As Forum for the Future announces its new 2023-2025 strategy, For a just and regenerative future, Chief Executive Dr Sally Uren sets the context by exploring where the sustainability movement has made progress and where it’s fallen short. Recognising the crossroads the world stands at right now and the transitions already in play, Sally outlines Forum’s focus on enabling deep transformation over shallow, incremental gains, and how we will hone in on food, energy and business.

Every so often all non-profit organisations ask themselves a critical question: How can we maximise the positive change we would like to see in the world? Forum for the Future is no exception. That’s why we’ve spent the last 12 months contributing to impact today, whilst working out what might help us create more impact tomorrow. Forum was founded on the idea of reimagining the way the world works, and, 26 years — and many, many lessons learned — later, the question of impact is more important than ever.


Because, yes, the sustainability movement has made progress, but no, it isn’t enough. 

Progress, but not enough

Through the lens of progress, sustainability has no doubt mainstreamed from the edges of corporate operations into the boardroom: the B Corp movement can’t keep up with demand; big policy levers such as the long-awaited US Climate Bill are being pulled; and the profession itself is burgeoning.

Yet, through the lens of not enough or even falling short, the climate change curve isn’t bending; extreme weather events are intensifying; our indicators of biodiversity, equality and equity are all marching in the wrong direction. Add to this acute geopolitical tension, wars around the world, a crisis over spiralling cost of living and the continued hangover of a global pandemic. 

Granted, these factors can’t all be assigned directly to the sustainability movement falling short. But they are indicative of the wider context at this moment in time. 

All of the systems we rely on are at the very edge of their ability to sustain us. These include our physical systems (such as land, oceans and air), our socio-economic systems (food and energy), and the global economic system itself. Each is fragile and volatile.

Whether by vested interests, short-termism or vanilla versions of CSR that act as smoke-screens for deeply unsustainable practices, progress continues to be held back. False choices continue to dominate: social or environmental outcomes? Sustainability or profit? 

So what’s behind the sustainability movement’s lack of progress?

One of the main reasons behind the sustainability movement’s lack of progress is that we (and I mean, all of us, in all professions) have singularly failed to address the root causes of our current crises. We have insisted on sticking plaster solutions, weak policy responses, and in many cases, the easy options that placate those in power.  

Many of us have been tweaking the edges of our current systems, optimising efficiencies and locking in their inherent unsustainability and must now face a bleak truth — that we have fallen short in:

  • boldly calling out that the goals of our precious, life-sustaining systems need to change; 
  • painting a sufficiently compelling vision of what these rewired systems could look like in a way that appeals to those outside of the sustainability echo chamber;
  • getting clear on the how of the changes needed. 

There is some good news though. Yes, our systems are brittle, fragile, and prone to continued shocks and disruption, but they are also changing.

The energy system is on the march, transitioning from a system predicated on sustaining our reliance on oil and gas, to a system built on using 100% renewable energy. The food system is in the midst of shifting from delivering efficiency and volume at any cost to the environment and livelihoods, to a system with goals of equity, nutrition and regeneration at its heart. And business is rewriting its role; the sustainability movement has no doubt enabled a legitimacy for a broadened purpose for business and there are now pockets of the private sector in a tantalising transition from business-as-usual to business-for-good.

Above: Dr Sally Uren on where the sustainability movement has fallen short and where it has made progress.


High-stakes crossroads: deep transformation or shallow transition?

So, we find ourselves standing at crossroads and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Will these and other transitions lead to the deep, systemic transformation needed to truly tackle our climate, biodiversity and equity crises?  

Or will these transitions be shallow? Will we end up with a slightly better version of what we have today, but fundamentally fail to tackle the root causes of the issues we set out to resolve?

It is this crossroad that has led Forum to shift its strategic direction. Looking beyond long-standing but arguably now no longer fit-for-purpose notions of ‘sustainability’, our mission is to accelerate progress towards a ‘just and regenerative future’ in which both people and the planet thrive. More on the what, why and how of just and regenerative here.

Forum’s vision is a truly just and regenerative future in which:

  • our social and environmental systems are capable of adapting to and addressing challenges of the future with flexibility and resilience 
  • the world has moved beyond artificial divides between people, nature and economy;
  • the meaning of a ‘prosperous economy’ is redefined; and,
  • the root causes of the climate emergency, nature in crisis and systemic inequality have been tackled.

By 2030, Forum’s goals are to enable a deep and urgent transition: 

  • of our food system to enable equitable access to nutrition for all whilst securing sustainable livelihoods for producers and restoring nature;
  • to renewable energy that is ecologically safe and socially just; and,
  • in the role of business to drive a just and regenerative economy.

Underpinning these transitions will be an unwavering focus on fundamentally resetting the goals of our food, energy and economic systems, as well as being more specific on the role we play. Moving forward, we want to co-create inspiring and compelling visions of the future and what a more just and regenerative world could look like; diagnose the present by considering how, where and why the world needs to change; and lastly, forge a path between the two by exploring risks, opportunities and barriers to change, developing prototypes for new innovations and models, and challenging the mindsets behind the choices we make and the action we take. 

What this all means for what’s different at Forum 

We will hone in on food, energy and business. Among the flagship programmes continuing are the Growing our Future initiative — aimed at mainstreaming regenerative agriculture in the US food system; the Responsible Energy Initiative — aimed at ensuring the transition to renewable energy in Asia is ecologically safe, rights-respecting and socially just; and the Business Transformation Compass — aimed at resetting business ambition in line with a just and regenerative mindset.  

We intend to get more vocal on the deep and urgent nature of these transitions, and will be both quicker and bolder in calling out sticking plaster solutions and/or activities that are locking in unsustainable practices. 

We will be reiterating the urgent need for systems change and asking for greater accountability among our partners and collaborators in driving it. 

We want to demonstrate proof-points that a wider economic transition is not just fundamentally necessary, but possible.

We are looking at land and how we might start to make more informed and smarter decisions on how we use it. Afterall, if the economy is the massive unlock for deep transformation, land is one of the key enablers and so how we use this finite resource will have huge influence over what comes next. 

We will be paying more attention to the ‘Big How’. Visions and frameworks are all well and good, but there is a lack of guidance and understanding of how we actually implement systemic change. We wish to address this.

We will be stronger at ensuring equity and equality in our work - in part, doing all we can to enable lesser heard voices and under-represented groups to have their say in shaping the future.

And finally, one of our long-standing programmes, the School of System Change, will now operate in partnership with Forum as our sister organisation. With more independence, the School is primed to support networks, organisations and individuals to collectively learn, to navigate various tools and methods, and to apply this thinking to their own challenges. The goal: to nurture more and more change-makers to enact deep, lasting change.

Above: an overview of what stays the same and what’s different as Forum announces its new 2023-2025 strategy, For a just and regenerative future

And what’s staying the same? 

Staying true to our roots, Forum will keep pushing the frontiers of sustainability practice. From originating the use of the Five Capitals model and writing the principles of Net Positive, to socialising and advocating for just and regenerative’, we will keep pushing ambition and practice. 

We will continue to use our system framing — bringing together the environmental and the social, as well as looking at opportunities for leverage points capable of simultaneously driving multiple benefits in multiple systems. 

Given that futures tools and techniques have unparalleled ability to shift mindsets, our futures practice will remain central to how we work — expect us to continue asking ‘What if?’ and inspiring you to consider just what alternative futures are possible. 

Elsewhere, we will build capacity for systemic change — continuing to work in partnership, both one to one and as part of wider coalitions and collaborations. And internally, we will doubledown on our commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion as part of building a thriving, diverse and international organisation.

We’re making a choice, and it’s the most important one of our times

Here at Forum we are choosing deep transformation over shallow, incremental gains, and we’re doing so despite (perhaps even because of) all of the volatility the world is experiencing right now and the resisting forces intent on retaining the status quo. With change comes an opportunity to sow the seeds of transformation, and, armed with everything we’ve learned from the last 26 years, we intend to take it.

Together, let’s think systemically, act faster and go further. 

Find out more about Forum’s 2023-2025 strategy. For a just and regenerative future. If you’re interested in working with Forum to think systemically, act faster and go further, email us at [email protected]. If you’re keen to immerse yourself in multiple systems change methods while learning with a network of practitioners, reach out to Forum’s sister organisation, The School of System Change, at [email protected]