by Debbie Howard
While the green branding and sustainable product market in Japan may trail that of other developed countries, you can’t say that it hasn’t made a splash. Starting as early as 2007, JMRN noticed that there was a strengthening demand for authenticity as many Japanese consumers were looking to move away from mass manufacturing and more toward “eco-intelligence.” Several events and over a decade later, that demand has continued to flourish.
Demand hasn’t lessened but sentiments have changed
Today, issues such as climate change, plastic pollution, and food waste are trending daily across media platforms raising consumer awareness to entirely new levels. But it is that very same rise in consumer awareness that poses unique challenges for the green marketplace. Being aware of social and environmental issues also means being aware of corporate issues. Today’s companies need to dig deeper to be successful with a wiser – and perhaps more cynical – consumer base when branding green.
Social Development Goals set a new paradigm for Corporate Social Responsibility
The global uptake of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 set a new paradigm for sustainability across many sectors. In Japan, this is most clearly reflected in the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics’ sustainability platform, Companies in Japan are being held to a higher standard of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) today. While the terms, green, sustainable, eco-friendly, fair trade, and zero waste are becoming integrated into Japanese consumer culture. companies that don’t ‘green brand’ from the ground up run the risk of not being taken seriously.
The Japanese government adopts the UN’s SDGs
On May 20, 2016, the Government of Japan established a new Cabinet body called the “SDGs Promotion Headquarters”, and released its guidelines for Japan’s implementation of the SDGs later in the year. Efforts made by other stakeholders, such as NPOs and NGOs, private companies, local governments, and the science community to promote the SDGs have begun to further spread public awareness.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics sustainability policy to govern supply chains, products, and services
The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games committees have been buzzing about responsible products and services. Tokyo 2020 has integrated the SDGs into its platform, with the slogan “Be better, together – for the planet and the people” and has outlined a sustainability policy which aims to include sustainability practices in all aspects of the Olympic games. This is a pivotal moment for Japan to show the world its commitment to society, the economy, and the environment. Tokyo 2020 has even developed a Sustainable Sourcing Code as a tool to ensure sustainability throughout supply chains, products, and services.
Consumers think products at the Olympics should be sustainable
In a 2017 survey regarding products to be sold to attendees (and provided to athletes) at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, over half of the respondents were in favor of products that take the environment, people and society into consideration Beyond surveys, the growing presence of zero waste groups on social media, organizations that support sustainable brands and products, and online sustainable brand publications reflect a scalable interest in the underlying themes represented by green branding.
Green-washing leaves consumers skeptical of green branding
The deep cultural roots of the Japanese concept, mottainai (too good to waste) implies that Japanese consumers might be a fair fit for a brand that portrays itself as sustainable and eco-friendly. But the growing number of green-washing cases and corporate fraud has left consumers highly skeptical of corporate claims. Corporations have come under pressure to prove and measure their impact on human rights, the environment and the impact of those they might contract with for their supply chains. Advertising giant Dentsu has even issued a Greenwash Guide to enhance employee knowledge and mitigate the risk of greenwashing in advertising.
Japanese consumers are more frugal today
Following the bubble burst of the ’90s and the economic downturn of 2008, Japanese consumers have become more frugal. The disappearance of life-long jobs and the increase in part-time and temporary labor has left a harsh mark on the consumer mindset. An example of this is the rise of second-hand stores in spite of the cultural anathema towards pre-owned goods which has been traditionally passed down through the Shinto belief of Tsukumogami’ (previously mistreated objects coming to life and punishing their current owners). In today’s frugal market climate, the likelihood of consumers paying a premium for a green branded product on faith alone is slim.
Great East Japan Earthquake ushers in a shift in values
In addition, the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake catalyzed a marked shift in values which favors connectivity with others and society as a whole. People became more socially conscious after the disaster in Fukushima. The combination of frugality with this shift in values towards social awareness has served to catalyze a steady trend toward more ethical consumption in general. To tap into this trend, companies need to engage consumers with a sustainable philosophy, and this starts with a story that consumers can both get behind with their hearts, and substantiate with their heads.
Corporate Social Responsibility benefits the bottom line
Organizations today have to first be ethically aware of their products, materials and supply chains, and then be transparent about them to gain consumers’ trust. Increased CSR with the incorporation of SDGs, or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices, not only enhances brand image, but can also lead to the development of innovative products and services, new markets, better stakeholder relations, and increased employee motivation. This translates to increased sales, more efficient risk avoidance, and higher productivity.
Green Branding needs to grow from the inside out
Clever companies harness the essence of the frugality innate in the theory of sustainability and weave it into a corporate story that resonates with today’s more frugal consumers. To conquer consumer skepticism, a mission statement clearly aligned with pre-established sustainable precepts, such as the SDGs, should be transparent and proven through philanthropic and environmental endeavors. By appealing to the common sense of frugal consumers, and vanquishing their skepticism with evidence, companies angling toward the green marketplace have a much better chance of winning over the hearts and minds of today’s seasoned socially conscious consumers.
As one of four Japanese societal macro trends monitored regularly by CarterJMRN (along with Women Power, the Changing World of Work, and Internationalization), Generational Dynamicsimpact consumer behavior across many age groups as attitudes toward work continue to evolve in relation to lifestyle, including availability and use of personal and leisure time.
Creative Commons image via unsplash.com