(List #11): Japan and the Olympics

Japanese business schools, the SDGs and Olympics.

(List #11): Japan and the Olympics
Photo by Ryo Yoshitake / Unsplash

This week’s list focuses on Japanese business schools, communicating the SDGs and the Olympics.

*What I listened to while compiling this week’s list (since many of you keep asking): Johnny Ventura, a Dominican merengue icon who passed away recently. If you don’t start dancing…well… Nothing to do with this week’s theme (although we have won 2 medals!).

Here we go…


(CAMPUS) There is plenty of inspiration to be drawn from the Tokyo Olympics. The podiums are made of recycled plastic collected through a public campaign. The logos on the podiums are made from aluminium waste recovered from temporary housing units build after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. The public was also involved in donating used electronics to recover the materials needed to make the 5000 Olympic medals given out this year (32kg of gold, 3,500kg silver and 2,200 bronze). The wood from the Athletes Village Plaza is borrowed from local governments and will be returned to those same local governments after use to be used in other public structures. Ninety nine percent of procured items and goods are reusable or recyclable (part of their aim to be a zero-waste event). The Olympic page has plenty on how it is engaging in the SDGs including a pre-games sustainability report.

+How do you engage multiple stakeholders in your sustainability efforts?  Click here to share your thoughts.


(RESEARCH) In 2019, the Institute for Future Initiatives put out a call for SDG Labs focused on Biodiversity solutions for change. Up to 5,000 USD was given to 10 international researchers to each run a lab, workshop or hack and present their findings at the International Conference on Sustainability Science in 2020 in Tokyo. The labs were intended to bring together participants from a range of research disciplines and sectors of society to develop solutions to complex problems that help to make progress towards implementing the SDGs.  The idea could be a certain process, activity, bring together a specific stakeholder group, a technical solution or design activity among others. “You design a process to explore the idea on the relevant scale and you try it out. That is the lab.” The SDG Labs were based on Social Innovation Labs (click on the link for a how to).

+ What resources do you make available for researchers, staff, students or the community to “play around” with potentially impactful ideas? Click here to share your thoughts.


(CAMPUS) Japan National Stadium is designed to accommodate those with limited mobility, sight, and hearing. There are wheelchair accessible seats and even “calm down” rooms for people sensitive to excessive stimuli. This change is also spreading out into shops, hotels and transit stations around Tokyo. It is interesting to think about the lasting impact that design can have on a space, and on people using those spaces. You can browse through the Tokyo 2020 Accessibility Guidelines for more info. Universal Design is designing products and spaces so that they can be used by everyone regardless of age or ability. Japan is a great source of ideas for inclusive design.

+What impact is and can the design of your current and future buildings having on sustainability issues on campus (and beyond?) Click here to share your thoughts.


(ISSUES) “See, it doesn’t matter if you are a girl or boy”. That was my 5 year old daughter’s response to the new mixed gender events added this year to the Olympics to promote greater gender diversity. This was just one of many changes including changes to competition schedules and medal events so both male and female events are at prime global broadcasting times and a new policy allowed teams to have both a female and male flag bearers The IOC has guidelines to implement ‘gender-equal and fair portrayal practices in all forms of communication” across sports.  It’s little things, but according to my daughter, they make a huge difference. While the guidelines are aimed at sports, there are definitely lessons that can be learnt from these that are applicable to business schools…definitely.

+”It’s as much who you show or write/talk about as how you show them or write/talk about them. It’s the words, narrative and tone. It’s the images and voices. It’s the context and framing” How do you reframe the narrative at your school? Click here to share your thoughts.


The ‘Think ENA’ project by Professor Hoe Chin Goi at NUCB Business School in Nagoya uses Design Thinking to create business ideas for local companies and residents in Ena City in Japan, a small city struggling economically due to an exodus of its younger population to larger cities. International students from ESADE Business School in Spain worked with city representatives, residents, and staff from Kawakamiya Co. Ltd, a local company specializing in producing chestnut cakes to create business models through collaboration with local farmers to achieve economic and social outcomes.  The students were also involved in a project highlighting the importance of maintaining local handicrafts by working on their own designs for Ena ‘noren’, a traditional split curtain commonly seen hanging in doorways of small businesses.

+How can you bring multiple stakeholders together to develop impactful projects?  Click here to share your thoughts.


(STUDENTS) In 2020, the University of Tokyo Student Committee, as part of their Sustainable Campus Project, conducted awareness surveys to understand student awareness and to implement better practices for on campus sustainability (follow up of a 2018 survey). Interestingly, when asked where Japan’s achievements lagged in relation to the SDGs, the student’s perceptions were found to be different from ones indicated in the Sustainable Development Report 2020 compiled by experts, suggesting areas where student perceptions might need to be improved. The University of Tokyo has a lot of interesting content in relation to the SDG including this SDG Project List.

+ How can you adapt the curriculum and activities to respond to a difference in student perception vs reality?  Click here to share your thoughts.


If only sustainability were a bit more like the Olympic pictograms. “The genius of the (Olympic) pictograms is that it’s a single consistent language that also implies a huge amount of diversity”. They also depict action and people taking action, better (I spent a bit longer than I should have comparing the Olympic pictograms and the SDG icons). True, the Olympic pictograms depict sports but this still had me thinking about how we communicate complex messages in a way that transcends language barriers and communicates effectively without confusion (as the designers aimed to do when creating these pictograms). So, who will be the first to put together a display of the 169 SDG targets in under 5 minutes while dressed in blue and white costumes (arguably the most impressive Olympic display ever).  More on the history of pictograms as a universal language here and history of 2020 Olympic pictograms here.

+ How to we translate sustainability in a way that transcends language barriers and communicates effectively without confusion (as the designers aimed to do when creating the Olympic pictograms)?  Click here to share your thoughts.