We can be sure of one thing about the future: it will be radically different from today. The global recession shows how quickly things can change – and we face much greater challenges to our economy and way of life, such as scarcity of key resources, rapid population growth, climate change and loss of biodiversity. These problems of sustainability affect our consumers and suppliers around the globe and are putting ever-increasing pressure on our business models. They make it essential for us to reorient our global economy around sustainable, low-carbon patterns of consumption.
Changes to the retail sector
Over the next 10 years we can expect major changes to the consumer retail sector. Demand for basic resources such as oil, water and staple crops is likely to increase and prices will rise.
Consumers’ behaviour and expectations will change: we expect growing demand for manufacturers and retailers to operate responsibly and to demonstrate this through transparent value chains. Successful brands will need to innovate to meet challenges like these, develop sustainable products, services and business models, and work with consumers to make them a success.
This represents a huge opportunity for forward-thinking brands to position themselves at the heart of the new, green economy, evolving the market to meet consumer needs in different, sustainable ways. Many brands have built a trusted relationship with millions of consumers, and with it brand loyalty, which can last a lifetime. We believe this gives them both the power and the responsibility to help people lead better, more sustainable lives. In fact, it’s hard to see sustainable consumption becoming mainstream unless brands take the lead.
Consumer Futures as a practical tool
Sainsbury’s, Unilever and Forum for the Future have jointly produced Consumer Futures as a practical tool to help organisations throughout the global consumer goods industry to prepare for the future. We want to help them explore how consumer expectations and behaviour will change and use these new insights to take the lead in driving forward sustainable consumption.
We have combined our knowledge of product value chains, consumer demand, behaviour change and sustainability to produce four plausible, provocative scenarios which explore possible patterns of consumption in 2020. Brands are used to drawing on recent market data and nearterm market projections to help develop products and services but this tends to encourage only incremental change. By looking further ahead and understanding what the future may hold, we can identify risks and opportunities and even how we can help shape that future. We plan to use the scenarios and accompanying tools to inspire innovation, inform business strategy and develop sustainable business models. We urge you to do the same.
We hope you find Consumer Futures provocative and inspiring. We look forward to sharing our sustainable innovations as we develop them, and hope Consumer Futures will help the consumer goods industry to make a fundamental shift towards sustainable consumption.
“… people are being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about” – Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth
In developed nations we live in an unprecedented world of superconsumption.
Our economy demands that we consume to keep it growing healthily. Every day marketing campaigns whisper “buy-me, buy-me”, and before we know it our homes are filled with ‘stuff’, much of which we quickly forget.
Consumption and its consequences
We love to consume, and it is firmly engrained as a social norm – a (sometimes) fun, (mostly) daily activity that the majority of us partake in. Globally, we already consume 30% more resources each year than our planet can replenish.
Developed nations are the worst offenders: if everyone consumed at European rates we would need three planets; Americans have a five-planet lifestyle.
It’s clear we cannot go on this way. We face unprecedented challenges, such as accelerating climate change, loss of biodiversity, rising social inequalities, rapid population growth, and growing demand for water and key commodities.
The UK Government, for example, has set the most challenging, legally binding carbon reduction target any country has made thus far – 50% reduction of emissions by 2025. And the global emissions target as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is 80% reduction by 2050. We must adapt our societies and economies to sustainable patterns of consumption – low if not zerocarbon, resource-efficient and profitable – as soon as we can.
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 just that.
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