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Sustainability Outlook: Forecasting the Future

June 1, 2009

The Challenge

The fast-changing events of 2008 reinforced how important it is to understand the undercurrents of change that shape our world—and determine the success of business strategy. Companies that anticipate underlying social, economic, technological, and political changes are positioned to win.

Our Strategy

BSR, in partnership with the Institute for the Future(IFTF), developed a framework called Sustainability Outlook to identify the signals of change likely to define sustainability over the coming decade. Working with a cross-industry group of 10 companies, the BSR/IFTF team of experts produced a map of emerging trends. We then used our distinct lenses to consider how these new realities could be shaped and managed: market-based solutions, regulatory efforts, technological innovation, and bottom-up solutions from "the commons." We also developed cenarios to illustrate specific aspects of the map.

Among the questions we explored were: What if the advancement of mobile and sensor technology enables individuals to monitor each other's environmental impacts? What if the use of infrastructure becomes taxed? What if measuring social and environmental impacts becomes integrated into business accounting?

The group also examined four future scenarios that were influenced by different sets of sustainability-related factors. We explored this content in workshops and asked ourselves: What could the business operating environment look like in the future? What does this mean for our companies today?

Our Impact

Sustainability Outlook provided participating companies a window into the future of sustainability. The various materials were designed to be a "wind tunnel" through which participating companies could test their own sustainability strategies, as well as learn from each other and the BSR/IFTF team. BSR and the companies involved with this group—Campbell Soup Company, Deloitte, General Motors, Ikea, Kraft Foods, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Rio Tinto, Starbucks Coffee Company, and Sun Microsystems—have been able to take a long-term, big-picture view of the future business environment. This focus on identifying new opportunities in addressing critical horizon challenges has helped companies switch from a risk-management to a forward-looking approach.

In late 2008, we began the second phase of Sustainability Outlook, which will explore future trends through an online wiki-based tool, and will allow participating companies to integrate the lessons from this innovative project into their strategies.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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