Back To The Future: A Green World By 2020?

If you’d asked me when I was a child what the world would look like in 2020, I would have predicted flying cars, hovercrafts, transporters and a colony on the moon. So, when I read that the nonprofit firm Forum for the Future (yes, such a thing exists) had published a report claiming that sustainable products and services will be mainstream by 2020, admittedly, I was skeptical.

The study, notably backed by Sainsbury and Unilever, contends that this relatively rapid shift towards a sustainable marketplace will be in response to consumer demands, but largely driven by brands. Says Sally Uren, Forum for the Future deputy CEO, “Smart brands and businesses will make money today by accelerating the transition to a sustainable future.”

The report is positioned against a backdrop of a potential future that isn’t slick, glossy, or chrome-colored, but rather a future that threatens to be smog-filled, bookended by mountains of trash and brown rivers. Our current state of overconsumption – globally, the report points out that we consume 30% more resources than the planet can replenish – is leading us to a world that will be defined by scarcity of resources, rapid population growth, climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Enter the corporate crusaders who stand at a crossroad. To echo last month’s piece, being green isn’t just good for business – it’s crucial for businesses if they are going to be prepared to deal with the myriad challenges that a resource-depleted, overpopulated, overheated world will bring. As Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King says, “Being sustainable is not about box ticking; it’s about future-proofing your business.” 

To help companies and marketers “future-proof,” the Forum for the Future presents four potential scenarios to explore how global trends may change the world. It reminds me of the choose-your-own-adventure novels of my youth. In each scenario, social and environmental pressures have made sustainable goods commonplace. Where the scenarios differ are in whether the global economy is flourishing or subdued and whether consumers are taking the initiative to satisfy their needs or expect brands to do it for them. 

The message to marketers is loud and clear – we cannot wait for the consumer to decide to buy green products and services. Currently, it is critical to understand the future consumer better than they understand themselves and, if necessary, create the demand from consumers. The report challenges companies to “use the power of marketing to accelerate sustainability.” Having a green marketing strategy can be the difference between going green or going home.

In 2020, we may be working for and buying from companies offering completely sustainable products and services. I look forward to a future where you have to bring your own cup to Starbucks and hope that my hovercraft has a coffee holder.

Does this ring true to you? How do you envision 2020?

2 comments about "Back To The Future: A Green World By 2020?".
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  1. Pat Perdue from Pat Perdue Consulting, October 19, 2011 at 12:30 p.m.

    This article is spot on, and really well written by Brigid Milligan.

    I love the idea of a world where sustainability and "being green" will be business-as-usual. As for creating a market, I strongly feel that there is huge untapped potential; that the market is there but woefully under-exploited in key areas. It will just take a few "blue ocean" strategists to tap into it and the shift toward sustainability will happen.

  2. Brigid Milligan from World Wildlife Fund, October 21, 2011 at 11:31 a.m.

    Thanks so much for the positive comment. I think you're right that the market is there. I'm increasingly believing that companies (and their marketers) who embrace adaptive strategies will be most poised to succeed and reap the benefits of sustainable initiatives.

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