President Jan / Feb 2021

Sustainable practice, brighter tomorrow

With memories of Christmas and New Year holidays fast fading, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) was back to business on 14 January with an event entitled The Biodiversity Crisis and the Corporate Response. Thanks to BCCJ platinum member Refinitiv and the climate team at the British Embassy Tokyo, attendees were treated to insights from an outstanding panel of eminent speakers from the realms of government, business and the non-profit sector.

Core to our cause

In a year that will see the UK host the G7 summit and COP26 conference, climate change, bio­diversity and sustainability will never be far from the top of the agenda. For the BCCJ, sustainability is at the core of our programme of activity and inextricably linked to our purpose: that members make great connections with people who matter. For anyone who sees themselves as a steward of their business, with a long-term duty of care to stakeholders, sustainability matters.

The mission of national chambers of commerce around the world is invariably to promote bilateral trade and investment, and at the BCCJ we frame this as the promotion of sustainable economic growth in the UK and Japan. Accordingly, sustaina­bility is a recurring theme that underpins our three pillars of activity:

  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Digital and tech innovation
  • Responsible business

Priority check

In the modern world, it’s hard to see how most businesses can thrive long term if the environment and quality of life is degraded and biodiversity depleted. Covid-19 has challenged us to think, too, about what it means to be resilient, and there is now widespread acceptance that, to be so, firms must operate in a manner that is sustainable.

In many ways, this is common sense. But a reordering of priorities is required for firms to embrace it fully. Pressure for change has been building from a number of quarters though, and in ways that businesses cannot afford to ignore.

Institutional investors have become more vocal about the link between sustainable business practices and long-term growth potential. They are also increasingly willing to make their support conditional on management commitment to envi­ronmental, social and governance best practice. In this respect, last year’s public state­ment by three of the world’s largest pension funds—including Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund and the UK’s Universities Superannuation Scheme—was pivotal.

In tandem, worker activism is nudging employers to tackle social and environmental issues that reso­nate with their employees, parti­cu­larly Millennials and Gen Z, and customers are increasingly directing their purchasing power towards sustainable products and services.

Lastly, a shift in government policies is leading to regulatory adjustments in support of sustainable practice.

Meeting adversity

This focus on sustainability should give us cause for optimism that businesses will be able to attend to the needs of various stakeholders beyond their narrow shareholder base. Optimism is a good thing, fuelled by a sense of proportion about the perma­nence and pervasiveness of the challenges we face. No matter how difficult things may seem, it keeps us alert for the light at the end of the tunnel, gives us energy to navigate purposefully towards that, and inspires us to keep up the struggle in the face of adversity. This is something I hope all BCCJ members can keep in mind as we face the challenges of the year ahead. I am optimistic that the next 12 months will be much brighter and more positive for us all!