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ment tools (using quantitative measures and visual feedback to clarify challenges, targets, and progress), and standardization of CSR policies among domestic and overseas subsidiaries. Among the more progressive corporations, however, reporting by these divisions has gradually improved in respect to both quantity and quality.
By communicating our objective opinion regarding a company’s progress toward its own environmental and CSR goals on the basis of existing conditions and by identifying problem areas and suggesting future goals, we provide input critical to the C and A (check, act) phases of the PDCA cycle, helping supply a degree of discipline that is usually missing when all such evaluation is done internally.
Has Reporting Enhanced Public Trust?
The question remains: Have Japanese corporations succeeded in enhancing their credibility toward the public with respect to CSR?
One of the key tasks of NGOs like IIHOE is to prevent complacency and correct the innate tendency toward slanted, self-congratulatory reporting. Unfortunately, the influence of NGOs on the business community is relatively limited in Japan. This is one reason IIHOE, in partnership with NTT Resonant (operator of the environmental website Eco Goo and a member of NTT Group), has conducted an annual public opinion survey to monitor attitudes regarding sustainability reporting and CSR priorities. This survey, the only one of its kind in the world today, has expanded greatly in scope since it was first conducted in 2000. Initially limited to about 2,000 Japanese respondents, the sample now encompasses 30,000–40,000 residents in Japan and about 500 each in Britain, China, Germany, and Malaysia.
In the following, I review some of the key points we have gleaned from 14 years of research.
If we compare the results of the most recent (2013) survey with that carried out 10 years earlier (Table 2), we see a substantial decrease in the number of people who have either read or seen a sustainability (environmental or CSR) report, from 36.7% to 27.7%. Meanwhile, the portion with no prior awareness of such reports rose from 25.1% to a full 39.2%. Even making allowances for the 10-fold increase in sample size, these results are discouraging.
With regard to the content of companies’ sustainability reports, the percentage of respondents that deemed them either “quite trustworthy” or “fairly trustworthy” dropped from 54.2% to 47.9%. Yet the ratio that judged them “somewhat untrustworthy” or “completely untrustworthy” also dropped, from 12.3% to 9.9%. By
Table 2. Public Awareness of Environmental/CSR Reporting Source: NTT Group, “Kankyo/shakai hokokusho dokusha anketo” (Survey on Public Awareness of Environmental/CSR Reporting), 2003 and 2013.
contrast, those choosing the response “can’t say either way” rose from 33.0% to 41.8%. These trends may reflect the increasing complexity and detail of reporting in compliance with the GRI and ISO 26000 (social responsibility) guidelines, rendering the content difficult for the average reader to understand.
The survey also asked respondents which facets of CSR they considered most important for companies to report, choosing from the main GRI headings in the 2003 survey and from the ISO 26000 headings in 2013. The results are tabulated in Tables 3 and 4 below. In addition, in 2003 we were able to gather comparative data on the priorities of the reporting corporations themselves with the help of the Environmental Report Network (now the Sustainability Communication Network), an organization of corporate officers involved in environmental and CSR reporting (Table 3).
Since 2011, we have also been conducting the survey in selected countries overseas to gauge the perceived importance of CSR efforts under each of the ISO 26000 headings in Japan and overseas. Since then, a few noteworthy patterns have emerged.
First, Japanese respondents have consistently stressed the importance of labor and consumer issues, while respondents in Britain and Germany seem more concerned with human rights. Within Japan, a growing perception gap has emerged
Table 3. CSR Priorities for Citizens and Companies, 2003 Note: Numbers indicate the order in which the items were listed in the questionnaire.
Source: NTT Group, “Kankyo/shakai hokokusho dokusha anketo,” 2003.
between the younger and older generations with regard to the relative importance of various CSR topics. When asked to choose as many as three important CSR topics from the ISO 26000 core subjects, respondents aged 50 and over were most apt to choose the environment (selected by 62.9%), with labor practices coming in second (54.7%). Among respondent under 30 years of age, the top response was labor practices (66.5%), followed by the environment (48.5%).
Within Japanese companies, we see a similar gap between the attitudes of the rank-and-file employees and members of management. The former attaches greater importance to labor issues than the environment, while the latter tends to feel that the company has fulfilled its social responsibility with its environmental policies and often has no plans for addressing such labor issues as diversity and equal opportunity over the medium or long term.
Table 4. Perceived Importance of ISO 26000 CSR Topics (% responding “very important”) Source: NTT Group, “Kankyo/shakai hokokusho dokusha anketo,” 2013.
Figure 1. Perceived Importance of ISO 26000 Core Subjects by Country, 2013 (Choose Up to Three) Source: NTT Group, “Kankyo/shakai hokokusho dokusha anketo,” 2013.
From Dialogue to Engagement By illuminating perception gaps of this nature, our survey, we believe, has spurred CSR officers to push for new CSR initiatives and helped them make their case to executives and other corporate divisions. In this way, our survey is helping to raise the consciousness of Japanese CSR officers, and thereby contributing to the evolution of CSR policies and programs in Japan.
Each year the results of the latest survey are presented at the NTT Group’s Environmental/CSR Reporting Symposium, held in conjunction with the December Eco-Products exhibition, Japan’s largest environmental trade fair (sponsored by the Japan Environmental Management Association for Industry and Nikkei Inc.). For corporate employees involved in CSR, including personnel and procurement officers as well as CSR managers, the symposium has become one of the major events of the year. In addition to the survey results, each symposium features a panel discussion on a current CSR theme, chosen for its special relevance to Japanese business going forward.
A survey of the topics covered by the symposiums since 2000 (Table 5) underscores not only the evolution of CSR in Japan—including the shift from “monologue” to “dialogue” and the growth of efforts to stem climate change—but also
Table 5. Environmental/CSR Reporting Symposium Themes, 2000–2013 the maturation of our discourse on the subject, as we tackled such timely themes as global credibility and organizational diversity.
In terms of production and sales, Japanese corporations are already active, successful participants in the global economy. But their success over the next two decades will likely hinge on whether they can align their values and governance structures to international standards. The key here will be their willingness to engage with civil society in deliberating, deciding, and acting on social issues, instead of simply thinking and acting on their own. At IIHOE, we hope to do what we can to encourage and support the kind of effective global engagement needed to maintain the prestige and popularity of Japanese brands around the world. (Researched by Zentaro Kamei, Tokyo Foundation)
June 29, 2015 Identifying Materiality through Stakeholder Engagement Sompo Japan Nipponkoa The Tokyo Foundation Sompo Japan Nipponkoa is a nonlife insurance company that volunteered its office work expertise in support of areas affected by the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
It is also unique in emphasizing dialogue with stakeholders to identify key issues for its CSR initiatives. The following is from the section on “Businesses Driving Positive Social Change” of the Tokyo Foundation’s CSR White Book 2014.
* * * I nsurance is a scheme by which subscribers pay fixed premiums to prepare for future risks and unforeseen accidents, and it can be regarded a system of mutual assistance. Some insurance schemes are run by the government, including those for healthcare, pensions, unemployment, and seafaring workers. But others, such as life insurance and nonlife insurance, are generally the responsibility of the private sector.
The irony for insurance companies like Sompo Japan Nipponkoa and their employees is that it is during disasters, accidents, and other unwanted situations for their subscribers that they become most useful in society. This is because insurance companies perform their most important function—making payments—when subscribers are in the worst of situations.
This was especially true in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, when more than 3,000 Sompo employees were mobilized to meet the needs of those affected. The company had two key objectives: (1) to make insurance payments as quickly as possible and (2) to provide uninterrupted services, such as for new contracts. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster it sent support staff to the affected areas, set up an emergency response headquarters, conducted assessments of the situation on the ground, and addressed customer inquiries. The number of cases it handled was the largest in the company’s history.
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For victims of a disaster, the money they receive from their insurance company is the first step toward rebuilding their lives. Seeing people doing their best to face up to a difficult situation gave many Sompo employees a renewed appreciation of the role and raison d’être of an insurance company.
The company’s exposure to the disaster zone prompted a reassessment of its work in other ways as well. Working as volunteers in the affected areas and collecting donations were obviously quite helpful, but Sompo employees could make an even bigger contribution by offering their professional expertise, honed in the course of their daily work.
One such skill is the ability to process very technical paperwork, which is part of a nonlife insurer’s work of collecting premiums and making payments. Like banking and life insurance, this involves handling customers’ valued assets, so mistakes are not permitted. A huge volume of forms must be processed and accidents dealt with on a daily basis. A disaster on a scale of the Great East Japan Earthquake requires sophisticated and precise workflow to assess the damage and make payments. This might appear to be a matter of course for an insurance company, but predicting peak administrative volume and creating and continually improving the workflow for error-free operations requires great skill.
One example of how the company used its expertise was its administrative support for CANNUS Tohoku, an NGO operating along the Miyagi coast near Ishinomaki. CANNUS is a national organization headquartered in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, that registers and dispatches volunteer visiting nurses to provide medical and nursing care in the local community.
CANNUS Tohoku was set up following the March 2011 earthquake and has played a valuable role in providing a range of physical and mental healthcare services for the elderly. With volunteer nurses focused on meeting the caring needs of residents in the community, though, the CANNUS office faced a backlog of paperwork, resulting in failures to fully share information, especially when work was handed over to new volunteers. With its resources overstretched, the NGO was unable to keep systematic records of what the community lacked, hindering efforts to petition the authorities for fresh supplies. Visiting nurses often experienced long delays before their travel expenses were reimbursed, and opportunities to apply for grants came and went for lack of familiarity with the application procedures.
CANNUS Tohoku was exactly the kind of organization that could use Sompo’s
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administrative expertise. After confirming this hunch, the insurance company dispatched 10 employees to work at the local office for three months.
The Sompo staff reorganized CANNUS Tohoku’s workflow. The employees even provided training in such areas as creating a user database, identifying local healthcare and welfare needs, using report forms and spreadsheet software, and applying for grants so that local workers would be able to handle these tasks on their own once Sompo left.
Such assistance ensured the sustainability of CANNUS Tohoku’s operations and enhanced the usefulness of its services to the local community. It also had the effect of heightening Sompo employees’ awareness of their own skills as office professionals—expertise that could be shared to assist the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas. Traveling to tsunami-affected areas to help clear debris, which many volunteers from around the country did, was not only way to help; they realized that they could put the skills they had acquired on the job to make an important contribution. They also gained a deeper understanding of the value of working as a group. These insights will no doubt have a great impact on their careers, as they now have a fuller grasp of the significance of their jobs.
Attendance at the Rio Summit