While linear change is smooth and relatively predictable, nonlinear change confounds our expectations with shifts that can be very fast, even abrupt, and today, we are surrounded by it.
Extreme climate events are commonplace – witness three hurricanes over category 4 strength in just one season. Catastrophes like the forest fires in Borneo barely make the news – they have become the ‘new normal’. And plastic pollution has been revealed to be far more pervasive than previously suspected, contaminating the water we drink, the food we eat, and even the air we breathe, everywhere on Earth.
Fortunately non-linear change can lead to positive outcomes, too. We have selected seven areas we believe are particularly dynamic now, and which present rich opportunities to develop radically more sustainable behaviour and practice, through 2018 and towards the 2020s.
The mobility system is about to change more profoundly than it has for a century.
Farming may follow in time, with the case for a more productive, regenerative approach strengthening quickly.
The response in 2017 to the plastics crisis has been astonishing, from civil society and from business.
We’re seeing signals of a system-wide shift for a retail model at its limits.
New ways of organising are growing in power, but what values will they bring?
How might new sources of livelihoods emerge as changing norms combine with extraordinary new technology?
Finally, we look at blockchain again. Hype reached a peak in 2017; now we’re asking, is it really a source of radical disruption?
Our observations are based on a year of contributions to our Futures Centre1, research into the future of a range of sectors and issues, as well as work designed to drive transformative change with our partners across the globe.
For each area, we describe the signals of change that we see and explore the implications for system change and a sustainable future.
None of these developments is happening in isolation, and we explore how they come together to create a complex picture of change in one specific industry - the fashion industry - where rapid shifts in technologies, consumer attitudes and long-term impacts of landscape-level trends could converge to create the conditions to shift this system.
Each of the seven areas we explore demands a response from different actors. Understanding and harnessing these dynamic areas will help you and your organisation navigate uncertain and complex times, and contribute to a sustainable future. But we need change at a more fundamental level. As we explain in our closing section, new business models and new technologies will never be enough. The ‘future of sustainability’ depends on thinking and acting differently at every level of society, so that we can learn to live with and shape change.
Being sensitive to the world around us and how it is changing is part of this. And so we are sharing our outlook with you, and ask you to keep sharing the changes you see with us.