The cities of the Global South are entering an era of extraordinary economic growth. As the United Nations Development Report of 2013 states, “The rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale. Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.”
At the Innovation Workshops, participants began to create ways to impact the futures of their cities. Photo courtesy of Manuel Vigo
The role of brands is changing. People expect ever more of brands, championing the ones they love, and tweeting at full volume about the ones that disappoint. They want brands to act responsibly on their behalf – but are often sceptical, if not downright confused about companies’ sustainability claims. At the same time, future-ready brands know that they have to respond to the big trends that will shape the wants and needs of tomorrow’s consumers – and their future business success. Be that how digital technology transforms how we interact with the world, or the healthcare needs of a booming older population, staying the same is not an option. How can your brand win consumer preference AND create the future we want?
Last week I was in Portland with 150 others at LAUNCH – a collaboration between Nike, NASA, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US State Department that accelerates new solutions for a better world. This was system innovation in action – bringing players from across the system of materials in a room and using tools like gaming and system mapping to evoke new ideas and new collaborations. As a facilitator of system shifting processes, it was great to be a participant for a change.
In my last post, I talked about how many firms are using quantified business cases that credibly predict positive financial returns to drive broader, gutsier and often customer-facing sustainability decisions. Such firms recognise that long-term value creation can only occur within environmental limits and the increasing constraints of resource scarcity, and this understanding is at the heart of the business case.
A silvery robot whirrs towards you proferring a red pill and a glass of water to wash it down with. You take the pill, and it throws you thirty years into the future. So began a futures workshop in Lima recently, a part of the Rockefeller Foundation's Informal City Dialogues.
The idea is copied from the film The Matrix of course, the classic scene where Neo must choose between a blue pill (to return to a virtual reality delusion) and a red pill (to find out the truth).
In recent years, Forum has witnessed an important shift in how many of our partners scrutinise the financial case for sustainability. We’re becoming accustomed to partners asking for advice not on the intangible benefits of a fringe initiative, but rather, for help on building a solid financial case for customer-facing efforts – which increasingly take the form of new products, services and business models. Finance officers, product managers and business development executives are increasingly willing to try these –if an acceptable level of financial returns can be predicted and achieved with confidence.
This makes perfect sense – why would a manager sign off on an ostensibly ‘sustainable’ project with uncertain profitability, when competing, traditional opportunities have fully quantified costs, benefits and profit expectations?
With the credit crunch, the global Occupy Movement, and the various banking scandals of recent years, there have been searching questions about the role – and sustainability - of the financial system.
At Forum for the Future, we’ve been asking our own questions about how we best influence this system. We have spent well over a decade working in this area, from when we set up the Centre for Sustainable Investment, to more recent attempts to bring long-term thinking to the finance system. We have helped our partners, such as Aviva Investors, Bank of America, Barclays, The Co-operative and RSA Insurance, to tackle sustainability issues and put in place new cultures and practices.
We’ve also done great projects, creating and using innovative financial mechanisms to enable more sustainable practices in forestry, carbon markets, community energy and shipping.
Gazing across the landscape of a city like Singapore, you might be tempted to think that you’ve taken the time machine into the city of the future. The buildings are incredibly futuristic, the landscape is dotted with Sky Trees – man-made skywalks housing plants from around the world – and everything zips along smoothly, quietly and promptly.
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