In this series, the Rakuten Today team sits down with leaders working on sustainability across the Rakuten Group to better understand their mission within the organization and how they are driving Rakuten’s vision of a sustainable future for all.
In 2019, Rakuten Group, Inc. joined the RE100 initiative, making the commitment to switch to renewable energy for all business operations. This target was reached in just two years, prompting Rakuten to announce an even more ambitious goal: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from the entire Rakuten Group business operation – including consolidated subsidiaries – by the end of 2023*1.
Helping lead this charge is Koyuru Ohashi, Vice General Manager of Rakuten’s Environmental Department. We sat down with Ohashi for some insights on how to reach this target.
Step one: Optimization of energy use
As of 2021, Rakuten’s renewable energy adoption ratio for all Group companies and subsidiaries stood at 20.6%. Ohashi and her team are employing a range of strategies to tackle the remaining 80%.
“First, we’re looking to optimize how we use energy,” she explains. “Over 90% of Rakuten’s direct CO2 emissions come from electricity generation, so using electricity efficiently across the company is a major focus for us.”
It’s an undertaking that involves all facets of Rakuten’s diverse business portfolio: From offices to data centers and even sports facilities, lights are being switched to LEDs; regulations established around air-conditioning; and new technologies implemented to better visualize electricity use.
Ohashi highlights one high-tech solution currently used by Rakuten’s supermarket delivery business.
“They implemented an AI vehicle control system that uses machine learning to optimize the delivery routes of automated delivery vehicles,” she reveals. “This has led to a 15% reduction in overall distance traveled, which is expected to reduce annual CO2 emissions by 170 tons.”
Step two: Making the switch
But optimization is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Secondly, we’re switching the source of the energy we do use – to renewables,” Ohashi continues.
There are many types of renewable energy, each with different characteristics. Rakuten sets its own quality standards and recommends procurement of renewable energy aligned with the standards – as in the case of solar power on Rakuten Crimson House West and Rakuten STAY’s switch to renewable energy for key accommodation facilities in Japan.”
“Environmental projects like carbon neutrality obviously take time – you aren’t going to see results immediately. Despite this, we have set ourselves an ambitious timeline to take Rakuten’s business operations carbon neutral in 2023.”Koyuru Ohashi, Vice General Manager of Rakuten’s Environmental Department
Chasing this high standard is crucial to Rakuten’s green journey, Ohashi notes.
“Switching to renewables is obviously an important part of our environmental activities, but I also think that working to align with global quality standards has had a big impact on us.”
Finally, for energy use that cannot yet be switched to a renewable source, Ohashi’s team is making use of carbon credits.
“We are offsetting greenhouse gas emissions that we are unable to avoid through the acquisition of carbon credits. We’re looking to keep the use of these credits to a minimum, while choosing projects that adhere to Rakuten’s quality standards.”
Setting clear, short-term goals
Rakuten isn’t interested in waiting around for industry regulations to catch up, Ohashi stresses.
“Environmental projects like carbon neutrality obviously take time – you aren’t going to see results immediately,” she concedes. “Despite this, we have set ourselves an ambitious timeline to take Rakuten’s business operations carbon neutral in 2023.”
Ohashi cautions against companies aligning only with long-term climate goals.
“You see national governments around the world proposing their carbon neutrality targets for the year 2050, and it’s tempting to use this as justification to deprioritize your own climate change goals,” she warns. “But that would leave us in a situation where we’re chasing the tail of this social movement.”
This isn’t the position Ohashi wants Rakuten to fill: “In line with our goal of being a leading company, we’re looking to make this Group-wide commitment into something stronger and more realistic by setting clear, short-term goals.”
What comes after carbon neutrality?
Does a company’s green journey end at carbon neutrality? Ohashi promises that this is not the case for Rakuten.
“One primary area of focus in the future will be Scope 3 emissions – the emissions produced not directly by our business activities, but by other parts of our supply chain,” Ohashi reveals. “This is a much trickier issue.”
Carbon emissions resulting directly from a given company’s activities are defined by the GHG Protocol as Scope 1 emissions. Scope 2 refers to those created by the generation of electricity and other energy provided by other companies. Rakuten’s 2023 carbon neutrality target covers both of these categories.
Scope 3 emissions, meanwhile, are those produced by stakeholders operating outside of a company’s control.
“It is already difficult enough to get everyone within a company on the same page – to say nothing of extending this influence to other companies.”
Despite this, Ohashi believes it is necessary if Rakuten wants to make a real difference. “It’s an unavoidable step for any company looking to make real reductions.”
It’s not the only challenge companies looking to tackle Scope 3 emissions must face: Before they even embark on this journey, they must first define and calculate what emissions already exist.
“There is rarely only one answer. Even globally accepted rules regarding what is correct for the environment are few and vague.”Koyuru Ohashi
“It seems like an obvious task, but it is actually extremely difficult. Primary data is hard to obtain, without which it is impossible to make the necessary calculations,” Ohashi laments. “This means we need to make estimates based on secondary data. But these estimates often don’t reflect the results of carbon reduction efforts.”
Nevertheless, Ohashi hopes to use this year to establish systems and KPIs and start taking concrete action on Scope 3 emissions by 2024. She is also thinking beyond the scope of carbon reduction.
“Carbon neutrality – including that of our supply chains – isn’t possible only by reducing emissions. We would also like to move forward with business efforts for carbon removal – to capture and absorb the greenhouse gases we produce.”
Inspiring climate awareness
Since beginning her current post, Ohashi says that she finds herself contemplating a number of questions.
“Why do I make the choices I make? Why do I leave lights on at home in rooms I’m not using? Do I really need to buy this product? Why can’t we settle on unified global guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions? Is it less taxing on the environment to bring my own mug to the cafe or use a paper one?” she ponders. “I think about all of these questions every day with my family and colleagues, and we work out our own answers at that specific point in time.”
But these answers are continually changing, Ohashi says.
“There is rarely only one answer. Even globally accepted rules regarding what is correct for the environment are few and vague. Every day, we see new stories and hear new perspectives that are different from what we might encounter in our own lives, broadening our horizons,” she says. “Each of these new perspectives updates our answers to these questions. It’s as if we are continually blazing a new trail. I do feel a serious responsibility handling Rakuten Group’s long-term climate strategy, but it is fun to work towards creating this new normal, and I’m honored to do it.”
*1 Total of Scope 1 emissions (direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the company itself) and Scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions accompanying the use of heat, steam, and electricity supplied by other companies), with third-party verification obtained and estimated in accordance with the GHG Protocol, the international standard for estimating and reporting GHG emissions volume.