An Overview of Public Relations with Respect to the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Japan

Background of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The idea of crafting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was born at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The main objective was to produce a set of universal goals that would meet the urgent social, environmental, political and economic challenges that our world is still facing right now.

SDGs actually came to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which deployed a global effort in 2000 to tackle the indignity of poverty: “MDGs were able to establish measurable, universally-agreed objectives for tackling extreme poverty and hunger, preventing deadly diseases, and expanding primary education to all children, among other development priorities”.

Later in 2015, The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was discussed and adopted by all United Nations Member States in order to provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people around the world and the Earth, for now and for the future. 17 Sustainable Development Goals (commonly known as SDGs) were crafted to be at the heart of this Agenda. An urgent call for action by all countries – both developed and developing – in a global partnership has been launched since then. 


Among all major issues our planet is facing, all stakeholders have  recognized that “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests”.

To implement those 17 GOALS, there are 169 Targets decided, 960 Events carried out, 1205 Publications made, and 5132 Actions taken worldwide so far. Of course, the progress of SDG implementation differs from country to country or region to region. Very detailed reports on sustainable development show this evidence.

*Source: Sustainable Development Report 2020(

The situation of SDGs implementation in the business world in Japan 

Japan is now more than ever acting on sustainable development goals.  As a major player within the United Nations system is not left behind, the Japanese government is now investing a lot of efforts to promote SDGs and is urging the public sector organizations, families, schools and companies belonging to the private sector to embrace this new global trend or lifestyle. Traditional media and social media have been of great use in terms of contributions that they bring into raising awareness among the occupants of this planet.


In addition, a few Japanese companies started to incorporate the implementation of SGDs while conducting their businesses.  This can actually be challenging as stated in an academic paper on “Scaling Up Business Impact on the SDGs” jointly published in 2019 by JICA Research Institute, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and other organizations:

“Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires redefining the purpose of business and scaling up their impact. However, there are challenges such as the gap between good intentions and real actions; conflict between the current economic system and SDG thinking; limited understanding of how business is embedded in society; and capacity constraints in developing countries to take full advantage of emerging business opportunities.”

Data reported in the same academic paper also was pertaining to probably the most important aspect of this topic, namely:  how to  convert SDG awareness into concrete business actions!  In fact, a survey on inclusive growth carried out by Deloitte (*) in 2018  showed that while 92% of business executives support SDGs, only 17% have plans or policies to achieve them. Another survey conducted by PwC (**) in the same year indicated that although 72% of global companies mention SDGs in their annual corporate or sustainability reports, only 50% had undertaken the crucial process of prioritizing which SDGs were most relevant to their business.

(*) Deloitte Global  Inclusive Growth Survey which surveyed 350 company executives in 2018.

(**)  PwC SDG Reporting Challenge that surveyed 729 global  companies in 2018.

* Source:

On the other hand, the Keidanren or Japan Business Federation published a very detailed report on Innovation to SDGs, Road to Society 5.0. published in 2018, in which steps to achieving global goals and making a new society with higher life standards are explained. There are many details of examples and case-studies related to Japanese companies that are already taking actions in terms of SDGs implementation within their business operations, nationwide and overseas as well.

All stakeholders from both private and public sectors are now tirelessly working towards the realization of a new society, by considering SDGs  in all business plannings and actions to achieve this ultimate goal.

 In the aforementioned report, there are a few examples of Japanese companies that have already started to implement SDGs, coming up with wide-range innovations that are significantly contributing.

It is very important to mention that Japanese government released an important document “The Guide for SDG Business Management” in 2018 and also put in place a useful mixed body called “SDG Management / ESG Investment Study Group”, which operates under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The main mission of this study group is  the promotion of ESG investments by taking advantage of SDG business management.


Report of the SDG Management / ESG Investment Study Group Compiled 


The Guide for SDG Business Management ( )

The main idea promoted in this figure is that we can only create change and therefore a new society by transforming ourselves. And there is a perfect guide to all world citizens to get used to SDGs implementation in people’s daily lives called:  “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World (

Special note on PR & marketing campaigns with respect to SDGs covered by Japanese media

In 2018, Dentsu Inc., Japan’s leading advertising agency firm announced the release of “SDGs Communication Guide”, suggesting guidelines for corporate managers, people working in advertising and ad agency professionals when planning out communication initiatives in line with SDGs and ESG investments as well. (*)

(*) Note: ESG investment refers to investment carried out giving the priority to the companies that take into consideration the environment, social issues and governance.   

As a matter of fact, Dentsu decided to establish an internal body that will be in charge of planning and implementing strategies to create more value and a sustainable future for all, via advertising. More concretely, “Dentsu SDGs Communication Guide Creation Committee”, including eight expert panels,  was created in 2018 with the mission to compile useful guidelines providing ”things to know” and ”things to pay attention to” for successful advertising and promotional campaigns with SDGs in mind.

In order to improve “corporate value” and gain good reputation from customers and society, Dentsu suggests that it is important for organisations to incorporate “advertising communication using SDGs” elements in their marketing/PR strategy. This implies that an organisation can only be considered as a “sustainable company” if it complies with the philosophy of SDGs and keeps in mind the future and the society.


Additional Implementation case is here; early 2020, Japan Times one of the biggest media in Japan signed an agreement with the United Nations to participate in the “SDG Media Compact”, which was established by the UN-Secretary General in September 2018. The main purpose of this media platform is to seek to inspire media and entertainment companies around the world to leverage their resources and creative talent to advance SDGs. The Japan Times will continue to work as a media to resolve 17 issues of the SDG, such as poverty, climate change and hunger. Not only the Japan Times but many of Japanese media such as TV stations and Newspapers have been participating in this media compact. This movement will give Japanese conservative companies to start considering SDGs. 


Future perspectives 

Since the implementation of SDGs requires a large amount of actions to reach an audience of 2 billion people across the globe, media plays an indispensable role in nurturing public dialogue, promoting sustainable development and spreading knowledge on how SDGs can be achieved.

“The SDGs are currently leading the variety of transformations and innovations that are required of companies. That opens up the possibility of sustainable business management focused on the future.”

*Source: Dentsu, SDGs Communication Guide 2018


The United Nations has called on major media outlets, and therefore on PR and marketing agencies as well, to join the SDG Media Compact and cooperate in increasing participation in achieving all SDGs. It is almost unanimous that only via a coordinated communications strategy that this can be possible. Organizations need to continue to raise their general awareness on important global issues when doing business, in the hope that our environment will be kept safe and that all socio-economic challenges will be taken  care of.

“Business is a vital partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can contribute through their core activities, and we ask companies everywhere to assess their impact, set ambitious goals and communicate transparently about the results.”

- Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General

*Source: SDG Compass Guide Executive Summary


The road is still far to go as 10 more years are ahead of us, to evaluate how much can be accomplished. So, each media platform has the ability to define its own action method based on guidelines – especially the Media Compact –  provided by the United Nations, in line with its own values, rules and policies.