Sustainability innovation for major Japanese brands

Addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is one of the most important but challenging tasks businesses face today. However, the challenge also provides opportunity and can help to define goals that can be targeted with radical innovation. A number of our key Japanese friends recognised this – and joined our unique Innovation Catalyst Programme (ICP) to transform such goals into inspiring and tangible outputs.

Trusted partnerships

Innovation requires a catalyst to initiate it and to help it flourish. This is a role that Cambridge Consultants has been playing over the last decade in Japan. The ICP stands as a testimony to our commitment to the Japanese marketplace and reflects the trusted partnerships we’ve developed in the region.

Rising stars – selected by senior executives at Asahi Group Holdings Ltd, Hitachi Ltd, ITOCHU Corporation, Sony Corporation and Takenaka Corporation – joined our innovation experts for intensive concept generation coaching during the three-month long programme of activity.

Cross-industry relationships

Acting as the catalyst for innovation, we’ve hosted annual one-day bootcamps in Japan since 2016 to stimulate interaction and relationship building across industry boundaries. The ICP was a natural evolution of this. It enabled delegates from participating companies to interact and learn from each other, as well as be trained and taken through the Cambridge Consultants radical innovation approach.

Additionally, it was successfully delivered despite worldwide COVID-19 restrictions. Adept in virtual workshop technologies and practices, our experts in Asia, Europe and North America worked across multiple time zones to propel momentum, broaden insight and maximise support for delegates.

“Unique opportunity to spark ideas with like-minded people across organisations.”

Takenaka Corporation

The challenge

Significant opportunity

Rather than being seen as a hindrance for businesses, we believe that the global sustainability challenge can be turned into significant opportunity. Bold, ambitious brands that transform their behaviour to benefit the world long term will assume world-leading status. For our ICP initiative, we selected the three UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were best aligned to the sustainability frameworks of our client companies. We then tailored the ICP to develop and enhance their existing position and strategy.

“ICP gave me time to spend thinking about big sustainability challenges, outside of daily work.”

ITOCHU Corporation

Techniques and strategies

The objectives of the programme were very specific: to train delegates in innovation techniques and strategies; to enable networking and insight discovery across the participating companies; and – ultimately – to generate innovative SDG-based business concepts. We took care to evaluate all workshop output within the context of a triple ‘people, planet and profit’ bottom line. This was to ensure that stakeholders, business requirements and sustainability objectives were considered equally.

Breadth of sectors

The all-encompassing relevance of sustainability focused innovation was reflected by the breadth of sectors represented – from industrial, construction and consumer to consumer electronics, food and beverage, textiles and more. The selected goals were perfectly suited to inspire and guide innovative thinking across the industries. They were: SDG 3, good health and wellbeing; SDG 11, sustainable cities and communities; and SDG 12, responsible consumption and production.

Series of workshops

The programme consisted of a series of workshops, enhanced by presentations from our experts on topics such as ‘the triple bottom line’, ‘systems thinking’, ‘revolution not evolution’ and ‘empathic technology for a sustainable future’. Delegates were divided into small groups, which were assigned two mentors each – one from our Tokyo office and one from a UK, US or Singapore office with relevant sector experience. Each group’s journey was customised and paced appropriately for their needs.

“We will implement the visual brainstorming approach of ICP in future.”

Asahi Group Holdings Ltd

Speed networking

We worked with individual groups to cluster ideas into concepts which were screened and ranked against agreed success criteria. In each case, one or two concepts were chosen to be developed. Meanwhile, our Japanese office arranged a virtual speed networking event to increase engagement. This prompted several concepts that were developed by inter-organisational partnerships.

Development and implementation

In the next stage, the groups investigated and refined their concepts. Those groups with a technical focus were pushed out of their comfort zones to consider the commercial implications of their concepts, fully supported by Cambridge Consultants experts. Ultimately, each group presented their concepts to their senior executive sponsors, again with appropriate support and guidance. ‘Next steps’ were put in place to ensure further concept development and eventual implementation.

“The result is fantastic: a quality final concept with real potential.”

Hitachi Ltd

Proven methodologies

Key to the success of the ICP was our breadth of knowledge across the broad topic of sustainability innovation. We are able to fuse proven methodologies and processes with practical experience of whole system thinking, net-zero innovation, the circular economy, materials science and much more besides.

This is backed by hands-on expertise in emerging green technologies, infrastructure, ecosystems and business models. The diversity of our sector know-how allows us to deep-dive into market nuances. And because we go well beyond strategic consultancy, we can draw on world-class technical development capabilities, resources and facilities when needed.

Dynamic environments

In many ways the challenges of the pandemic enabled us to create a new gold standard for our global programmes. By fully exploiting dynamic interactive environments such as Mural, our facilitators created experiences that were just as engaging as face-to-face sessions. Geographically dispersed experts were able to provide round-the-clock support and help compress an intense, far-reaching programme into a compact and time-efficient three-month time span.

“Insights and ideas from Cambridge Consultants really helped our team develop a meaningful concept.”

Sony Corporation

Solutions for a changing world

We are ready to apply the Innovation Catalyst Programme approach to future projects. It could be expanded to consider other SDGs or tailored to consider other emerging global macrotrends. In all cases, it can help our clients gain the vital additional insight they need to develop strategies for, and solutions to, the challenges presented by our changing and ever-more competitive world.

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