Since the UN launched its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, the initiative’s colorful graphics have become a common sight around Japan, adorning everything from lapel pins to online product pages. According to a survey by Rakuten’s consumer research arm Rakuten Insight, conducted from earlier this year until July, Japan’s enthusiasm for SDGs has escalated to new heights: An impressive 87.1% of those surveyed responded that they either knew or have heard of the goals, with nearly 40% professing a significant degree of familiarity with the initiative.
The result was an astonishing 36-point leap over findings from Rakuten Insight’s last survey conducted in 2020, which recorded just 50.7% of respondents having heard or known of the SDGs.
The recent survey selected a diverse group of 1,000 members of the Japanese public between the ages of 20 and 69 from Rakuten Insight’s pool of approximately 2.2 million monitors, publishing the results shortly before the annual Global Goals Week.
Translating awareness into action
While the Japanese public’s level of awareness of the SDG initiative is undoubtedly impressive, fewer respondents were able to point to any specific one of the UN’s 17 goals. The SDGs that enjoyed the most awareness in Japan were Good health and well-being (48.6%), Sustainable cities and communities (48.2%) and Affordable and clean energy (43.1%).
Further questioning highlighted a significant gap between understanding and action: Although 68.1% of respondents expressed a desire to take some sort of action on the SDGs, only around 12-13% expressed a concrete intention to act on any specific goal, prompting contemplation about the factors that impede translating awareness into tangible change.
But perhaps the Japanese public isn’t giving itself enough credit on the action front. The survey revealed that regardless of any intention towards SDGs, many in Japan continue to be mindful of the impact their everyday choices have on sustainability.
A staggering 92.0% of respondents revealed that they were taking some kind of action towards protecting the environment, whether that took the form of shopping with reusable bags (78.6%), conscientious energy-saving measures (69.6%), minimizing household food loss (64.8%) or conserving water (59.6%).
Looking at the demographic breakdown, women in their fifties emerged as environmental champions, consistently scoring some 10 points higher than the average across the most popular sustainable practices. Meanwhile, male respondents in their twenties lagged some 10-20 points behind, highlighting a stark generational and gender difference.
Rakuten Insight also probed Japan’s awareness of other social issues and initiatives, comparing the results with the 2020 data. Topics of note included food loss (93.8%, up 8.8pts), climate change (89.6%, up 3.6pts), gender equality (87.6%, up 17.6pts) and ethical consumption (34.1%, up 9.6pts).
Consumers want sustainable options
The survey also quizzed shoppers on how the SDG stance of companies influenced their purchasing decisions, with 30-40% indicating that it played a role when shopping.
When it comes to making sustainable choices, Rakuten users have a wealth of options. Earth Mall with Rakuten is a shopping platform that specifically curates sustainable products from online shopping mall Rakuten Ichiba in categories including organic, handmade, fair trade and more.
Other services like Rakuten Farm are working hard to make organic produce an everyday choice in Japan, while also pursuing a goal of boosting rural employment in Japan’s aging agricultural sector.
Rakuten Travel, meanwhile, has been particularly prolific on the environmental front, introducing an intuitive system to rate accommodation providers for their sustainability measures, allowing travelers to make green choices at a glance as they plan their trips.
In 2022, celebrating 25 years in business, Rakuten launched the Go Green Together initiative, publishing a set of tools to help Rakuten users educate themselves and get the community involved in sustainability measures. This tied into green promotions of Rakuten-owned J.League soccer team Vissel Kobe and baseball team the Rakuten Eagles, which introduced a number of sustainable initiatives such as upcycling old uniforms directly to team fans.
The events also coincided with the Rakuten Eagles achieving net 100% renewable energy for all of their operations – part of the Rakuten Group’s broader commitment to the RE100 initiative, through which Rakuten is pursuing an ambitious net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target.