That shirt you’re wearing: Where was it made? Who made it? What materials and techniques did they use?

These are some of the questions Rakuten wants to answer with the recent launch of Earth Mall with Rakuten.

Earth Mall with Rakuten boasts a wide selection of sustainable products — notably products with internationally recognized sustainable certifications.The new platform, which opened its virtual doors to shoppers late last year, boasts a wide selection of sustainable products — notably products with internationally recognized sustainable certifications, including Fairtrade, GOTS and other industry-specific standards. The platform also places significant focus on education, featuring in-depth articles that detail the stories behind the products on offer.

SDGs for the future

The project is the brainchild of Rakuten Sustainability expert Takayuki Mamabe, and has the stated aim of “making sustainable consumption the norm.” It came together through a collaboration between Rakuten Ichiba and Hakuhodo, a Japanese integrated marketing solutions company, with support from advisors such as Keio University Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) authority Dr. Norichika Kanie, a major advocate for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Keio University SDGs expert Dr. Norichika Kanie emphasized that Japan’s SDG journey has only just begun. “Japan’s level of investment in sustainability is still very small in scale, but it’s growing like crazy,” he said. “These goals aren’t a burden for society to bear, but rather an opportunity for growth.”

Keio University SDGs expert Dr. Norichika Kanie emphasized that Japan’s SDG journey has only just begun. “Japan’s level of investment in sustainability is still very small in scale, but it’s growing like crazy,” he said. “These goals aren’t a burden for society to bear, but rather an opportunity for growth.”

The SDGs were established in 2015 by the UN as a way to guide a global transformation into a more sustainable way of life. The 17 goals cover everything from ending hunger to fighting climate change, and are further broken up into 169 concrete targets.

With Earth Mall, Rakuten is targeting Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production, which aims to promote both sustainable consumption among the general population, as well as sustainable manufacturing practices among corporations.

“The great thing about the U.N.’s SDGs is that they are so closely tied to specific actions that anyone can take,” Kanie told members of the press at the Earth Mall launch event in Tokyo.

The targets under Goal 12 include things like halving the amount of food wastage per person by 2030, and promoting tourism that contributes to local economies in a sustainable way. “Many people think Goal 12 is all about the environment, but that’s only part of the picture,” explained Kanie. “It’s also strongly related to the economy, to society.”

Kanie emphasized that Japan’s SDG journey has only just begun. “Japan’s level of investment in sustainability is still very small in scale, but it’s growing like crazy,” he emphasized. “These goals aren’t a burden for society to bear, but rather an opportunity for growth.”

Making an invisible problem visible

Playing another advisory role for Earth Mall is Rika Sueyoshi of the Ethical Association.

Sueyoshi is an advocate for ethical consumption in Japan. She spends her time traveling to schools and teaching young Japanese people to think about the stories behind the products they use every day. “We want regular people to know what ethical consumption really means, and what they can do in their everyday lives.”

Earth Mall advisor and Ethical Association representative Rika Sueyoshi with a purse made of recycled aluminum can pull tabs.

Earth Mall advisor and Ethical Association representative Rika Sueyoshi with a purse made of recycled aluminum can pull tabs.

Sueyoshi emphasized the importance of awareness as the first step in solving the problem.

“The clothes each of you are wearing today, where did they come from? Who made them? How were they made? Not many people know,” she noted. “There is an impenetrable wall between consumers and the people who make the products they consume. Consumers can’t see what’s behind that wall, and that’s incredibly dangerous. There could be all sorts of problems — environmentally destructive practices, human rights violations, child labor…”

“If consumers don’t know what’s behind the wall, these problems will never emerge out of the darkness,” she continued. “A problem only becomes a problem when it becomes visible. So the most important thing we can do is be aware.”

Awareness is only the first step

“I’m truly happy that this project is happening,” Sueyoshi told media. “We have been spreading the message of ethical consumption for the past three years, but the most common question we get is ‘Okay, but what kind of products can we buy as consumers? Where do we go to buy them?’”

Sustainable products on display at the venue.

Sustainable products on display at the venue.

“If consumers want to shop ethically but don’t know where to do it, that’s a problem,” she explained. “This kind of thinking will never catch on if there’s nowhere to put it into practice. That’s why it’s so important that Rakuten and Hakuhodo have created this space to meet ethical consumers’ needs. I hope the Earth Mall helps create a new culture of ethical consumption.”

“Change society, the economy will change too”

Rakuten co-founder and Chief People Officer Masatada “Seichu” Kobayashi went into depth about Rakuten’s history of empowering local communities.

“We have led a variety of donation initiatives through Rakuten before, but this time it goes further than that,” Kobayashi explained. “This time we’re aiming to use Rakuten’s business assets to make an impact on society.”

“It’s not enough to simply try and change consumption. To change society, we need to change the environment for consumers. And if we can change society, the economy will change too,” said Rakuten co-founder and Chief People Officer Masatada “Seichu” Kobayashi.

“It’s not enough to simply try and change consumption. To change society, we need to change the environment for consumers. And if we can change society, the economy will change too,” said Rakuten co-founder and Chief People Officer Masatada “Seichu” Kobayashi.

Kobayashi made it clear that Rakuten wasn’t underestimating the task at hand. “It’s not enough to simply try and change consumption. To change society, we need to change the environment for consumers. And if we can change society, the economy will change too.”