This post has been translated from Japanese — read the original interview here.
Suntory’s corporate message, “Mizu to Ikiru,” has now reached a recognition rate of 70 percent among Japanese consumers. How did this message come about?
Tomomi Fukumoto: This phrase was coined in 2005, after Nobutada Saji became our chairperson. He called out for a new corporate message, saying he’d like to see a new wind for the 21st century, the Era of Environment.
There are three ideas encapsulated in the phrase, “Mizu to Ikiru.” The first is to protect water, one of the most precious of natural resources. As a business which delivers the blessings of water to people, this is crucial to us. The second is that we would like our cultural and social activities to be like water: regarded by society as both ubiquitous and precious. The third is that we would like all our employees to be like water: free and with the flexibility to rise to all the challenges we face as a business.
Our corporate mission is “To create harmony with people and nature.” We strive to deliver the blessings of nature to our customers in a tangible and valuable form. Our CSR activities have the same aim of harmony between nature and society. We hold up our corporate message as the embodiment of our strong will to carry out our mission in society.
We also have a vision of “growing for good.” Our values, “Yatte Minahare (go for it)” and “giving back to society,” are our behavioural principles and code of conduct. These underline our message and vision. Our business is totally reliant upon water, and it would be impossible to carry on if the supply of water became unsustainable. Therefore, it is vital for us to engage in a sustainable way to run our business.
Suntory and its employees have committed to “Mizu to Ikiru.” We believe that acting on this message will gain the trust of our stakeholders and improve employee motivation, which will result in customer satisfaction, innovation, and achieve stronger competitiveness. Sharing this vision amongst employees requires putting it into practice: just chanting the phrase is not enough. Between 2014 and 2016 more than 6,000 Suntory employees engaged in forest conservation activities such as pruning and mowing undergrowth in our Natural Water Sanctuaries (Forests that protect water and the future of life on Earth) all over Japan, and gained first-hand practical experience.
'The spirit of social contribution is part of our DNA’
Please tell us about your mid-term vision for the environment.
TF: Although we established our “environmental vision towards 2015” and “targets for 2020” in 2013, we decided to review them in line with the Sustainable Development Goals formulated by the United Nations, and the Paris Agreement. We will publish the new vision and targets next year. We are also considering submitting our carbon reduction targets for validation by the Science-Based Targets Initiative, to foster the decarbonisation of society.
How about your long-term commitment towards society?
TF: Our social contribution activities started in the era of our founder, Shinjiro Torii, in the 1920s. In those days, our activities targeted people in financial hardship and included building free clinics and nursing homes, and anonymously sponsoring students. After World War II, when Japan saw strong economic growth, Keizo Saji, the second President of Suntory, expanded our contributions to the cultural, artistic and academic areas, and built the Suntory Museum of Art and Suntory Hall.
However, Keizo Saji was skeptical of ad hoc charitable activities such as donating to and sponsoring good causes only when a business is doing well. He thought social contribution should be an integral part of our business activities, and therefore must be an ongoing effort. Suntory had the spirit of social contribution in our DNA from the very beginning of our company.
Suntory University, our in-house educational institution established in 2015, has “sharing the founder’s spirit” as its motto. For instance, our Ambassador program is designed to nurture key people from our group companies worldwide to become ambassadors to spread this spirit. The participants’ understanding is enriched by visiting Suntory Museum of Art and Suntory Hall; experiencing Mizuiku, the Water Education program for the next generation; and through various discussions.
In 2014, Suntory bought out Jim Beam, the largest Bourbon distillery in the US, and established Beam Suntory. Then the year after that, Beam Suntory launched its Natural Water Sanctuary project.
TF: Yes. It is Beam Suntory‘s project, inspired by our vision of “Mizu to Ikiru.” They started a nature preservation project at Maker’s Mark, one of their bourbon brands’ distillery grounds in Kentucky. The distillery is sited in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the employees are very proud of their locality.
Kentucky enjoys plentiful water, which is percolated through limestone and defines the taste of its whiskey. This water is the life and soul of bourbon, but surprisingly there was no previous effort to protect the water resources. Beam Suntory learned what Suntory is doing in Japan in terms of forest preservation to protect water resources, and thought about the sustainability of their water. They saw issues identified by research carried out by local academic institutes, and then began their project to share their preservation activities with Suntory.
So, Suntory inspired Beam Suntory, which prompted their project; then Suntory reviewed their plan and offered advice. This cycle initiated the process of diligent application and working towards the shared goal.
TF: I think it is important to share with our group companies overseas the thought we put into our mission, ‘To Create Harmony with People and Nature,’ and make use of the assets Suntory have built through our work with society and nature in Japan. On that basis, we strive to expand our business as an embodiment of our mission, while responding to worldwide issues in society. We created this new department because we think it is essential to develop a sustainable strategy for the Suntory Group.
In the future, we would like to expand these activities originating at Beam Suntory to Europe and Asia, in order to be a corporation that places the importance of sustainability of water resources at its heart. To achieve this, we are making every effort to promote our Sustainable Water Philosophy — a code of conduct on water-related activities — which was established in January this year throughout the Suntory Group companies.
When we share our corporate message with our global partners, we use the English phrase “Follow Your Nature.” Nature has two meanings: one being Mother Nature, the other being the true nature of humanity. We think it is vital to convey these two essential ideas to the world.
We plow ahead with our unique effort with the clear ideal to grow and earn a worldwide reputation as a good and trusted company.