March 22, 2024

Roundtable provides opportunity for creatives and startups to meet

Warren Meehan
Contributing writer

From left: Melanie Brock, Ross Rowbury and Yuki Kishi | Yuico Taiya

A recent Japan Times Roundtable event took a very different incarnation from the series’ usual interview format: a panel discussion and Q&A session at the cozy French bakery Point et Linge, opposite Tokyo Station.

The panelists were met by a lively audience, including previous guests of the series and an array of Tokyo creatives, entrepreneurs, startup founders, nonprofit workers, investors and social enterprise trailblazers. With Tokyo fast becoming Asia’s premier startup hub, the casual surroundings also served as a fantastic opportunity for social networking among a vanguard of change leaders.

As guests made their way into the venue for the sold-out event, they were welcomed by a friendly staff and a range of wines, hors d’oeuvres and freshly baked bread from the cafe’s wood-fired ovens.

Introductions and contact exchanges quickly got underway as everyone enjoyed a drink while waiting for the panel discussion to begin.

The previous Roundtable guests in attendance included the social entrepreneur Seira Yun, founder of the Socious app; Michael Magee, managing director of the water optimizer company Brita Japan; and James Hollow, founder and CEO of the strategic consultancy Fabric K.K., which helps businesses create shared value with their customers and communities.

Focusing on social impacts

Since few Tokyo networking events are dedicated to sustainability, guests appreciated the opportunity to exchange ideas and contact details with like-minded innovators. Among them was Julian Bashore from MacDermid Enthone Industrial Solutions, which is committed to championing sustainable solutions, including for the PET bottle recycling industry, and Risako Ishigaki, a producer at Imagemill, a New Age branding production company with a focus on catalyzing change in brand and corporate structures, among many other innovative trailblazers.

After an interesting and wide-ranging discussion, the panel took questions from the audience. | Yuico Taiya

What sustainability means

Host Ross Rowbury introduced the evening’s panelists: Melanie Brock from Melanie Brock Advisory and Yuki Kishi, the CFO at Sustainable Lab, a financial technology startup that gathers companies’ ESG data for investors. Rowbury began the discussion by asking each guest what sustainability meant to them.

“It’s the change and transformation that is happening in the companies that I work with.” began Brock, “and for me personally, sustainability is a learning process, what impact my own decisions has. The conversation around sustainability is much more in our consciousness now, because it has to be front of mind. In the past, we weren’t aware of many of the issues that needed deeper understanding, and to a certain extent some countries were living in a bubble. Now we have access to so much more information and knowledge, we know what we need to do and what we are responsible for.”

Kishi considered that sustainability has existed in Japan as a concept in one form or another for thousands of years, but conceded that the concept is not easy to describe. “We are an ESG feedback company. What we are trying to do is make your decision process a better one,” he explained. “We are providing a data pipeline so that your company won’t need to just look at the return on investment as a financial one, but also be able to make that decision as a sustainable one. And now that listed companies in Japan need to disclose their ESG data, people can compare ESG data, thereby increasing the emphasis on sustainability.”

Kishi said that when disclosed data aligns with stated ESG goals, companies not only create a community good but also can attract better talent. Small and medium-size businesses “need to think about how to attract more talent, and one way is using the ‘sustainability ticket.’ By disclosing their pay and gender gap, their diversity and their commitment to the environment, I see those companies attract more talent, especially the younger generation.”

Brock added that after recently listening to a presentation by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, she was impressed by the support the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was providing for families in terms of leave and education programs. “(Koike) made the point that family can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” explained Brock, “and while Japan might be making a great effort, the moves are far too incremental.”

After the panel session, attendees had the chance to meet each other and network over some food and drinks. | Yuico Taiya

Keeping the vibe alive

After an interesting discussion covering a wide range of topics, the panel took questions from the audience. The chairs were then cleared away and a supper of creative Spanish-inspired rustic dishes was presented, with a heavy accent on fresh vegetarian options using locally sourced seasonal ingredients in keeping with the vibe of the sustainability crowd.

The evening finished with supper and drinks as well as an opportunity to speak to the panelists more personally about some of the valuable work they are providing in the sustainability and ESG fields. Guests could also have a final catch-up with some of the like-minded movers and shakers in the sustainability sector as well as reflect on challenges and opportunities that abound in sustainable practices.

Roundtable is a monthly series of English-language events organized by The Japan Times Cube. For more information visit

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