Disruptive trends set to shape the future of sustainability

Plastic waste and regenerative agriculture have been identified as two of seven ‘areas of dynamism’ shaping the future of sustainability, according to a new report by sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future.

Disruptive trends set to shape the future of sustainability Released yesterday (6 February), the report ‘Future of Sustainability 2018 - Living in nonlinear times’, seeks to paint a picture of the abrupt and disruptive dynamic trends shaping the future and making a profound impact on today’s societies.

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.

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 seven dynamic areas of change examined in the report are:

  1. Mobility facing as radical a shift as horse to motor
  2. Regenerative agriculture growing in momentum
  3. Action against pervasive plastic pollution
  4. Retail shifts and changing consumerism
  5. New ways of organising catalysing social action
  6. New livelihoods in low income and emerging economies
  7. Blockchain impacts beyond the hype

Commenting on the release of the report, 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.”

The report echoes the public mood on plastics waste, while also placing soil health and quality at the front and centre, putting the emphasis on a crucial yet oft-forgotten resource. The report details the scale of the plastic waste issue, citing statistics quoted in The Guardian claiming that 83 per cent of tap water samples around the world were contaminated with plastic fibres and the well-publicised figure of eight million tonnes of plastic entering the sea every year. It goes on to give examples of projects that signal change in our approach to plastics, such as the raft of countries to have banned single-use plastics or Sky’s Ocean Rescue Campaign to rid its operations, products and supply chain of single-use plastics by 2020.

Regenerative agriculture, which is predicated on the basis of protecting soils in order to produce quality food and trap carbon, and soil health also receives considerable attention, highlighting how current agricultural practices degrade soil, reduce water quality and impact on biodiversity, negatively affecting the quality of food and its nutritional content, not to mention our ability to support an ever-increasing population.

Examples of agronomic actions being taken in the sector include new harvesting techniques that reduce soil compression and soil loss and advances in microbial agricultural additives that help to rebuild the bacterial health of degraded soil. Technological solutions abound, including a system created by Blue River Technology that distinguishes between crops and weeds and can reduce inputs by up to 90 per cent, while McCain Foods Ltd recently invested in Resson, an agriculture technology company that used smart data and real-time predictive analysis to inform crop management to ensure the optimum relation between resource inputs and yields.

You can read the full report - ‘Future of Sustainability 2018 - Living in nonlinear times’ - on the Forum for the Future website.

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