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Sustainability in Japan - A gaijin* perspective


*The word Gaijin is typically used to refer to foreigners of non-Asian ethnicities.

By: David Rincón, Managing Director DAABON Japan

Sustainability is a widespread word in Japan. Corporations and individuals are all “sustainable,” and the image reflected by the country and Japanese society globally is closely linked to this concept.

Apart from specific natural resources like water, fishery and forestry, the country must seek out all sorts of goods to satisfy the needs of its population. Japan has transformed into a heavily industrialized country since WWII with the corresponding consequences in terms of pollution and social problems. In addition, Japan has historically been subject to all kinds of natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and recently more attention has been given to unstable weather patterns triggering floods and droughts.

People are the center of Japanese society. This may sound obvious, but it has some interesting implications in a country that genuinely cares about its citizens. Although intimately connected, people, not nature, are the main priority for legislators and corporations, meaning that Mother Nature is meant to serve people, and not the other way around. In its effort to create a better society, Japan aims for inclusion and the participation of its own people, framed by certain key areas under the so-called 5 P’s concept: People, Prosperity, Planet, Peace and Partnership. Based on this concept people’s needs, not the planet, are on the top of the list.

Food is important for people, and palm oil is important for food, so it must be secured no matter what, and no matter how traceable it is.  Over the last years, more and more noise is being generated regarding how Japanese manufacturers approach sustainable palm oil supplies.  In 2015 only 37 companies used the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) logo, while more than 220 do so today. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics pushed this discussion forward because some of the large companies sponsoring the Olympics were severely questioned by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), foreign countries, and society at large, due to their non-sustainable practices. Several food manufacturers publicly declared they will use certified sustainable palm oil, but only in rare cases have they committed to using Identity Preserved (IP) or Segregated (SG) oils, instead opting for Mass Balance (MB), allowing them to blend large volumes of uncertified oil with small volumes of certified product, something that the average consumer would not question.

One of the largest noodle manufacturers in Japan and its MB credentials.

On the bright side, however, there is a subset of consumers and manufacturing companies that view things in a different way and believe people and the planet can live in harmony. DAABON Japan faces the challenging mission to continue seeking out these pioneers and innovators, to inspire others in the pursuit of new goals.

Certified Daabon’s palm kernel oil used by one of Japan largest cooperatives in a new liquid soap project.