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COVID-19 has changed a lot of our world, including the way corporations invest in sustainability. In Japan, the trend to step up under times of crisis is a long-standing trend. But is it necessary to always wait for a crisis before finding a deeper purpose to business?

Only a few months into the start of the pandemic, the 2020 G1 Global Conference brought together leading researchers, business leaders, and sustainability experts from all around the globe to discuss this very question.

Speakers:
Robert Alan Feldman, Senior Advisor, Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities, Co., Ltd. and Professor, Tokyo University of Science
Seiji Inagaki, President, Dai-ichi Life Holdings, Inc.
Miki Tsusaka, Managing Director & Senior Partner, Boston Consulting Group

Filmed during the G1 Global Conference (October 11, 2020)

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Transcript

What It Takes for a Corporation to Reconsider Sustainability Investments

Miki Tsusaka:

With all of what’s going on, can companies, should companies continue to invest in causes that are around SDGs (sustainable development goals), or is now, you know, not the time? Do they need to pull back?

I work with a company called Boston Consulting Group, and our research says—we’ve been doing investor pulse surveys every month since the crisis—51% of investors say they will continue, which means 49% are feeling a little bit of a pain.

How Japanese Corporations Invest in Sustainability under Pressure

Dr. Robert Alan Feldman:

I think my sense of Japanese companies is that, in fact, they’re probably accelerating. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but in this business environment, the role of business is actually to help solve social problems. We have problems with the environment. We have problems with aging. We have problems with the medical system. The role of business is to address these problems. And so if SDGs or ESG itself is the issue that society faces, the role of business is to come up with ways to solve those issues most effectively, most efficiently. And once we do that, that’s good business.

So my sense is that Japan is actually accelerating on that.

Another one is the importance of the climate issue. This is an issue that all of us face. It’s in our faces right now: too many typhoons, too many floods. This is also a huge opportunity for Japanese business. If we can move forward on the deregulation in the power business, in the energy business, there’s so much wonderful new technology now. Companies can implement that technology, make a lot of money, and help save the world at the same time. It’s a sanpo yoshi, I think is the Japanese phrase for it—”good for society, good for yourself, good for your workers.” I think that’s actually quite important. And I think Japanese companies are accelerating on this.

COVID-19: An Accelerant to ESG Investment?

Miki Tsusaka:

“Covid is an accelerant to ESG investments.” Inagaki-san, what is your view?

Seiji Inagaki:

I completely agree [with] you, what you have said. So Japanese companies are, well, resilient in times of crisis. What happened at the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami—a lot of companies invested in their communities, rather than the bottom-line profits. And I think that that’s the good part of Japanese companies.

But they don’t get serious until crisis hits. So that is a problem of Japanese companies (and my company also the same, I have to admit).

Under these times of crisis, we start to realize what we are here for. And so [with] life insurance, we internally discussed that our biggest stakeholders are the beneficiaries of death protection. So the next generation is our biggest stakeholder. But we don’t really realize that because, you know, we receive premium from the current policy holders. They are the payers, but not the beneficiaries. As an institutional investor, we have to maintain our investment returns. But at the same time, we have to secure the society for the next generation. So we got serious investing in those social impact investments and those climate-related initiatives.

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