September 30, 2005


"A Contents Business that Contributes to Society and Enriches People's Lives" (General Press Corporation)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.37 (September 2005)

Staff Writer Eriko Saijo

In an office building near Tokyo Dome in central Tokyo, there is a room that houses the "Environmental Report Library," which has a collection of environmental reports by about 400 domestic and overseas companies and organizations. This library started collecting these annually-issued reports in 2000, and its collection is now the biggest in Japan. An editing company that performs documentation for environmental reports, the General Press Corporation (GP), organized and manages the library; the collection is open to the public by advance reservation. (Japanese only)

In Japan, over 700 companies publish either "environmental reports" or "social/environmental reports" that cover social issues as well. According to a survey by the Ministry of the Environment, companies publishing such reports account for 40 percent of listed companies and almost 20 percent of unlisted companies with more than 500 employees.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an NGO which develops and disseminates globally applicable sustainability reporting guidelines, released its GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines in 2000. This raised many corporations' awareness regarding accountability with respect not to the environmental, social and economic dimensions of their activities, products, and services. Since then, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been taken on as an important agenda item in corporate management.

Mr. Toru Chikushi, Senior Researcher of Planning and Research Division in GP's Sustainability Communication Department, says, "Replacing the term 'sustainability' with 'CSR' helped specify the scope of corporate responsibility. Fulfilling responsibilities to the society makes corporate activities more sustainable, and this can contribute in turn to social and global environmental sustainability. By questioning corporate accountability from the economic and social perspectives, the reporting initiative expanded to non-manufacturers, which used to be passive about environmental communication due to their understanding of their activities as having less direct impact on the environment than manufacturers'."

GP was established in 1995 with 20 employees, and specialized in editing catalogs for personal services and non-store retail business carried out by consumer cooperatives. Rather than limit itself to editing and designing information provided by clients, the company tried to develop its business by accurately understanding its clients' needs and sending them useful lifestyle information, and by facilitating effective client/reader communication to help build up fruitful relationships. These initiatives were well received, and the company expanded; now in its tenth year, it has 120 employees and annual sales of 3.3 billion yen (about U.S.$30 million).

In accordance with the strong inclination of Representative Director Kenjiro Hoshino, in 2001 GP started a sustainability communication business project that deals with environmental and sustainability issues. This project serves to forcefully promote one of the company's management principles, that is, to make a contribution to realizing a sustainable society through its own business activities. With its focus on support for the planning and publication of environmental reports, GP is helping its corporate clients communicate with their stakeholders through various media, such as brochures, recruitment guides, public relations materials, and websites.

As a result of GP's extensive business experience in producing catalogs and information magazines for consumers, readers tend to be deeply impressed by environmental reports made with GP support, as they manage to communicate the spirit of the client company. GP approaches clients' environmental activities from an outsider's perspective, which helps it perceive each company's strengths and weaknesses. Combining their understanding of these points with their knowledge of what readers want to know, GP strives to express a unified vision in the context of various themes. Its aim is to develop environmental and sustainable communication in ways that are more appealing to readers.

Mr. Chikushi, who launched the sustainability communication business with Mr. Hoshino, points out the weakness of environmental reports in Japan, saying, "Japanese companies are not good at expressing their ideas. There are few reports that express the passion of those who are trying to send a message." He adds, "We would like them to elucidate the goals they are working towards, the challenges that they are still facing, and their determination to tackle these challenges. Communicating only the company's strengths and the challenges that have been successfully met is no different from mere boasting. Readers might develop a negative image of a company that issues such a report." He explains that showing a company's weaknesses is the primary way to gain readers' sympathy.

Let's look at some specific examples. In its CSR report, a stationery maker highlighted five problems in today's Japanese society, such as natural disasters and a declining birthrate with an aging population, and featured the company's stance on these issues with descriptions of how it has responded and what it can do through its business. To avoid a one-sided imposition of the company's values on its stakeholders, GP edited the report in the form of dialogue that expressed the company's thoughts and reactions to stakeholder views. As a result, the report identified the challenges the company faces in the future.

GP also makes an effort to produce environmental reports that fit the company's brand image as a way of making them more attractive to readers. Environmental communication plays a major role in enhancing brand value. The report's visual impression needs to be in line with the corporate image that readers or stakeholders subconsciously hold. It is also important to produce reports that address the questions and problems about the company that concern stakeholders.

For example, in a home equipment manufacturer's report that GP helped compile, the title and contents placed the main focus on partnerships with customers, other business sectors, and the local community, rather than on the environment and CSR, in an attempt to showcase the manufacturer's policy: "Purchasing one of our products is an once-in-a-lifetime experience for most customers. Mutual understanding will build up our brand's value." In this report, the cover and photographs were carefully planned so that they would express the company's personality.
The Research and Development (R&D) Division led by Mr. Chikushi is in charge of enhancing GP's planning and production abilities. It collects and analyzes information in the field of sustainability, and provides production staff with specialized knowledge about the environment and CSR. It also performs other various promotional activities, such as publishing an annual survey report containing original GP analyses of foreign and domestic environmental reports, managing a mail magazine and website that introduce the latest news on CSR, and offering seminars for corporate employees in charge of compiling environmental reports. Managing the above-mentioned environmental report library is also the job of this division. JFS covered GP's 2004 annual survey report in our June 2004 newsletter issued.

GP's production staff utilizes the analyses and information provided by the R&D division in helping produce corporate clients' environmental reports. Mr. Chikushi says, "The process of compiling environmental reports corresponds to the C (Check) part of the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Action) cycle in corporate environmental and CSR activities." He adds, "I hope that working on the environmental report encourages the managers and employees in charge to notice the weaknesses of their own environmental and CSR activities, and to consider what they should do to make their company useful to society. I think this is one way we as a contents business can contribute to making society sustainable."

In promoting CSR, communication between companies and stakeholders becomes very important. Can such communication be carried out in such a way as to promote a sustainable society? GP hopes to continue being a good partner to its clients by suggesting and helping implement communication about environment and sustainability that makes a contribution to society.