The challenge

Globally we already consume 30% more resources each year than our planet can replenish. But if everyone consumed at European rates we would need three planets, and Americans have a five-planet lifestyle. We cannot go on this way. We must adapt our societies and economies to sustainable patterns of consumption – low if not zero-carbon, resource-efficient and profitable - as soon as we can.


What we did

Retail businesses are used to responding to consumer demand, or ‘pull’ – it is their principal business driver - but this will not deliver the radical changes we need to create a prosperous, resource-efficient world. Most consumers don’t have enough information, opportunity or motivation to make sustainable choices about how they buy and use products, so ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ consumption is still niche and companies make only incremental improvements. Leading brands need to take the initiative and work together to stimulate consumer pull on sustainability and make ‘sustainable consumption’ mainstream.

Consumer Futures 2020 aims to help them do this. It is designed as a practical tool to help organisations throughout the global consumer goods industry plan for the future. It contains four different, but entirely plausible, scenarios which explore how patterns of consumption and consumer behaviour may have changed by 2020.

The scenarios are not intended to be predictions or visions of desired futures. They look at how global trends may change our world and the consumer goods industry, and how sustainable products, services and business models could become mainstream.

Future scenarios are an invaluable tool for forward thinking businesses to use when planning ahead. They help identify risks and opportunities, inform strategy development, and stimulate innovation. Sainsbury’s and Unilever are already using them to explore new ways of collaborating on initiatives that will deliver sustainability and commercial benefit to both organisations.

The scenarios are accompanied by a toolkit to help you make best use of the scenarios. It includes six sketched-up products and services for each scenario illustrating how brands may meet consumer needs in 2020 and a set of personas which can be used to analyse the scenarios from different consumer perspectives.

The 4 Scenarios

In order to create our scenarios we took what we see as the two least certain trends with the greatest impact on the future of the consumer goods industry:

Prosperous vs Less prosperous – by 2020 will our economy be flourishing or subdued?
Do-it-yourself vs Do-it-for-me – will consumers take the initiative to satisfy their needs or expect brands to do this for them?

We used these to create a two-by-two matrix, which in turn enabled us to create the scenarios exploring how these trends could play out, as illustrated along the axes.

In ‘My way’, mainstream consumers buy locally, strengthening their local economies. Vertical farming is widespread, producing more food per unit of land. Sustainable living is high-tech and easy; products such as the personal energy micro-manager help reduce energy consumption and build personal relationships via on-line competitions.

In ‘Sell it to me’, brands and businesses have taken a lot of the hard work out of being sustainable, driven by resource scarcity and a global deal on climate change. Retailers have taken unsustainable products off the shelves and smart products and services are commonplace – all designed to reduce their in-use impacts.

In ‘From Me to You’, communities are again strengthened by local food and energy production. Resources are valued much more highly than today because they are scarce and expensive, and there is little or no waste. Goods exchanges are mainstream, encouraging recycling and re-use of goods and resources, from fridges to grey water.

Finally, in ‘I’m in your hands’, the product to service shift has become mainstream. Retailers and brands lease a lifetime’s supply of key goods, and now also provide heat, water and nutrition. Strict government legislation and economies of scale mean that these leasing models are highly sustainable. Consumers take a “waste not want not” attitude and expect government and business to take the lead on delivering sustainability.


"Marketers have woken up to the responsibilities and opportunities from sustainability. All they need now is the right tools. Consumer Futures will act as prompt to stimulate and interrogate thinking and provides a rich resource for our clients, as well as for us at Dragon Rouge, to develop the brands and innovations that will thrive in a sustainable future."
- Dorothy Mackenzie, Chairman, Dragon Rouge

Consumer Futures is designed as a practical tool to help retailers, brands and manufacturers throughout the global consumer goods industry plan for the future. Sainsbury’s and Unilever plan to use it as a platform for collaboration and innovation, jointly developing profitable and sustainable initiatives that will help them meet the ambitious commitments in Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan and Sainsbury’s five corporate responsibility values.

We have put together a toolkit to help you use the scenarios. Please feel free to download and use any of these materials as, with all Forum for the Future publications and tools, they are freely available for all.Follow the links below to download the various elements of the Consumer Futures toolkit.

Partners involved in this project