Japan SDGs Award recognizes innovators leading the way in sustainability JAPAN Forward


As the year drew to a close on December 24, 2021, thirteen Japanese innovators gathered at the Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo, Japan. Their goal: to create a sustainable society in Japan and around the world. They were there to be recognized for their breakthrough innovation, collaboration and commitment.

Among a large number of nominations, IZUMO Mitsuru, founder of the Japanese biotechnology company Euglena, was one of those who received special recognition.

“We are still in the middle of our journey, but receiving the award is a symbol of support for the progress we are making towards the SDGs,” Mr. Izumo said upon accepting the award.

Euglena President IZUMO Mitsuru with children in Bangladesh. (Courtesy of Euglena)

He runs a Japanese biotechnology company that consciously puts its resources and technology at the service of refugees and creates jobs for poor farmers in Bangladesh.

The company’s groundbreaking innovation and perseverance in working in Bangladesh earned Euglena the highest honor at the 5th Japan SDG Awards. The award, along with associated awards from other officials, were created in 2017 promote a wide range of actions in favor of sustainable development.

In fact, Japan is engaging all levels of society in this effort, and its SDG action plan for 2022 was the focus of the 11th meeting of the Headquarters for the promotion of the SDGs the same day.

“Addressing economic, social and environmental issues holistically, the SDGs are an important compass for overcoming the unprecedented crises of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the climate crisis,” said Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio addressing the meeting.

Euglena symbolizes grassroots efforts towards this goal. The company’s philosophy is “Sustainability First”.

Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio during a speech on December 24, 2021 (courtesy of the Government of Japan).

“We will continue to drive our business forward towards solving the problems in Bangladesh, with a firm determination to achieve sustainable development for people and the planet,” President Izumo pledged upon receiving the award.

Euglene is not alone. A growing number of local governments and NGOs/NPOs are using their resources and technology, making remarkable efforts on the ground.

It is a testament to the growing awareness towards the SDGs, that hundreds of organizations are competing for this prize which has no financial price.

very important compass

“By combining the wisdom of various stakeholdersincluding civil society, private businesses and the government, Japan will take concrete action both at home and abroad,” then-foreign minister Kishida pledged in 2017.

The SDG Action Plan and the Japanese SDG Prize are manifestations of this goal. This also goes hand in hand with the will of the Prime Minister determination realizing the “new form of capitalism” he advocates and advancing the SDGs.

“Through these activities, we will achieve a new form of capitalism that creates a sustainable economy through a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution,” Mr. Kishida said, adding “and lead efforts to address the challenge facing our world and our time are facing: the achievement of the SDGs.

Awards for Grassroots Efforts in Healthcare and Microfinance

In addition to the SDG Leader Award, the 2021 Deputy Leader Awards and Special Awards honored several companies and organizations for their efforts in promoting the SDGs.

eboard, one of the winners of the Sous Chef Awards. (Courtesy of eboard)

the Sous Chefs Awards are recommended by the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and have been awarded to five organisations. One of the winners was eboardan NPO in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, which ensures educational opportunities for children with learning difficulties by providing subtitles for video lessons.

Another recipient was HAKKI AFRICA Incwho was credited for developing microfinance services for taxi drivers in Kenya.

A total of 13 organizations received accolades, including special awards.

A prize that makes sense but without money

A distinctive feature of the awards is that the members of the SDG Advocacy Roundtable are the ones who review the projects selected for recognition. The round table itself is made up of NGOs, NPOs, experts, private companies and international organizations.

The 2021 awards saw several highly regarded works from the younger generation. The Nanyo Company Club of Nanyo High School in Aichi Prefecture in Nagoya City was selected as the winner of the special award for the development of fair trade and carbon offset products.

Although the awards do not come with cash prizes, there were over 280 entries in the first year. Since then, approximately 300 companies and organizations have applied each year, representing a cumulative total of approximately 1,500 applications to date.

Representative of the Nanyo Company Club of Nanyo High School in Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya (courtesy of the Government of Japan).

Are the SDGs the new buzzword?

2021 can be called the “first year of the SDGs” for Japan. The term “SDGs” was one of the nominees for the 2021 U-Can New Words and Buzzword Award, which selects the most popular words of the year from The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words.

In a survey by ING, a financial services company, of the 100 respondents who were high school students, 86.0% were “somewhat familiar with (38.0%),” “familiar with (30.0%) or “have heard of (18.0%)” the SDGs, far exceeding those who “don’t know (14.0%)”. Of the 17 SDGs, “achieving gender equality” received the highest level of interest at 51.0% (multiple responses were allowed).

The objective of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), predecessors of the SDGs, was to reduce poverty in developing countries. The SDGs, on the other hand, aim to address a wide range of issues that transcend the distinction between developed and developing countries, encouraging people to recognize issues as “personal matters”. This, in turn, led to greater awareness.

The Japanese government’s SDG award, as well as SDG awards sponsored by the media, various companies and local governments, have greatly contributed to raising awareness of the SDGs. Companies have incorporated the SDGs into their management plans and leveraged them for investment and branding. More and more people wear the SDG pin, with its 17 colors, each representing an SDG goal.

Work hand in hand

The conflict between developed countries, which are obliged to reduce their emissions, and developing countries, which are not obliged to do so, was at the center of the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate. Change (UNFCCC). The meeting provides a forum for discussing measures to combat global warming. By including the discussion of global warming, however, the SDGs aim to achieve the goals through empathy and cooperation, and by “leaving no one behind.”

This is an area where Japan has valuable expertise. The country has managed the spread of the new coronavirus through voluntary restrictions on the behavior of its citizens, such as vaccinations and the wearing of masks, instead of implementing lockdowns like many other countries. Expectations are high for the success of the pan-Japanese initiative.

Japan has been proactive in assessing the progress of SDG measures by viewing SDG-related budgets, setting priorities for the SDG action plan, and issuing two virtual press releases.

“Asia’s zero-emissions transformation is a driver for the Japanese economy, and we plan to support it to the best of our abilities,” the Japanese Prime Minister said at COP26 in November 2021.

The UN Decade of Action is now less than eight years away. In 2023, Japan will assume the presidency of the G7 and assume the great responsibility of playing a leading role in achieving the goals of the SDGs set by the international community.

Continued in part 2

Author: SUGIURA Mika


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