The operating environment for sustainable business is being radically transformed by a diverse set of powerful and complex interacting forces. From climate disruption to automation to artificial intelligence, these changes are rapidly creating an entirely new operating environment for business. Business—and the well-being of people and the planet—will depend on new strategies for the future that account for the profound changes underway and imagine transformative new opportunities to create a more just and sustainable world.
In conditions of rapid change, scenarios offer a powerful way to explore multiple distinct possibilities. Rather than predicting what the world will be, they provide stories of alternate futures that combine research into drivers of change, with informed speculation about how key uncertainties could play out.
Scenarios are not predictions or forecasts. The scenarios in this report are organized around two critical uncertainties: Will the forces of centralization or decentralization prevail? Will we stick with the current economic paradigm of endless growth and profit maximization, or will we shift toward a new paradigm that views the purpose of the economy as providing for equitable prosperity on a healthy planet?
Each scenario imagines how different answers to these questions might shape the future.
Automation and environmental disruption cause global turmoil. China promotes a vision of “prosperity, order, and sustainability” and draws emerging economies into its orbit. Western government and business leaders realize they need to radically reform the social contract if free market capitalism is to survive.
Health concerns, misinformation scandals, and a global recession undermine trust. People become disillusioned with consumerism, big business, and social media. As more localized economies emerge, people rediscover the benefits of community, and a culture of healing starts to take root.
The notion that “all business is political” drives social, economic, and cultural fragmentation. New “tribes” emerge with profoundly different experiences of reality. As collective action becomes increasingly difficult, some of these tribes experiment with radical approaches to global challenges like climate change.
Highly personalized AI companions become an essential part of everyday life. Concentrated networks of huge businesses leverage extreme data to provide affordable, effective, and seamless services. Privacy is gone and much work is automated away, but most people embrace the new reality.