The challenge

“Our food reserves are at a 50-year low, but by 2030 we need to be producing 50% more food. At the same time, we will need 50% more energy, and 30% more fresh water… You can't think about dealing with one without considering the others. We must deal with all of these together." - John Beddington, UK Government’s Chief Scientist

There is growing recognition that our global economy is unsustainable and many people predict a ‘perfect storm’ of food, energy and water shortages converging in 2030. Underlying this are deep long-term trends such as population growth, climate change, persistent poverty and poor health. Governments and business are beginning to take action. Yet we struggle to understand what is meant by a sustainable economy. And how do you turn sustainability risks into opportunities? Both Innovate UK and Aviva Investors have been engaging with these issues proactively and in response we’ve come up with something called Horizons (originally called the Sustainable Economy Framework).


What we did

We developed Horizons, a framework that defines what we mean by a sustainable economy – one that operates within safe environmental limits and delivers social value. It was informed by a synthesis of the best research and thinking from around the world and stress tested with stakeholders and leading thinkers.


The outermost ring describes the safe environmental limits an economy must operate within; the second ring represents the social and political foundations that enable our societies to flourish; and the innermost ring shows the essential needs for humans to survive and thrive. These all work towards delivering the desired outcomes (the ‘bullseye’ of Horizons) – universal and continuous access for current and future generation to the resources and opportunities necessary to live well. By understanding these issues and the trends associated with them, organisations can start to prepare better for the future.

Horizons has been developed into a free digital tool that contains supporting case studies, facts and tips on how to use Horizons. You can visit the tool here:



Innovate UK is actively using Horizons to develop and test their strategies and investments, to ensure that they are driving sustainable market opportunities, leading to long-term sustainable wealth creation. The tool is also being used by the Knowledge Transfer Networks to help them think through social and environmental drivers of future markets along with the opportunities and challenges this presents.     

Horizons has been used by a variety of organisations such as Julie’s Bicycle, Peterborough Environment City Trust, Satellite Applications Catapult; Sky and the Environment Agency.


Related links

  • Visit the Horizons website
  • View Nicky Conway's Building a sustainable economy slideshare
  • Find out more about how Aviva Investors and Forum for the Future see the role of capital markets in facilitating a sustainable economy on the right-hand side of this page. 
  • Watch our webinar with Nicky Conway and Mike Pitts here. You will find out how and why Horizons was developed, how the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) are using it and how you and your organisation can use Horizons to identify risks and opportunities. 

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