Addressing the SDGs and Creating Value as a "Pioneer in Plastics"
Through its businesses that are expanding globally, the Company works to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by working together with a variety of stakeholders.
We invited Misako Konno, who serves as the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and has been active in environmental protection and reducing poverty around the world, for a discussion on the theme of the Company's efforts for the SDGs and its creation of value.
Developing a variety of products as a "Pioneer in Plastics"
|Konno||As a "pioneer in plastics," your Company conducts business in a variety of different areas. I know of your Company from "freshness-preserving film (MAP)," which is used to preserve vegetables, but what other sorts of businesses are you engaged in?
|Fujiwara||Phenolic resin is the oldest plastic, which was developed in 1907. We took on the mantle of being a "pioneer in plastics" because we originated from the first company to industrialize this phenolic resin in Japan. We currently promote our businesses in three segments: Semiconductor materials, highperformance plastics, and quality of life products. "Freshnesspreserving film (MAP)" is one of our quality of life products. We are a so-called materials manufacturer, and so most of our products are delivered in the form of materials to clients who then make the end products or the parts for these. As such, our products are almost entirely invisible to ordinary consumers.|
|Konno||I see. So for example, in what sorts of places are your Company's materials used?
|Fujiwara||Semiconductors are used in computers and smartphones, and we also make the encapsulation materials used to cover and protect semiconductor chips. With cars, our high-performance plastic products are found everywhere from the tires to the brakes, and they have come to be used in important components within the motors of the electric vehicles that have recently begun to be produced in greater quantities. In addition, they are used across a broad spectrum such as in airplanes, shale gas extraction equipment, medical devices, packaging materials for pharmaceuticals or food, construction-related uses, and more.
|Konno||That truly is a wide range, with a surprising amount of diversity. What are some of the features and characteristics unique to your Company's when it comes to these products?
|Fujiwara||The trend with semiconductor materials and highperformance plastics is weight saving. This also leads to making them more environmentally friendly. Of course, this also cuts down on waste. For example, if you think about this in terms of automobile parts, this makes it possible to reduce CO2 emissions because the lighter the weight, the better the fuel efficiency. As such, one of the Mid-term Business Targets we have been working towards since FY2019 is: "Aiming to achieve the 'top share in niche markets' in the functional chemical sector as well as expanding our business by implementing 'One Sumibe' activities in line with the SDGs." It would be safe to say that one of our characteristics is that we have numerous products that contribute to the SDGs. We are currently putting our efforts into research and development, and are aiming to launch new products that incorporate the SDG-perspective as soon as possible.
|Konno||Adopting a strong awareness when it comes to contributing to the SDGs in the products near and dear to us in our everyday lives would be a welcome development. But at the same time I feel that we as consumers need to be aware of the SDGs and environmental issues when making purchases. As consumers we tend to focus on price over all else. Instead of this, we need to make purchases by considering what sorts of environmental considerations are being shown by the companies making the products. We need to be smart consumers in this regard.|
|Fujiwara||Making products that meet the demands of customers is the top priority, and so I am strongly encouraged by such comments. In addition, the greatest risk we face in 2020 comes from the coronavirus pandemic. We considered whether there was anything we could do to be helpful to society here at our Company, and as a result we decided to manufacture the medical face shields for which there had been severe shortages. We have been manufacturing helmets and polycarbonate sheets from the outset, so by combining these together we were able to get to the point of achieving a massproduction system for these in about one month from the start of development.
|Konno||I've seen the actual goods, and they seem to be light, highly transparent, and very easy to use. Have you been delivering these directly to medical settings?|
|Fujiwara||Recently, we wanted to find a way to quickly deliver them to those places that were hard-hit, so we donated them to the administrative agencies of local municipalities where our plants are located and so forth. Since we were able to bring our technology and knowledge in manufacturing medical devices to bear here, we are confident in their quality.|
Structure for promoting initiatives for the SDGs globally
|Konno||There has recently been an increase in the number of companies that are enthusiastically promoting the SDGs. But chief among these is your Company, as you have already incorporated this into your business targets, which I feel puts you far ahead of the curve in this respect.
|Fujiwara||The SDGs are not a new concept, and we consider them to be consonant with our Business Philosophy (Company Policy) that we had previously set forth. Within this Business Philosophy we declare that: "Our company places prime importance on trust and sureness, and shall commit itself to contributing to the progress of society and enhancement of people's welfare and livelihood through its business activities." The roots of this ideology have been passed down from the "Sumitomo Business Philosophy" from 400 years ago. We have consistently held to our corporate mission to contribute to society through our business activities since way back.
|Konno||If you regard the SDGs as being consonant with your Business Philosophy, then they would surely be readily accepted by all of your employees. Incidentally, for the SDGs, 17 goals and 169 targets have been established, with specific matters having been incorporated into them. This would surely give rise to some difficult areas if you were to go about promoting this in a concerted manner across the company as a whole, would it not?
|Fujiwara||First of all, I think it is important to have the top managers act by leading the way. To have the entire company come together to promote the SDGs, we launched the SDG Promotion and Preparation Project Team in 2018. Furthermore, in 2019 we established the Sustainability Promotion Committee to serve as a parent body for carrying out our sustainability activities in an ongoing, company-wide manner, with this including the SDGs. As the president, I serve as the leader for this committee. The fact that everyone from top management down to the worksites must join forces and work together is something that should be clearly indicated in an organizational sense as well. Under this Sustainability Promotion Committee, we are undertaking initiatives such as promoting the SDGs, taking measures to combat climate change, and reducing waste. What is more, of the 17 goals in the SDGs, we have selected five that are deeply connected to our businesses, as well as one that we ought to emphasize as a company dealing in plastics, and have been working to address these by setting them as priority targets.
|Konno||Do these initiatives cover your business sites and plants around the world?
|Fujiwara||Yes, these are being deployed globally. This is because the SDGs are similar to climate change and other environmental problems in that all of these are challenges at the global-level. We will also continue to promote the globalization of our businesses in the future. Initially, we had expanded out into overseas markets in a manner consistent with the deployment of businesses by our customers, but having this global manufacturing structure has served as one of our strengths now more than ever before. When we shut down some of our plants due to the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to get by without stopping the supply of products by manufacturing these at plants located in other regions instead. The same holds true when it comes to the procurement of raw materials. The fact that we set in place structures from a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) perspective to ensure that we could procure raw materials from different regions is bearing fruit in the present.|
Improving "human ability" and working to create additional value
|Konno||We've talked about products and structures, but I feel that in conjunction with these, it is also extremely important to educate the people who use the products as well as the people who make them. The UNDP, where I have been serving as Goodwill Ambassador, has been focusing its efforts on human development.
|Fujiwara||You're exactly right. In the message I delivered to our employees at the start of the year I designated "human ability" as the keyword for 2020. "Human ability" is the cumulative effect obtained from multiplying motivation, capability, personality, and character together. I want to raise the "human ability" of every one of our employees, and make them feel glad to work at Sumitomo Bakelite. Therefore, we are promoting human resource development with our SB School and Sumitomo Bakelite Production System (SBPS) serving as central pillars for this.
|Konno||What can you tell us about your employees' work styles? In the SDGs, "No.8. Decent Work and Economic Growth" and "No.5. Gender Equality" relate to this.|
President and Representative Director
Joined the Company in 1980. Became Team Leader of the Biotechnology-related Product Development Project in 2003, Department Manager of S-Bio Development Department in 2007, General Manager of S-Bio Business Division and Executive Officer in 2009, Managing Executive Officer in 2013, Director and Managing Executive Officer in 2014, Director and Senior Managing Executive Officer in 2016, and President and Representative Director in 2018.
|Fujiwara||Working from home became widespread all at once in order to prevent the spread of infections from the coronavirus. This was an abrupt change the likes of which had never been seen before. Even from before that we declared a state of emergency at our Company, we had set up an emergency response headquarters and took a number of different measures, in addition to which many of our employees started working from home or working staggered work hours. At first we were anxious that we would fall behind in terms of work, but that never came to pass. Of course, some people are better suited to it than others based on their individual characters, capabilities, and the work they oversee, but I suppose that's about all you can say given the circumstances. Our employees lent us their cooperation in order to keep them safe. While this was an emergency situation, I'm sure that working from home will persist as one style of work even after the coronavirus pandemic is over.|
|Konno||This will certainly spur significant changes to work styles. Seeing as how each employee is sure to have their own respective circumstances, it would be great to create a structure whereby they can choose from among various different work styles.
My take-away from this conversation is that there is still a great deal of potential in plastics. Since you're putting your efforts into research and development, I'm sure you'll create products that lead to resolving a great many problems, which I look forward to seeing. Conversely, due to problems such as those of ocean plastics, plastics have been gaining attention in various different senses. While ocean plastics is a problem that you probably have little in the way of a direct connection with as a materials manufacturer, my hope is that your Company can come up with some sort of groundbreaking solution that only you can provide as a company that is unlocking the potential of plastics. So I would urge you to actively give thought going forward to the question of how you can bring your wealth of knowledge and your track record to bear on solving the challenges facing society.
|Fujiwara||As a company whose businesses have a global reach, we must not only create economic value in terms of sales and profits and the like, but we must also contribute to achieving a sustainable society through our business activities. We will continue working to meet the expectations of our stakeholders, create still-greater value, and contribute to a sustainable society.|
Came to fame in 1980 by playing the role of the heroine in Niji wo Oru (Weaving the Rainbow), a serialized NHK Morning Drama, while studying at Keio University. Has appeared in numerous dramas such as Takeda Shingen and Asuka. Gave an excellent performance as the third daughter, Yukiko, in the play The Makioka Sisters (based on an original work by Junichiro Tanizaki). Appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the UNDP in 1998, and since then has been active in the international cooperation field, including making observation trips to Cambodia, Palestine, and various countries throughout Asia and Africa. Provided financial cooperation to combat the coronavirus among the poor in Brazil in 2020. Has overseen the Misako Konno Read-along since fall of 2010, and serves as one of the hosts on NHKFM's Musical Flyover. Known as one of the original sumo female fans (sujo), she is a member of a committee of sumo experts. Will be performing in the play Ryogkoku Oshare Rikishi in Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka from December 2020–January 2021.