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The Next Economy
Forum for the Future Sheds Light on Global Trends Shaping the Future of Sustainability

In a new report, 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 challenges and unlock new opportunities for sustainability.

The crowd-sourced report, entitled Future of Sustainability 2018 – Living in Nonlinear Times, 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 pollution.

Drawing on the key social, economic and environmental shifts currently underway 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 behavior and practice for long-lasting, systemic change.

“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,” said James Goodman, Director of Futures and Projects at Forum for 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 demonstrates 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 decentralized 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 experience. 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 significant opportunities for producers, businesses and governments alike to develop a food and farming system that is productive and sustainable in the long term.

“Regenerative agriculture needs both environmental and socio-economic interventions given the complexity of the issues involved,” said David Croft, Global Sustainable Development Director at Diageo. “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.”