Growing awareness of corporate social responsibility was praised as favorable progress for Japan at a symposium in Tokyo earlier this week.

The meeting, hosted by the Japanese branch of the Switzerland-based Caux Round Table, was held to discuss the significance of CSR in modern business management.

Stephen B. Young, global executive director of CRT, described the change in Japanese business practice as a very positive shift, a sign that firms are beginning to focus not merely on profits, but on how they should work and behave.

Young said that “intangible factors,” such as a firm’s customer relations and comprehensive market research, are key to forming successful social responsibility strategies. These factors were key to the success of Starbucks Corp. and Boeing Co., he noted.

Keitaro Suga, head of Nissan Motor Co.’s CSR department, said the automaker also set up a system to govern the management of the company and enforce its social responsibility philosophy.

He said his team decided to evaluate Nissan’s strengths and weaknesses by interviewing board members and general managers. This gave his team an indication of how Nissan should approach its future goals and what those goals should be.

“Continuing on the track of sustainable growth, while caring about the world environment and society’s needs, ultimately makes a healthy company,” he said. “In other words, there will be huge damage if the two aren’t in balance.”

In explaining a three-year timeline to establish Nissan’s CSR program, Suga pointed out that the project’s future goal is to set performance indicators that quantify the firm’s objectives and achievements.

The resurgent carmaker also publishes the “Sustainability Report,” which tells shareholders about what Nissan is doing to improve CSR activities. Nissan believes such reports are needed to gain shareholder trust and are key to growth.

Toru Hashimoto, chairman of Deutsche Securities Inc., said the brokerage’s CSR activities have included participating in local charity events, sponsoring young artists and helping with the 2005 Special Winter Olympics in Nagano.

“Accomplishing social responsibilities and caring for the community should be included in the basics of a company’s activities,” he said.

Hiroshi Ishida, executive director of CRT Japan, concluded by saying that while academics have long debated the issue of innovating CSR strategy, “utilization of its initiative in the business field is just beginning to take place.”

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