June 30, 2008


Seeking Sustainability with Unique Ideas and Influence -- The Story of Sony Corp.

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.70 (June 2008)
Toward a Sustainable Japan--Corporations at Work Article Series No.72

Sony Corp. is a prominent global company; its main businesses involve electronics and extend from games, movies and music to finance.

"Sony considers Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as sustainability management. Based on this concept, we hope to bring about two kinds of sustainability we hope to realize," says Hidemi Tomita, General Manager of the Sony CSR Department. One is sustainability in business operations and the other is sustainability in society as a whole. Our first question was about the company's overall sustainability initiatives.

Participation in WWF Climate Savers Program and the 'Tokyo Declaration'

"Sony as a corporation has pursued CSR in principle since it was founded by Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita in 1946," said Tomita. The CSR principle was included in the corporate charter drawn up by Ibuka, which stipulates that Sony will not seek excess profit, but rather contribute to the restoration of Japanese society after World War II and the country's cultural enhancement, by developing technology, increasing production and promoting the people's practical knowledge of science. These are the raisons d'etre of Sony as part of the society, and these principles have been handed down in the company along with the Sony spirit of trying to do something unique that no other company can do, and providing totally new products and services.

Among the company's initiatives for sustainability and social prosperity are programs that aim to tackle issues involving the global environment, poverty and education. One of its environmental initiatives was to join the Climate Savers Program, launched by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in July 2006, and to sign an agreement with program participants to curb global warming. The details of the agreement are as follows:

  1. To achieve a seven percent reduction compared to the year 2000 in the absolute amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the entire Sony Group and all its member companies throughout the world by the year 2010.
  2. To curb the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted when Sony products are used by reducing their annual electricity consumption.
  3. To engage with consumers through a wide-ranging program of communication that addresses issues of global warming.
  4. To support efforts to keep the rise in the global mean temperature below 2 degrees Celsius relative to the pre-Industrial Revolution era.

Among Japanese companies, Sony has committed to a relatively short timetable for reducing the absolute amount of greenhouse gas emissions by all its member companies around the world. This is a very challenging target.

In February 2008, Sony hosted the WWF Climate Savers Tokyo Summit at its headquarters in Tokyo. Besides the regular meeting by members, they also held public events at this time. Twelve companies including Sony, Nokia, Tetra Pak and other participating companies released the "Tokyo Declaration" to show their determination to tackle climate change. This helped communicate the Climate Saver message more widely.

Climate Savers Tokyo Declaration

"Even if Sony reduces certain amount of CO2 emissions, this will account for only a small percent of world CO2 emissions. Still, considering the effect and influence of the announcement that Sony is tackling the issue, we feel that our efforts may eventually make a difference in curbing global warming to some extent. I believe that the Tokyo Summit 2008 and the Tokyo Declaration with the participation of like-minded companies managed to attract further attention in delivering the message about global warming prevention," said Tomita.

Supporting the Solar Bear Fund

In October 2007, Solar Bear Fund (Sorabea-kikin) was established with the aim of promoting and raising awareness about renewable energy while installing renewable energy facilities both in and outside Japan. The Sony Group organized a project team to support the foundation: Sony itself supports the Fund as a steering committee member, while Sony Creative Products created the image of the polar bear-like "Solar Bear" characters and Sony Magazines Inc. published a Solar Bear picture book. (In Japanese only)

"Using cartoon characters is a very Japanese way of communication," said Tomita. The company also organizes storytelling performances with clarinet music at environmental events. Tomita said, "Solar Bear is a simple story featuring two unhappy polar bear brothers. We believe it can be conducive to conversations between children and adults and therefore effective as an environmental education tool for families with children during the child-rearing years."

In addition, the company has also donated a part of proceeds of sales of Sony batteries, rechargeable batteries, and rechargers to the Solar Bear Fund since March 2008, supporting its campaign to install photovoltaic facilities at kindergartens and nursery schools.

Forest Conservation through Green Power Certification

Sony practices thorough energy conservation at its factories and offices. Regarding unavoidable CO2 emissions, the company promotes carbon offsets by actively purchasing "Green Power," electricity generated by renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass. The company has contracted to annually buy a total of about 36.4 gigawatt/ hours of electricity generated by renewable energy sources, including purchases by domestic affiliate companies.

Since 2001, Sony has participated in the "Green Power Certificate" system, which the company helped establish in collaboration with electric utilities. As the current leading participating company, Sony has suggested to Akita Prefecture that the company would like to contribute to the conservation of neglected plantation forests, which do not function as carbon sinks, through the medium of purchasing Green Power Certificates.

In April 2008, the company started honoring its commitment to donate six million yen (about US$60,600) a year to be used to cover the cost of transporting small trees thinned out of tree plantations to woody biomass power generation facilities where they are used as fuel. This will not only contribute to establishing a stable power generation source, but also help promote forest conservation, as the cost of transporting plantation thinnings is a major obstacle to maintaining healthy tree plantations. Plans call for the project to start in the fall of 2008. It is hoped that it will turn out to be an effective model, as it is the first case of forestry conservation activities using Green Power Certificates through collaboration between a company and a prefectural government.

Supporting UNICEF's 'EYE SEE: Digital Photo Project for Children'

Education is the field to which Sony has traditionally devoted its energy since its establishment. Sony provides digital cameras to the 'EYE SEE: Digital Photo Project for Children,' organized by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as part of its educational support for children in impoverished countries. Sony believes that photography can significantly influence society and thus is a powerful tool that can help win the sympathy of many by capturing reality from the perspective of local children in Africa and other regions. The company also takes part in the work of delivering the children's images to more people through photographic exhibitions and a website.

Tomita said, "Donating money and providing food assistance is important support, but Sony is using its particular expertise help give dreams and hope to people. Children in Africa who don't have any photographs, much less cameras, feel excited when they participate in the workshop, and work with enthusiasm to express themselves. That is the platform Sony is providing." Tomita thinks that businesses' contributions to society are particularly meaningful when the contribution involves the company's technical expertise, product portfolio, know-how and human resources.

Each Employee Should Have a Personal CSR Theme

A company can work for the sustainability of the society as a whole only when the company's management is itself sustainable. Tomita said, "Building a sense of belonging among employees can help defuse problems that threaten company sustainability. I think the key to preventing problems is for employees to have moral values and also to take pride in the Sony brand."

The Sony Group has over 180,000 employees, who have various social interests. The company CSR Department holds lectures on CSR at the company auditorium on selected Friday evenings to provide an opportunity for employees to discover a specific CSR theme that appeals to them.

There are many themes, including the environment, Africa, child care and careers. On the day of a lecture on child care, the first male worker in the company who took child-care leave gave a talk in order to encourage employees to participate in the child-care leave program. When high-profile movies such as "Inconvenient Truth" and "Blood Diamond" were screened, more than 1,000 people, the full capacity of the auditorium, signed up.

Tomita said, "Some employees come to see the movies because they have a strong consciousness, but others come because they can see the movies for free, and that is also OK. I think viewers will get something from learning about the story and seeing the images."

One of characteristic of Sony is its drive to generate creative ideas that are ahead of their time. The company has technology, know-how and human resources dedicated to pleasing, entertaining and exciting people. Tomita said, "The challenge with sustainability is partnership. There is a limit to what one company can do on its own." Tomita's view is that thinking globally and working in partnerships are the important key concepts for managing sustainability.

(Written by Reiko Aomame)