Illustration by SANDER STUDIO.
In late 2018, Rakuten Ichiba consolidated its vast catalog of ethical products under a single roof with the launch of Earth Mall with Rakuten. After three years in business, Earth Mall shoppers can now choose from some 120,000 sustainable products, navigating via search or product category or browsing certification labels like Fair Trade, the Rainforest Alliance, GOTS and RSPO.
Shoppers are clearly taking notice. Over the first nine months of 2021, Earth Mall with Rakuten shoppers bought four times more than they did over the same period the previous year, while traffic jumped by a factor of almost five.
As awareness of sustainable topics such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals grows, more Japanese consumers are asking themselves, just how does one shop sustainably?
Last month, the team at Earth Mall with Rakuten decided to provide shoppers with a crash course on the basics, publishing a Guide to Sustainable Shopping (only in Japanese for the time being). Below are their eight keywords that every shopper should know.
1. Fair trade
As any coffee or chocolate aficionado will tell you, the concept of fair trade is far from new. Fair trade manufacturers engage in business with farmers and producers in developing countries in a continuous, equitable manner that respects local environments, promising to help raise local living standards by empowering financial independence.
Earth Mall with Rakuten’s catalog of fair trade products goes well beyond coffee and chocolate. The Sonnenglas solar lantern is one shining example: handmade in South Africa from recycled glass and metal, a built-in solar panel charges the integrated battery during the day to keep this lantern shining all night. Not only is it a popular item for inside the home or out in the wilderness, it also comes in handy if ever the power goes out.
2. Organic consumption
Whether it’s foods, beverages or textiles, organic products are another staple of ethical shopping. Produced without agrichemicals such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, many shoppers choose to go organic for the perceived health benefits.
But the benefits of organic consumption go beyond human health: be it plant ecosystems, animals or microorganisms, organic farming also leaves a considerably smaller impact on the natural environment.
Earth Mall with Rakuten shoppers can browse organic products under a number of different certifications, including GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), the U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic and EU Organic. Popular categories range from organic textiles such as masks and towels to tea, cooking oil and even snacks like the above USDA-certified Luke’s organic tortilla chips.
3. Sustainable seafood
As an island nation that has lived off the sea for millennia, responsible management of marine resources is an extremely important topic for Japan. Certifications such as the Agriculture and Food Marine Stewardship Council label guarantee that a seafood product has come from sustainable fishing practices, while the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and Best Aquaculture Practices labels certify its origin from a responsibly managed aquafarm with minimal impact on surrounding ecosystems.
Sustainably sourced seafood often goes hand-in-hand with organic production, and certified products such as Yarrah’s organic pet food are a popular choice with pet owners to keep their furry friends happy and healthy. By choosing these products, shoppers are also motivating producers to embrace more sustainable industry practices.
4. Eco-friendly shopping
Labels like those of the Forest Stewardship Council, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Rainforest Alliance guarantee products are made sustainably, either utilizing recycled materials or in factories powered by renewable energy.
When hearing the words ‘eco-friendly,’ many may think of paper products like recycled toilet paper, notebooks or masks; clothing made from recycled textiles; or perhaps eco-conscious soaps and detergents. Earth Mall with Rakuten has a broad selection of all of these categories, but there’s one very Japanese product you may have overlooked: instant ramen.
These noodles from Sakurai Foods are the first Japanese ramen to receive certification from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – and they cost just 152 yen each!
5. Animal welfare
Japanese consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the welfare of the livestock behind their favorite products. Even outside of the meat industry, items derived from animals, such as eggs, milk and wool, are receiving more scrutiny than ever, and consumers are looking for new ways to shop while paying respect to animals and their habitats.
The natural graze cattle that produce the milk in Nakahora Farm’s puddings roam free across 130 hectares of grassy hills in Japan’s northern Iwate Prefecture. The cows are said to have a harmonious relationship with their expansive grazing area, compacting the ground they tread to create the perfect conditions for strong grass that won’t wash away with rains and floods.
6. Rural revitalization
As Japan’s population continues to decline and young people leave the countryside to seek work in the major cities, the topic of rural revitalization is particularly relevant for many consumers. Not only does buying local give new life to rural businesses and provide an avenue for the survival of traditional crafts, it also contributes to job creation in struggling local economies, giving more reason for younger generations to stick around.
One local product that embraces eco-harmonious local manufacturing is the Kusu Handmade Eco Block. A workshop in Japan’s western Kyushu region uses leftover chunks of wood from native Camphor trees along with Camphor oil to craft natural moth-repellent boxes that can be stowed away with your off-season clothes for a mothball-free winter.
7. Social contribution
In addition to shopping for high-quality, ethical items for themselves, Earth Mall with Rakuten users also have the opportunity to help improve the living standards of the communities behind their purchases.
Whether it’s jewelry handmade by financially independent women in East Africa or sustainable reading glasses that raise money to support children’s education in Paraguay, Earth Mall offers plenty of meaningful shopping experiences.
Certified B-Corp SOKO works with women in developing countries in East Africa, securing fair incomes for stable artisanal work. Working towards a mission to elevate local traditional crafts to the global market, SOKO artisans create ethical jewelry like the above Globe Jacket Earrings, utilizing materials such as unused leather leftover from meat production, recycled pearls and sustainable wood.
The concept of universal design is also receiving more attention than ever before in Japan. Many global companies are proactively creating products that cater to a broad range of values, tastes and backgrounds, from organic vegan oat milk to non-alcoholic halal wines.
Minor Figures’ Organic Oat Milk is much more than just a pretty package: this vegan milk substitute was developed to pair perfectly with coffee, even down to how it foams — a crucial aspect of a good latte.