The application of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being promoted in organizational management in a variety of realms. The SDGs are also being focused on as one of the essential parts of the management of local governments and cities, and practical initiatives are being conducted. This paper explains the characteristics of the SDGs and the methods of thinking behind them, introduces practical initiatives carried out by Japanese local governments and presents the points of view expected for future developments.
Japanese companies and local governments focus on the keywords of the SDGs, and practical initiatives and applications by a wide range of actors are being promoted as common goals pursued globally.
For example, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Reports are intended to fulfill accountability for how individual companies regard their relationships with diverse stakeholders in society and what roles and duties they carry out in those relationships. They are released every year by almost all listed companies. In the last few years, CSR reports have often included descriptions premised on the SDGs. In addition, some companies apply the framework of the SDGs to booklets like Corporate Data, introducing and explaining themselves in their entirety, as well as CSR reports (Hitachi Ltd., Saraya Co. Ltd, etc.).
Companies regard the SDGs as a concept for not only advocating their corporate philosophies but also for defining specific strategies and activities in their main businesses. Companies also evaluate and examine their own situations in light of the SDGs. This move is also becoming important as part of corporate investor relations (IR) activities.
Japanese local governments are regarding their comprehensive plans at the very top of planning structure in the context of the ways of thinking behind the SDGs and the pivot of evaluation. Local governments are attempting to work on the SDGs at their own initiative. They are applying the SDGs to the comprehensive strategies of regional revitalization and are revising and promoting environmental plans.
First of all, this paper explains the background of and ways of thinking behind these trendy SDGs. For this explanation, this paper provides explanations from the viewpoint of the five implementation principles of the SDGs—universality, inclusiveness, participatory, integration, and transparency and accountability. The paper then introduces practical initiatives carried out by Japanese local governments and explains the question of making plans comprehensive, which is expected for future developments.
The SDGs are common global goals for realizing a sustainable society by 2030, which were adopted as the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the United Nations headquarters in New York in September 2015.
The MDGs, formulated ahead of the SDGs, were adopted by the United Nations in September 2000 as 8 Goals for the international community to achieve by 2015 with a focus on solving the issues facing developing countries (Fig. 1).
Fifteen years of initiatives for the MDGs produced a certain level of results. Based on this experience, people came to recognize the importance of including developed countries as well as developing countries in the targets, and of diverse actors collaborating to create a world in which everyone can continue to live.
The SDGs, adopted by the United Nations, target all countries, including developed countries as well as developing countries, with a focus on universality. In addition, the MDGs set 8 Goals for developing countries to achieve and 21 targets that specify the details of these goals. The SDGs set 17 goals and 169 targets in consideration of the initiatives carried out by developed countries (Fig. 2).
The Development Goals included in the terminology of the SDGs tend to be thought of as goals for developing countries to achieve with the cooperation of developed countries in development. But the SDGs set the goal of realizing a sustainable society by 2030 as universal goals for all countries and regions to tackle, including developed countries as well as developing countries. In fact, many of the targets related to goals 7-12 of the SDGs are difficult to achieve unless developed countries as well as developing countries conduct concrete practical initiatives.
In addition, it is also important for developed countries to tackle their domestic challenges. It is also expected to produce further effects by providing developing countries globally with approaches and products created through trial and error for solving issues in developed countries (Tamamura, 2018-04-09).
The ways of thinking behind the SDGs, which are pursued as common goals with global common universality targeting all countries (all people), also have inclusiveness represented by the philosophy of leaving no one behind, and the viewpoint of individual goals and targets is also challenging. For example, the goal “1: No Poverty” says “1.1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the goal “3: Good Health and Well-Being” says “3.2 By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.” These targets are quite challenging.
To pursue the achievement of these challenging goals, the activities of the public sector alone are limited, and it is necessary for diverse actors, including the private sector and civil societies (the central government, local governments, businesses, NGOs/NPOs, civil societies and universities and other research institutes), to play a role and cooperate and collaborate in working on the goals. The SDGs came to have the characteristic of participatory involving these diverse actors.
In addition, challenging goals require the whole world to practice technological and social innovation and change lifestyles. In this sense, the principle of participatory involving diverse actors is important.
According to an estimate released by the World Economic Forum, advancing the SDGs will create 12 trillion dollars in value and 380 million jobs. Attempts for the ideal future to be realized globally are estimated to be effective for the economy and employment.
The MDGs simply had 8 goals and 21 targets, while the SDGs have as many as 17 goals and 169 targets. The goals of the SDGs deal comprehensively with social issues and regard them as not only things to be pursued individually but also things that influence each other. As social issues often influence each other, if you work on individual goals and targets, they will be linked to each other.
In addition, initiatives for realizing the SDGs will be able to produce effects more easily through an integrated approach to issues from the viewpoints of society, economy and environment. The SDGs also feature this way of thinking with universality.
The SDGs take the backcasting-type approach of drawing up current policies and strategies by calculating the ideal state of affairs in 2030 and of continuing to examine and improve the policies and strategies.
The forecasting-type approach of drawing up and implementing immediately feasible plans based on past achievements and circumstances generally took so much time to achieve coordination and involved thinking based on current activities and resources that it tended to be difficult to create a new attempt.
The SDGs prompt various attempts by setting common goals first as a backcasting-type approach and also make it easier to follow up with transparency and accountability in regular examinations.
In this section, I explain Japanese measures and practical initiatives carried out by local governments with regard to the SDGs with these five implementation principles (universality, inclusiveness, participatory, integration, and transparency and accountability).
In Japan, an SDGs Promotion Headquarters was established in May 2016 with the Prime Minister as Chief, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Foreign Minister as Deputy-chiefs and all other Cabinet ministers as members, keeping in mind both the domestic implementation of the SDGs and international cooperation. In addition, an SDGs Promotion Roundtable Meeting in which diverse actors gather and exchange opinions was also established within the SDGs Promotion Headquarters. In December 2016, a Guideline for SDGs Implementation in Japan was formulated at the Headquarters in this structure on the basis of opinions exchanged at the Roundtable Meeting and public comments. In addition, the SDGs Action Plan 2018 was formulated in December 2017, the SDGs Action Plan 2019 was formulated in December 2018, and concrete measures were taken.
In the Japanese Guideline for SDGs Implementation, the following 8 priority areas are specified. (The SDGs Action Plan is scheduled to be revised in late 2019.)
In addition, the SDGs Action Plan 2019 for working on the priority issues specified the following three pillars, and concrete measures are taken.
Japanese local governments also play an important role in promoting the SDGs. Local governments play a role not only in regional revitalization but also in terms of society, economy and environment in local communities. Local governments are expected to be the engine of promotion of the SDGs in local communities.
The fact that the SDGs are common goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and that the central government carries out a national policy by establishing the SDGs Promotion Headquarters may encourage local governments to regard them as a new keyword for a new challenge.
But Japanese local regions already have experiences and achievements of diverse actors working on social issues. The promotion of the SDGs by local governments is about urging new attempts by reorganizing the experiences and achievements of diverse actors working on social issues in the context of global common goals (SDGs) and facilitating more effective explanations. In addition, reorganizing past experiences and achievements in the context of the SDGs is also expected to drive further cooperation between the public and private sectors and collaboration through common goals based on the principles of participatory, inclusiveness and transparency and accountability.
In the next section, I introduce three local governments that won the Japan SDGs Award as specific examples of practical initiatives for the SDGs carried out by Japanese local governments.
The Japan SDGs Award was established in June 2017 to promote corporate and groups’ initiatives for achieving the SDGs, and the government’s SDGs Promotion Headquarters gives the award to companies and groups for their excellent initiatives in achieving the SDGs. The first (December 2017) and second (December 2018) awards were announced by the government. In the 1st Japan SDGs Award (12 organizations were selected from among 282 companies and groups that applied for the prize), Shimokawa-town, Hokkaido (Chief’s Award [by Prime Minister]), and Kitakyushu-city, Fukuoka (Special Award [SDGs Partnership Award]) were selected; in the 2nd Japan SDGs Award (15 organizations were selected from among 247 companies and groups that applied for the prize), Osaki-town, Kagoshima (Deputy-chiefs’ Award [by Chief Cabinet Secretary]) was selected (Fig. 3).
Shimokawa-town, the winner of the Chief’s Award (by Prime Minister) at the 1st Japan SDGs Award, worked on integrated problem-solving for about twenty years in terms of economy, society and environment as universality, one of the characteristics of the SDGs (Fig. 4).
The area of Shimokawa-town is 644.2 km2, almost the same as that of the 23 wards of Tokyo, and 88% of the land is forest. The practical initiatives for the SDGs in Shimokawa-town are characterized by the thorough use of these forest resources.
In 2001, Shimokawa-town established a study society called “the Shimokawa Industrial Cluster Research Group,” which is dedicated to considering ways of using forest resources, and embarked on sustainable community development as a result of the harmony between the economy, society and environment. The town has continued to consider how to create a highly sustainable community by making good use of a variety of resources, including forest resources, and to put ideas into action.
In 2007, the town specified the realization of a sustainable local community in the Shimokawa-town Basic Autonomy Ordinance, at the top of the local government’s ordinances. In addition, the town was designated as an “Environmental Model City” that drives synergetic effects through the economy and environment in 2008 and as an “Environmental Future City” that drives synergetic effects through the economy, environment and society in 2011. The town has continued to undertake further activities.
More specifically, Shimokawa-town has taken an integrated approach to stimulate interactions and virtuous cycles between (1) building a comprehensive forestry (economy), (2) regional energy self-sufficiency and low carbonization (environment) and (3) creating a society for dealing with ultra-population aging (society).
As a result, Shimokawa-town has produced good results, such as the easing of depopulation and the improvement of regional heat self-sufficiency through forest biomass energy. In addition, in 2018 the town formulated a comprehensive plan for the twelve years until 2030 as the local government’s top plan based on the ideas of the SDGs, and it is currently considering carrying out projects for realizing the plan with diverse actors (Tamamura/Yokota, 2018-06-04).
The practical initiatives for the SDGs in Kitakyushu-city, which won the Special Award (SDGs Partnership Award) in the 1st Japan SDGs Award, have produced synergetic effects with activities for international cooperation and the achievement of a low-carbon society, based on practices that make good use of locally fostered civil capacity and technical skills. The reason why Kitakyushu-city was selected as the Special Award winner was that the city moved ahead of the times in the SDGs that the world aims to achieve (Fig. 5).
Originally, Kitakyushu-city developed as one of the four major industrial areas in Japan. In the 1960s, the city was affected by serious air and water pollution amid environmental pollution. Mothers who were concerned about the health of their children were the first to rise up regarding measures against environmental pollution. The resident movement and media reports helped raise public awareness of environmental pollution and urged companies and public administrators to strengthen measures against environmental pollution. The environment was rapidly improved through initiatives based on unity between citizens, companies, research institutes and public administrators, and Kitakyushu-city came to be introduced both in Japan and abroad as a miraculous city that achieved environmental reproduction in the 1980s.
Kitakyushu-city has also applied these locally fostered skills and experiences to attempts to solve environmental pollution in developing countries, including those in Asia. In addition, the city has also worked on maintaining and forming regional communities in a city where population aging is progressing the most rapidly of ordinance-designated cities.
Kitakyushu-city was designated as an Environmental Future City in December 2011 and has carried out initiatives as an Environmental Future City based on the practice of creating a city with harmony between the environment, society and economy. The SDGs were first presented in 2015. Kitakyushu-city carries out its current initiatives regarding the SDGs based on the citizens’ power of each citizen’s spontaneous practices to create a better society on their own and the local accumulation of manufacturing skills (Tamamura/Yokota, 2018-04-16).
Osaki-town, which was awarded the Deputy-chiefs’ Award (by Chief Cabinet Secretary) in the 2nd Japan SDGs Award, is a local government that recorded Japan’s best garbage recycling rates (general waste) for twelve straight years (as of March 2019).
Osaki-town implements a citizen participation-based project of sustainably recycling general waste by separating and sorting twenty-seven items, a project of forming cross-cultural communities with elderly people and settled foreigners through communication by the separation and sorting of garbage and a project of fostering environmental and global human resources using the concept of recycling. Osaki-town was awarded the Award in recognition of its idea of reconsidering these initiatives from the viewpoint of each goal of the SDGs and achieving a “Leave no one behind” society in terms of the economy, society and environment with the aim of creating a regional cycle symbiosis zone (Fig. 6).
Osaki-town, with a population of about 13,000, which is located on the Osumi Peninsula, Kagoshima Prefecture, enjoyed a recycling rate of 82.0% (2017) while the Japanese nationwide average recycling rate was 20.3%. Originally, garbage was only separated and sorted into burnable and non-burnable garbage in Japan. The nationwide recycling rate was just 4.5% in 1989. The nationwide average recycling rate rose to 20.3% in 2007 and has subsequently leveled off at around 20%. Meanwhile, Osaki-town’s recycling rate stood at 0.8% in 1998 (the nationwide average recycling rate was 12.1% at that time). The recycling rate gradually increased, however, posting 54.3% in 2002 and reaching 80% in 2006, when it set a national record. The town has since maintained this level.
Taking out garbage is part of residents’ lives, and citizens’ activity is indispensable to recycling. No matter how hard the local government may work as a leading proponent of recycling, it is impossible to promote recycling unless every single resident takes actions in their daily lives. Osaki-town has continued to carry out practical regional initiatives based on such resident activities and the collaboration and cooperation between local administration and companies (a recycling center and garbage collectors).
Behind this is the fact that Osaki-town chose to advance recycling based on resident cooperation and prolong the life of a reclaimed garbage disposal facility instead of building a garbage incineration facility. As a result, the town was able to promote the comprehensive recycling of garbage. This enabled the reclaimed garbage disposal facility, which would have been filled to the brim within the remaining few years, to be used for forty more years. Osaki-town can also restrict its garbage disposal costs to about half of those of other local governments of the same size. The town can now allocate the sources of revenue secured in this way to other administrative services.
This is how Osaki-town produces financial effects through recycling. In addition, the town gains an annual profit on a sale of about eight million yen from resources collected from every part of it and uses some of the resources to construct the framework of scholarships for all applicants in collaboration with Kagoshima Sougo Shinkin Bank. Furthermore, Osaki-town also undertakes recycling operations consigned from other local governments and has successfully created about four jobs.
In addition, Osaki-town named the recycling system that it created the “Osaki System” and has exported the system to foreign countries.
Osaki-town constructed a kind of ecosystem involving the synergetic effects of the recycling of resources and building a social system (Tamamura/Yokota, 2018-04-23).
To conclude this paper, in this last section I note the linkage with making comprehensive plans as suggestions for Japanese local governments’ promoting the SDGs.
The administration of local governments is conducted based on a wide range of plans. Local governments handle PDCA cycles by preparing a variety of plans, such as area-by-area plans and individual plans, as well as comprehensive plans that most local governments place at the top of their policy agendas. It is necessary to examine whether all these plans are necessary. Because public administrators need to work based on reasons, however, they tend to draw up a range of plans.
There are gaps depending on the size of local governments and how their plans were drawn up. According to a fact-finding survey of area-by-area plans (individual plans), however, there are about 30 to 90 plans overall. Even if each area-by-area plan regards comprehensive plans at the top, the annual deadlines for plans and the timing of revisions of plans vary, and how local residents are involved in them and how the plans are evaluated also vary. It is often difficult to link the plans to each other.
Each plan is optimized to produce results individually, but it is not designed to be linked to other plans. That is why the entire local government is likely to see low productivity of outcomes relative to inputs.
Local governments are expected to increase the linkage between plans, get rid of duplications and reduce the burden on public officials and local citizens by making plans comprehensive, such as organizing area-by-area plans so that they will be linked to comprehensive plans and ensuring that the details of the plans, the methods of evaluating the plans, the annual deadlines for the plans and the timing of the revisions of the plans are consistent.
This method of making plans comprehensive is also important when local governments pursue the SDGs. As shown by the 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs target a broad range of areas. In promoting activities for the SDGs, local governments can draw up a clear policy and take actions by incorporating the SDGs into some plan. In doing so, it is also important to pay attention to making plans comprehensive with a focus on promoting plans in accordance with the framework of comprehensive plans.
The framework of ordinances as well as the framework of plans can also be an important factor in conducting regional practices continuously.
Some local governments establish basic autonomy ordinances and basic community development ordinances at the top of the framework of ordinances. But to regard comprehensive plans at the top of local governments’ plans in those ordinances ranked at the top of the framework of ordinances and in ordinances for basic philosophies about the administrative management of local governments, to reflect the concepts behind the SDGs in plans linked to comprehensive plans and to place the SDGs at the core of community development in the form of philosophical ordinances can also be factors that help local governments promote the SDGs (Morita/Tamamura, 2019-03-25).
Tamamura Masatoshi, “Learning from local governments’ practices for SDGs and their global strategy: practice of governing local society in cooperation with industry-government-academia-finance-labor-journalism group,” Chiho Gyosei, JIJI Press, 2018-04-16
Tamamura Masatoshi and Yokota Koichi, “SDGs encourage further changes on sustainable local society: Shimokawa-town’s efforts for generating synergy of harmonizing of economy, environment and society by full usage of forest resources,” Chiho Gyosei, JIJI Press, 2018-04-16
Tamamura Masatoshi and Yokota Koichi, “An attempt regarding the SDGs as a strategy for producing global and local synergetic effects: Kitakyushu-city continues its attempt based on the collaboration between the public and private sectors, making good use of the citizens’ power and technical skills,” Chiho Gyosei, JIJI Press, 2018-04-16
Tamamura Masatoshi and Yokota Koichi, “Creating a sustainable system with the power of a regional community (first volume): An ecosystem created by the collaborative effort of Osaki-town, which recorded the best national recycling rates for 11 straight years,” Chiho Gyosei, JIJI Press, 2018 04-23
Morita Akiyo and Tamamura Masatoshi, “The SDGs promoted by local governments that constructed an integrated system: Focal points of constructing a promotion system suggested by a local government’s SDGs model project (2018),” Chiho Gyosei, JIJI Press, 2019-03-25
Translated from “Tokushu: 2 SDGs Jitsugen ni mukete—SDGs no tokusei to jichitai deno jissen (Special Feature 2: For the realization of the SDGs—The characteristics of the SDGs and the practices of local governments),” THE TOSHI MONDAI (Municipal Problems), July 2019, pp. 40-50. (Courtesy of The Tokyo Institute for Municipal Research) [October 2019]