ProjectsPast and current JFS projects


August 31, 2007


Businesses Based on the Concept of 'Mottai-nai' ('Waste Not Want Not')

takemotosan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Noriko Takemoto, Director, Eco Management & Services, Catalog House Direct Marketing, Japan.

Some people here may wonder how the Japanese word "Mottai-nai", usually translated as "waste not, want not", is related to business. In business, you cannot always afford to focus on "Mottai-nai." You simply reduce costs and cut employees when profits are down, and you find the best ways to boost profits while avoiding waste. This is business.

The "Mottai-nai" I will talk about today is not for this type of company, but rather is for the Earth and people who live on her by paying attention to "Mottai-nai" concepts. As an activity for the environment, we created a repair workshop in our company, called the "Mottai-nai division" to repair products that are beyond repair by manufacturers, which allows consumers to use them longer; however, this approach is not without problems. While referring to such dilemmas, I will focus on the ecological priorities of this division.

Selling Things in a World Overflowing with Things

Catalog House started business in 1976, and this year marked its 31st anniversary. Our main businesses are mail-order and publication. The mail-order catalog "Tsuuhan Seikatsu" was first released in 1982, when advertisement agencies were encouraging consumers to purchase luxury items and to throw away older, unwanted items, saying "Let consumers use more, dump more and waste more." Sales methods still promote consumer interest using slogans such as "Buy now, and Get this for free" or "Discount"; however, large-scale production, mass consumption and mass disposal are encouraged by such sales promotions.

If consumption increases, production increases, and companies can expand, which in turn reduces unemployment and poverty. At least, that was the dream; however, the things that increased were population and garbage, and the things that disappeared were resources. In addition, the gap in income widened. This is what happened in the 20th century, and now, it is coming back to haunt us.

When we look at our lives, how many things are there that we want right now? We are generally satisfied, aren't we? We have to do business in cities and on the internet where such things are abundant.

Catalog House sells things through the catalog "Tsuuhan Seikatsu." Although mail-order catalogs are usually given away for free, this catalog costs 180 yen. We send this catalog to dues-paying members, and sell it at book stores. Our mission is to not only publish a mail-order catalog, but also to provide high-quality information for our readers. Half of the catalog is reading material. Along with stories that strike chords with readers who have anxieties about the circumstances surrounding modern life, we aim at suggesting products and lifestyles that address these anxieties.

Cowardice Encourages Work on Environmental Issues

With regard to environment activities, we practiced a relief campaign for Chernobyl in 1990. We had been thinking about how we could support Chernobyl since the accident in 1986. What were their problems? What kind of support could we offer? And it was not only our company, but the readers of the catalog who wanted to get involved. So, we decided not to start the campaign before we could precisely explain how the aid money was to be used, and it took a number of years to devise the necessary procedures.

Subsequently, we officially started to work on the environment in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted and the media began widespread coverage of environmental issues. We believed that many people would support our actions, and we started to announce these actions to the public.

For example, we use 100% recycled paper for the catalog, and we collected and detoxified products containing chlorofluorocarbons. This was long before the Electric Appliance Recycling Law was passed. Our strategy was to take action before laws compelling us to do were passed. That same year, our company's "Mottai-nai" division was established.

We have been working on environmental issues largely because we were afraid of a negative public image. Our magazine is just another social magazine, but if we were not concerned about the environment, we would be criticized. Therefore, we have made preemptive moves based on the precautionary principle, for example, we do not use polycarbonates for parts that may come into contact with the mouth, as it is a suspected environmental endocrine disrupter, and we do not use vinyl chloride resin, because it can emit dioxins.

For our business to survive, we have to fulfill the needs of the Earth first. We want to respect our readers who are worried about the environment, even if this leads to dilemmas or burdens in our business. Our reasons are, therefore, fueled by cowardice. We realize that if we do not appeal to those who are consuming resources, our business would not be able to last.

Retail Meets Journalism

We established our company's policy as "Instructions for the Earth" in 1998. It was considered to be an environmental report for other companies. We changed the name to "Constitution of Products" in 2001.

Article 1:
We sell products that cause the least possible burden to the Earth and her inhabitants.

Article 2:
We sell products that are long-lasting and repairable.

Article 3:
We would like customers to use our products for the long term, and we ask customers to pass unwanted products along to another owner.

Article 4:
We strive to collect and recycle our discarded products.

Article 5:
We produce as little garbage and emit as little CO2 as possible.

Article 6:
We promote the sales of products that are made in Japan, using locally-produced and sustainably obtained raw materials.

Article 9:
We avoid selling nuclear missiles, atomic submarines, fighter aircrafts, combat vehicles, artillery guns or firearms.

The biggest reason why the Articles 7 and 8 are missing is that we actually wanted to write Article 9, but we may add these Articles at a later date. Generally, it is wise to avoid bringing political and religious issues into business. In this way, Catalog House is unique; we have clearly expressed our support for Article 9 of Japanese Constitution. This is because war is the worst destroyer of the environment. This policy also expresses our desire for "Tsuuhan Seikatsu" to keep reaching its readers, many of whom share our belief that we cannot ignore wars destroying the environment.

In order to carry out a policy like the "Constitution of Products", we cannot handle a wide range of products. This is because we conduct thorough environmental studies on each product. In contrast, selling a narrow range of products with low volume is a poor business model, and so, we are aiming to sell a narrow range of products with high volume.

To achieve this, we research each product thoroughly. When we choose to sell a product at our company, we do not look for products that we can sell, but rather we first draw up a project. For example, we set up projects for "Mottai-nai" or "Practice Using Products Made in Japan", and then we look for products that fit these themes. We set up themes that give banner headlines for our catalog, and we sell modern products that fit these themes. We call this "Selling for the Soul" and we consider this as a basis of a communication.

We also provide product information. This is the challenge of combining retail sales with journalism.

Difficulty of "Mottai-nai"

The products we deal with range from heat shield curtains containing new technology to traditional Japanese straw mats made with very low technology. Catalog House suggests that customers save energy by not relying on energy, but rather by living comfortably using our products. We ask manufacturers to make products with superior performance and durability than competing products, and that comply with our "Constitution of Products."

We annually release a 'Top 100' of products chosen by our readers, and we've found that popular products have not changed much. The most popular item is the "Medical Pillow", while the DeLonghi Heater always ranks fifth or sixth. These are products that last a long time or that customers think are worth the price, and they continue to remain popular.

We also ask manufacturers not to remodel their products. This is because when products are often remodeled, it becomes difficult to supply parts and repair them.

As the Article 3 of the "Constitution of Products", we ask customers use our products for the long term, and this means that they need to repair them when they break. However, when "Mottai-nai" goes too far, it can lead to some safety concerns. For example, when using products beyond their durability periods, they become more likely to cause injuries or property damage. All home appliances have life cycle and undergo deterioration with age. Older products are far more likely to, for example, catch fire as a result of electrical problems.

In order to encourage the safe, long-term use of products among our customers, the "Mottai-nai division" makes new tools for repairing products; however, we think that this step may be too far. If a product is dangerous, it is probably better say to avoid repairing it, and we do not sell products that are more than 10 years old, even after we collect them.

We also collect and recycle products at the end of their life cycle. But as this costs money and uses energy, we are currently wondering about the actual benefit this process brings to the environment. Such dilemmas must always be investigated when a business operates under the principle of "Mottai-nai".

What Can Consumers and Citizens Do?

As for what you can do, the best thing to be is not buy unnecessary items; it is better to avoid buying things that are simply going to be thrown away. Of course, companies like ours must also encourage you to buy things. Therefore, we try to develop and sell things that are better for the Earth, as well as for our customers. We also believe that it is important to appeal to our readers through environmental seminars and investment support for projects like citizen-founded windmills, which are alternatives to oil or nuclear power.

Bio-ethanol has also attracted attention in the prevention of global warming, but the price of corn, which is necessary to produce bio-ethanol, is rising. Furthermore, although detergents with nonpetroleum-based surfactants appear to be environmentally friendly, ecosystems have been damaged as developing countries have promoted palm plantations to provide the raw materials for these detergents. Thus, as we try to solve environmental issues, we encounter further dilemmas, and if we do not treat problems at the global level, neither people nor businesses will be able to survive.

So, what should we do? My suggestion is to stop ignoring these issues. I believe that some people have already stepped forward, but what about the government, local governments, companies and media? What actions will be most effective? These are important questions, and we should all be vocal about ways in which to improve our lives.


Noriko Takemoto is director of Eco Management & Services, Catalog House Direct Marketing, Japan.
Noriko Takemoto was born in Tokyo and educated at the Toyo Eiwa Girls School in Roppongi, followed by a degree in educational psychology at Waseda University; where she was also captain of women's basketball. She later gained a Diploma in European Studies from St. Catherine's College, Oxford.
She joined Catalog House in the same year of its foundation in 1976, when it had 10 employees and sales of one billion yen: the company now employees 400 and has annual sales of over 35 billion yen. From 1982-96 she co-founded a company specializing in information technology education, before being appointed a board member of the Japan Direct Marketing Association as a representative of the President-founder of Catalog House. In 1998 she re-joined Catalog House as a board member and Director of information systems, and moved to her current post in 2000 when managing the company's ISO system.
She is now principally concerned with the company's ethical policy in connection with product quality. She is a judge of the Japan Environmental Management Award for good management practice, and the Japan Eco-Products Award. She is also a board member of the Japan Communications Network for Sustainability; a multi-stakeholder organization of NGOs, NPOs, business and industry.
She is married to Dr. Michael Miller, a neurophysiologist and artist, and they live in Tokyo.