Sustainability in Japan: Journeying towards a more integrated sustainability


Sustainability is by no means new to Japan. Renowned for traditions like mottainai (minimising waste), osusowake (sharing of goods or profit), and sanpo yoshi (business that benefits buyer, seller and society) and with more longstanding businesses than any other country in the world, in some senses Japan has long been ahead of the game.

Yet now, as the world faces up to ever more urgent and complex challenges, a broader, global and integrated idea of sustainability is becoming commonplace, and Japan finds itself falling behind global standards. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are lauded by experts, and gaining traction with brands and consumers alike, present a more complex and comprehensive framework. Japan currently ranks 17/166 in terms of global SDG performance, but improvement areas are clear: gender equality, climate action and conserving life on land and below water. Other notable sustainability challenges for Japan include managing the super-ageing population, decarbonising energy generation, reducing plastic waste and curbing food loss.

Complex challenges such as these require complex solutions, which are beyond the reach of any single actor or even sector. Japanese consumers tend to look to government to take action, but also have high expectations for brands, rewarding those they think are playing an active role in creating value for themselves and society with loyalty (30% of consumers claim they try to buy from brands that do good, up 14% from two years ago). Brands clearly have both a responsibility to act and an opportunity in doing so.

Japanese consumer purchase behaviour 2019–2021

Yet many brands are struggling in this endeavour. A series of in-depth interviews with leaders from a variety of brands (ranging from automotive to apparel to engineering) revealed a shared belief that sustainable business practices would inevitably become ubiquitous, albeit at different levels of commitment and action. Current pressures to act more sustainably at a product, brand and organisational level are, they felt, pointing towards a “tipping point moment”, that, as with technological evolution, may play out differently in Japan compared to the rest of the world. In the meantime, each brand is on its own journey towards that new normal.

There is a consumer journey too, of course, and distinct consumers groups can be observed at each point, ranging from Negative Engagement (5% of the population who actively voice antipathy towards sustainability) to High Engagement (4% of the population who obsess about issues such as plastic waste and meticulously research products and their supply chains before buying). 65% of Japanese consumers fall into the Low Engagement category, who care more about immediate concerns such as price or convenience. Although lack of time and financial resources makes sustainability inaccessible to this majority group, they do display certain sustainable behaviours — such as carrying eco-bags or recycling bathwater to wash clothes — albeit primarily for the purpose of saving time or money. The Light Engagement category comprises 17% of consumers, who make more of a conscious effort, but often lack the information or motivation to significantly alter their behaviour. Moderate Engagement consumers (9%), on the other hand, are attracted to sustainability as a nice-to-have, worth pay a premium for when successfully integrated with top-of-mind benefits such as design or health. The key takeaway for brand communication and innovation is to meet consumers where they are at, while staying true to what one can currently credibly offer.

Japanese consumer engagement with Sustainability 2021

Brands journeys towards sustainability are inevitably intertwined with those of their consumers. As a more integrated understanding of sustainability seeps through to the public consciousness, we can expect to see consumers moving up the ladder of engagement. Factors other than immediate self-interest will increasingly drive purchase decisions, compelling brands to continue refining their offering. Ironically, Japan’s original brand of sustainability — the circular culture of mottainai, and the stakeholder capitalism of sanpo yoshi — are now more relevant than ever as creating shared value, rather than profit alone, becomes the accepted goal of business. The “father of Japanese capitalism”, Eiichi Shibusawa is indeed soon to be honoured on ¥10,000 notes, a constant reminder of brands and businesses integration into society.

The new social fabric calls for both individuals and brands to expand their view to fully integrate economic, social and environmental responsibility, to recognise the urgency of our current situation, and to make every action count.

This is an excerpt from “The State of Sustainability in Japan 2021”, a proprietary research study by Fabric. Get the full report on our website.




Japanese consumer purchase behaviour 2019–2021


そこには、カスタマージャーニーが存在し、「エンゲージメントは皆無」(持続可能性に対して積極的に反感を表明する人口の5%)から「エンゲージメントは高い」(人口の4%、プラスチック廃棄物などの問題や、購入前に製品とそのサプライチェーンを綿密に調査する)まで、各ポイントで異なる消費者グループを確認することができる。 日本の消費者の65%は低いエンゲージメントレベルの集団が占めており、購買判断は、コストや利便性といった差し迫った関心に支配されている。リサイクルの実践やエコバッグの持参といったサステナブルな行動を見せる人もいるが、たいていは「偶然的サステナビリティ」の一種として意図せず行っている。「エンゲージメントが軽微」な集団は、日本の消費者の17%を占めており、サステナブルな行動をとる努力への意識はいくぶん高めである。また、さらなる努力を行うための情報や動機がしばしば欠けている。一方、「中程度の関与」の消費者(9%)は、サステナビリティを「あったほうが良い」要素として捉えており、デザインや健康などの最重要項目とうまく融合させることができれば、さらなるコストを支払う価値があると考えている。ブランドコミュニケーションとイノベーションのための重要なポイントは、信頼できるオファーに忠実でありながら、消費者の置かれている状況に対応していくことである。

Japanese consumer engagement with Sustainability 2021



こちらはFabric独自の大規模調査「2021年日本におけるサステナビリティの現状」からの抜粋です。 fbrc.coで全レポートの入手が可能です。



We’re a strategic consultancy helping businesses reframe problems to create shared value with customers and communities.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

We’re a strategic consultancy helping businesses reframe problems to create shared value with customers and communities.