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Forum for the Future identifies key global trends shaping the future of the planet

By Megan Amrich

A new report from one of the world’s leading sustainability non-profits, Forum for the Future, calls on leaders to better understand the dynamic trends that are shaping the future, in order to create strategies that effectively navigate today’s complex times and unlock new opportunities for sustainability.

Titled Future of Sustainability 2018 – Living in nonlinear times, the crowd-sourced report sheds light on seven “areas of dynamism” that are exerting a profound impact on societies today, from changing retail and consumerism, to regenerative approaches to agriculture and action against plastic pollution.   

Drawing on the key social, economic and environmental shifts happening in these areas, the report highlights the implications, as well as the rich opportunities on offer for business, civil society and government leaders to radically and rapidly reshape current systems of behaviour and practice, for long-lasting, systemic change.

James Goodman, Director of Futures and Projects at Forum for the Future, said: “We live in a world of great political, economic and environmental uncertainty, in which sudden and major changes have become the new normal. We need a better understanding of the trends emerging today that will impact the future, how they are linked, and also how we are part of ongoing processes of change. Only then can leaders make better decisions that ensure that we survive and thrive in the future.”

For each of the seven areas, the report describes “signals of change” – real-life examples of disruption and/or innovation around the world - and considers their implications for the future. These signals act as tangible proof points of change in motion, and demonstrate how leaders and decision makers need to think more systemically in order to understand where different sectors are headed and the opportunities they can harness to help deliver a more sustainable future.

The report considers the reality behind blockchain, assessing how the decentralised database may be able to support sustainable practices beyond the world of cryptocurrency, and exploring ways it might be combined with other technologies to deliver greater impact in the future.

Another focus area highlights how the retail sector is in flux as technological innovations and changing expectations from digital-native consumers are rewriting the way we buy and sell. Retailers need to adapt not only to reduced foot traffic as consumers move online, but also to new trends such as the move from ownership to access, the sharing economy, and the shift from products to experiences. Yet emerging technologies are enabling some far-sighted retailers to reinvent the consumer experience - from Amazon Go’s first contactless, cashierless store in China, to Smarter’s FridgeCam which stocks up users’ fridges based on what’s inside. Critically, these new approaches to retail can unlock opportunities for businesses to make consumption more beneficial for both environment and society.

In the food system, conventional agricultural models are putting increasing pressure on natural systems with significant implications for feeding growing populations and for keeping climate change in check. In response, we are seeing signs of regenerative agriculture - innovative, restorative approaches that give back more to the environment than is taken out. In addition, the report explores how new systems of automation and data collection can support these approaches. These new developments present huge opportunities for producers, businesses and governments alike to develop a food and farming system that is productive and sustainable in the long term. 

David Croft, Global Sustainable Development Director for Diageo, said: “Diageo works to support farming and sustain the environment across our value chain. We have found that collaboration is critical and the key to success. 

“Regenerative agriculture needs both environmental and socio-economic interventions given the complexity of the issues involved. This is challenging to achieve at scale, but I see an increasingly shared vision and agenda that closely aligns with this report and its focus areas. We hope this report will be a source of confidence and for shared action going forward.”

The Future of Sustainability 2018 report was written by Forum for the Future’s team of futures experts, led by James Goodman. It draws on contributions from multiple sources, including a year’s worth of signals of change curated and analysed by the Futures Centre, extensive research into the future of a range of sectors and issues, and insights from the non-profit’s ongoing work with collaborative partners to drive system change. Read the report here.


For more information about Forum for the Future’s work in future trends and strategy, please contact James Goodman or visit the Futures Centre.

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Megan is a writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. She is the author of Show Up and Bring Coffee, a book highlighting how to support friends who are parents of disabled children. You can follow her at JoyfulBraveAwesome.com.

Read more stories by Megan Amrich