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Social Innovation

Meet the Company With More Than a Century of Sustainable Development

Five years ago, the U.N. revealed its plan for sustainable living, which has become the metric to measure progress on creating a cleaner, fairer world.

At the heart of the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future,” are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have set the framework for global sustainability.

The SDGs recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand in hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, spur economic growth, tackle climate change, mitigate environmental degradation and preserve our oceans and forests.

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals that preceded them, business will play a key role in achieving the SDGs’ 169 targets, from reducing hunger and poverty to increasing access to clean water, modern sanitation and clean energy, along with other challenges that address climate change and reduce gender inequality.

Hitachi’s SDG Projects Making a Difference

Global technology company Hitachi has taken a socially responsible approach to business since its establishment in 1910. Its founder, Namihei Odaira, defined the company’s corporate mission as one that “contributes to society through the development of superior, original technology and products.”

Over a century later, Hitachi’s original philosophy and strategy remain a good fit with the SDGs. “We have significantly contributed to achieving the SDGs through our Social Innovation Business, which also serves as a source of sustainable growth for us,” the company states. “Developing a sustainable society as defined by the SDGs will lead to sustainable growth for Hitachi, too.”

The company takes a two-pronged approach to the SDGs, dividing them into those relevant to its business strategy and those relevant to its broader corporate commitments, says Helen Grundy, an environmental specialist at Hitachi Europe. “There are a number of goals where we don’t necessarily have direct impact through our business operations, but they are relevant to our corporate commitments as an employer and a business—such as promoting gender equality and diversity, and providing decent work and economic growth,” she says.

The goals covered by Hitachi’s corporate commitments include SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). “These cover areas that are more likely to affect us over the long term, such as investment in people,” Grundy explains.

“We believe we can and should contribute to the achievement of these SDGs because, though not directly linked to our commercial activities, they are critical for all our group companies through the impact on our long-term sustainability and operational success,” says Hans Daems, Public Affairs Officer at Hitachi Europe.

The company has identified five other SDGs directly relevant to its business strategy: SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).

“In the past, a lot of reporting around sustainability has been about monitoring and measuring what you have done already,” Grundy adds. “With the SDGs, it’s about using the information to make future business decisions that will help us achieve the goals.”

In 2017, Hitachi launched strategic initiatives aimed at achieving the SDGs, and employees are encouraged to identify new business opportunities in addressing the challenges.

These opportunities center on technological solutions, particularly digital solutions, in five sectors: mobility, smart life, industry, energy and IT.

“Technology has a key role to play in the achievement of the goals, and Hitachi’s position as a leader in both information technology and operational technologies leaves us well placed to contribute to the SDGs, by coming up with solutions and working with partners to help the achievement of the goals,” Grundy says. “Our strategy is based on making an impact through the products and services that we offer.”

Hitachi Ahead of the SDG Agenda

One example of Hitachi’s sustainability approach is Optimise Prime, currently the world’s largest commercial electric vehicle (EV) trial.

Hitachi is collaborating with Royal Mail, Uber, UK Power Networks, Centrica and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks in a three-year trial that will inform the U.K. government on how best to develop its EV infrastructure. This year, the U.N. Climate talks will be hosted in Glasgow, Scotland. The U.K. recently accelerated by five years its plan to phase out sales of petrol and diesel cars, and now plans for that goal to be achieved by 2035.

According to the U.K. Power Networks, accelerating the adoption of commercial EVs will cut CO2 emissions by up to 2.7 million tons by 2030 and reduce the load on the U.K. power network by 1.9GW, equivalent to powering about 1 million homes. In addition, it will contribute to SDG 7, Clean and Affordable Energy.

“Collaboration fits with how we operate as a business,” Grundy says. “No one should be under any illusions that they can do everything on their own.”

Another Hitachi initiative contributes to SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) by developing technology that treats a range of cancers through particle therapy, which focuses radiation on tumors while avoiding adjoining healthy tissue. This makes it particularly suited for treating tumors near critical organs or delicate structures like the brain, heart, neck or spinal cord.

Particle therapy is also effective at treating tumors in children, and reduces the occurrence of secondary tumors due to its precision targeting, and it also reduces side effects. “The provision of effective cancer treatment solutions, such as particle therapy, addresses not only a large share of unmet needs across the entire population, but also specific issues linked to the elderly, who are most vulnerable to cancer,” says Daems. “It’s an example of how working toward the SDGs will provide not only growth opportunities, but also the chance to create new social value through business.”

Written by Mike Scott for Bloomberg Media Studios.