The Japan Times Satoyama and ESG consortiums hosted an inaugural awards ceremony on Friday at Tokyo Midtown to recognize seven parties for their activities and contributions in their respective fields.
Satoyama refers to rural mountains and forests tended by residents for the sake of the sustainable use of existing natural resources. A similar concept in relation to the ocean is known as satoumi.
ESG stands for “environmental, social and governance.” These factors are increasingly considered essential for corporate management and activities as investors place more importance on this nonfinancial information.
The Japan Times launched both consortiums in 2018 to help disseminate information of engaging parties in English through covering their activities and organizing symposiums among other supportive measures.
The Japan Times Satoyama & ESG Awards were established with the aim of showcasing successful undertakings of organizations and creating opportunities for exchanges among relevant parties.
In the satoyama field, the Grand Prize was awarded to Kenya Katayama, mayor of the Hokkaido town of Niseko, while Chika Tsubouchi, CEO of Ghibli-Sendanmaru, as well as nonprofit Urushi Next, received the Excellence Award. Tottori Prefecture was presented the Special Award.
The judges for this category were Kosuke Motani, chief senior economist at the Japan Research Institute Ltd.; Takashi Mitachi, senior adviser of Boston Consulting Group K.K.; and Kyosuke Inoue, executive producer at public broadcaster NHK.
In selecting winners, the judges considered whether activities of related parties “contribute to the establishment of circular economy in the region utilizing resources from satoyama and satoumi.” “Innovation” in line with the region’s local history and current situation was another assessed angle, in addition to “sustainability” that enables them to continue their efforts in the region.
As mayor, Katayama is in his third term since first being elected in 2009. He has worked on various initiatives to boost tourism and strengthen the agricultural sector.
Niseko is internationally famous as a resort town with a variety of options for summer and winter sports, but the town is also known as the first municipality in the country in 2001 to implement a basic ordinance for a municipal government. It also enacted a landscape ordinance in 2004 to promote development in harmony with the environment and landscape.
The judges highly praised Katayama and the town’s position to retain and pass on the spirit of protecting and nurturing Niseko’s grand landscape.
Tsubouchi has been leading a group of fishing fleets based in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, since 2011, binding together the local fishermen.
The organization promotes the so-called sixth industry — the combination of the primary industry with processing and retailing. In 2014, Tsubouchi established Ghibli, a company that provides consultation to other fishing fleets and fishers across Japan. It also engages in tourism and the pearl jewelry business to rejuvenate the fishing industry.
Tsubouchi’s commitment to lead the fishing fleet and establish new routes of selling fish directly to restaurants and individual customers was highly praised by the judges, in addition to her efforts to preserve marine resources and promote tourism.
Based in Morioka, Urushi Next is headed by President Koji Shibata. It aims to create a society that recognizes the value of urushi (lacquer) and works on the protection, cultivation and utilization of lacquer, around 98 percent of which used domestically is imported from abroad.
To increase the country’s self-sufficiency ratio in urushi production, Urushi Next engages in growing seedlings, planting trees and developing new products using lacquer.
The scope of its activities, from increasing and utilizing urushi to passing on its culture, is “unprecedented,” according to the judges, who praised its efforts in transforming urushi production and preserving the tradition.
Led by Gov. Shinji Hirai, Tottori Prefecture is proactive in supporting the agricultural and forestry industry in hilly and mountainous areas, and has actively provided information on vacant properties in its municipalities through a specific system and its website.
Besides these initiatives, the judges cited the prefecture’s proactive dissemination of information in English; its efforts include providing grants for translation expenses to eateries.
In the ESG field, the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) was chosen as the Grand Prize winner, while Marui Group Co. and FP Corp. (FPCO) received the Excellence Award.
The judges were Michiyo Morisawa, Japan head of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project); Takatoshi Kato, adviser of the Japan Center for International Finance; Ken Shibusawa, chairman of Commons Asset Management Inc.; and Naonori Kimura, partner and managing director at Industrial Growth Platform Inc.
The recipients were selected based on a criteria centering around the parties popularizing the ESG concept and contributing to the realization of a sustainable society. The uniqueness and novelty of their activities were also evaluated. Additionally, proactive disclosure of information on their management and performance were considered.
GPIF is the world’s largest pension fund led by President Norihiro Takahashi. It has played a key role in promoting ESG investment in Japan after it signed the PRI in 2015 — a global initiative to advance responsible investment.
The judges said the organization has prompted information disclosure among companies and encouraged active communication between investors and firms. They also noted that GPIF’s initiatives have “contributed to the improvement of sustainability and in value for the capital market,” and “led the rapid expansion of ESG investment in Japan.”
Marui Group was recognized by the judges as “a model company” for implementing ESG elements in its management.
The major retail chain headed by President Hiroshi Aoi incorporates “inclusion” into the core of its daily business operation and future business strategy. It promotes a forward-looking Co-Creation Sustainability Management, which incorporates the environment, resolution of social issues and efforts on governance.
The judges described the company’s direction to realize an inclusive society through co-creation with stakeholders as being unique and clear-cut.
Leading food tray container manufacturer FPCO has been incorporating ESG efforts into its core business and daily operation for more than 25 years.
In 1990, the company started a system of collecting used food trays and using the recycled materials to create environmentally friendly products.
“The firm has succeeded in establishing its own collection networks across the country and helped spread environmentally friendly recycling efforts,” the judges said.
On the social front, the company led by President Morimasa Sato has engaged in promoting the employment of workers with disabilities, an effort that started in 1986.