Knowledge sharing: Shiseido the first cosmetic company to join sustainable tech sharing platform WIPO GREEN (Nathalie & Jia Ho)

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The article highlights Shiseido, a Japanese cosmetics company, as the first cosmetics company to join WIPO GREEN. WIPO GREEN is an international technology sharing programme by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) for companies to share sustainable technology and processes. Shiseido is one of most active partners, sharing technology and processes that reduce water and energy consumption.

They hope to achieve 100% green packaging for their cosmetics by 2025. To this goal, they have partnered with Japanese materials company KANEKA to produce packaging made of a new biodegradable polymer. The Aquagel Lip Palette range launched in 2020 uses this material and has 80% less packaging than individual lipsticks.

In the article, Shiseido is painted as not only environmentally conscious, but also generous and willing to share environmentally beneficial technology with other companies for the ultimate goal of helping resolve issues of pollution and global warming. As a Japanese company, the image of Shiseido reflects back on Japan as having environmental responsibility, being technologically advanced and the valuation of overall societal progress over individual profit.

Shseido’s investment into developing environmentally sustainable technologies and willingness to share such technology and processes at no monetary benefit to themselves indicates an altruistic dedication to environmental protection. By innovating their production and transport processes to be more sustainable and empowering others to do the same, the company comes across as a “green” company.

Shiseido’s focus on sustainability seems at odds with the theme of the rural-urban divide, where urban populations are more detached from nature and see it as a source of recreation rather than a force to be respected and feared, deprioritising environmental concerns for profit. Given that Shiseido is an urban-based company yet has a dedication to sustainability, this may indicate a modification to the textbook dynamic. Unlike pollution in the Miyamata case, where the cost was largely localised to the fishermen and wildlife of the area, global warming may be a universal enough threat that even urban populations are confronted with nature’s impact on their life, creating more of an environmental awareness in urban spheres.

Despite heightened awareness of the environment, Shiseido may not indicate a complete reversal of trends. As mentioned in Kirby’s article, the Japanese government seems to be in no hurry to alter their environmental policies unless the solid allegations against them become known to the public. (Kirby, 2011, pg. 188) Shiseido only has one example of a product that was made with the biodegradable material. There are a wide variety of products from Shiseido and the lip palette represents a small change towards sustainability. This aligns with Kirby’s reading that the firm’s priority seems not to be pushing sustainable development but profits, monitoring sales of the lip palette as a test to see if “green” products are profitable before transitioning the rest of their packaging.
This article can be linked to Walker’s reading on how the process of industrialization brings upon devastating harms to the environment and in turn, to the people living around it. The Chisso corporation was a historical example of how a large corporation in pursuit of profits was able to harm the locals on a large scale. (Walker, 2011). That being said, perhaps this is the one small step for a Japanese corporation and one big step for Japan as a whole when it comes to implementing sustainable development. There are definitely measures and alternatives that large companies such as Shiseido, Toyota, Fujitsu, etc, create and with their potential scale of production, it will be heartening to see that there can be substantial efforts when it comes to green innovation.
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Kirby, P.W. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Walker, Brett L. The Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2011.

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