that target climate action by businesses.
 Japanese Government's submission to the United Nations Framework Convention ofn Climate Change, January 26, 2010. https://unfccc.int/files/meetings/cop_15/copenhagen_accord/application/pdf/japancphaccord_app1.pdf
 Japanese Government's submission to the United Nations Framework Convention ofn Climate Change, November 29i, 2013. https://unfccc.int/files/focus/mitigation/application/pdf/submission_by_the_government_of_japan.pdf
 UN, "Sustainable Development Goal #13: Taking Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and its Impacts. United Nations: Sustainable Development Platform. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg13
 Data of company actions listed in the table was collected by Junrai Sugiyama
Sustainable Business Programme