Most of the major international Japanese companies have explicit visions for 2050 and beyond. This kind of long term outlook is indicative of the famous longevity of Japanese companies and proves why they often outperform competitors not just in terms of environmental sustainability, but also economic sustainability.

Toyota has introduced its
Environmental Challenge 2050. FUJITSU has a so-called FUJITSU Climate and Energy Vision for 2050. Sony has formulated a Road to Zero goal of leaving no environmental footprint by 2050.

Panasonic has one. Nissan has one. Honda has one. Ricoh has one. Epson has one.

The list of Japanese companies with a 2050 sustainability strategy is extensive. A number of the biggest globally operating Japanese companies have a clear, ambitious vision for 2050 and a comprehensive roadmap for how to achieve their sustainable transformation.

In doing so, they are thinking decades further ahead than most Western companies dare to think about. The Sustainian mapped how many of the world’s 100 biggest companies on Forbes’ annual Fortune Global 500 list have explicit ambitions and visions for sustainability by 2050. The findings suggest this number is only around one in 20, that is if you exclude the Japanese companies.

But maybe the Japanese companies are on to something. If you look at the long-term survival of companies, Japan is world leading. Looking at the world’s 5000 oldest companies, 3000 of them are Japanese. The five oldest companies in the world are based in Japan. One of them dates back to year 578.

What do the 2050+ strategies entail?

In 2015, Toyota introduced its so-called Environmental Challenge 2050, which provides a sustainability blueprint for the coming decades to 2050. Within the strategy, Toyota lays out a vision for a zero negative impact from its vehicles and plants, hereby contributing to keeping global warming below 2°C. What’s more, it contains an unreserved commitment to building a recycling-based society in harmony with nature – and thus creating a net positive impact on society and the planet.

In the company’s 2017 Environmental Report CEO, Akio Toyoda said that Toyota “wish to leave this beautiful planet, our hometown, to the next generation, and to create a future mobility society that is an environment-friendly, safe, happy, and fun place to be.”

Toyota’s Environmental Challenge 2050 consists of six explicit goals. All six are supported by specific action points. For instance their second goal, which is to eliminate CO2 emissions from the vehicle life cycle, they detail that they plan to do this by using less carbon-intensive materials, using more recycled materials and making car disposal less carbon intensive. Their third goal is to achieve zero carbon emissions from each of  their manufacturing facilities by 2050. They plan to do this by optimizing the car production process and using renewable energy.

Toyota is one example of how the Japanese companies are tackling and incorporating a 2050+ perspective into their sustainability strategies. It clearly shows that they are not projections, marketing or good intentions, but in fact clear ambitions followed by clear goals and roadmaps to achieve them.

Long-term is gaining grounds

Long-term is not a trend confined to Japan, but there is a growing global trend of laying out long-term strategies and ambitions – despite the vast majority of the biggest global businesses not being focused on the 2050 agenda.

Thus, looking at the business community as a whole, there is a growing acceptance of the importance of looking at sustainability issues with a long-term perspective – more and more companies are formulating ambitions, roadmaps and strategies based on the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. One example is Walmart that has formulated clear 2025 sustainability targets, another is Daimler that has a coherent Sustainability Strategy 2030 based and supporting the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

An old saying among indigenous native Americans tells that every decision taken should look seven generations ahead.

This long-term trend is also visible when you look at the portion of companies issuing quarterly guidance – one of the most evident examples of the shortsightedness that have formed the business sector for many years. This has dropped from 36% in 2010 to 27.8% today.

Long-termism is also growing amongst major business investors. In his recent letter to 1,500 portfolio companies worldwide, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink puts it in perspective:

“Just as we seek deeper conversation between companies and shareholders, we also ask that directors assume deeper involvement with a firm’s long-term strategy,” he wrote.

An old saying among indigenous native Americans tells that every decision taken should look seven generations ahead. It’s unlikely that any of the top 100 companies on Forbes’ list will ever look so far ahead, but they may soon follow the Japanese and see the benefits of planning for the next generation.