By imagining desirable sustainable futures, we can create pathways for transitioning to more healthy, just and joyful lives. Yet, positive imaginative visions of sustainable living are lacking.
We need to be inspired and delighted by alternatives that are different from our present and that are also strategic and smart. Through foresight, we can be empowered to act in the face of uncertainty.
The power of foresight
For sustainable lifestyles to be adopted more broadly, people need to be able to imagine and desire these ways of life. Combining sustainability thinking with techniques of futuring brings new possibilities to life. Futuring involves the identification, creation and dissemination of images of the future, in order to shape the possibility space for action. Imagining compelling sustainable futures can capture the public imagination, change narratives about the future, and act as a powerful catalyst for transformative change towards a world we want to live in.
Currently, most depictions of the future in movies, advertising and popular media are either dystopic or unsustainable. For example, visions of tech-driven futures often ignore societal implications, and rarely consider where the natural resources and energy for new tech would come from or how accessible they would be. We need compelling visions that are strategic and diverse, in order to inspire and guide multiple audiences toward sustainable futures.
We need compelling visions that are strategic and diverse, in order to inspire and guide multiple audiences toward sustainable futures.
The Imagining Futures solution area is expanding the reach of the futures field, taking it into uncharted territory by enabling and supporting visions of inspiring sustainable living futures. In 2021, the Beacon conducted a comprehensive review of the field and learned that there is a sizable gap in imaginative visions of sustainable living in the future, and we have designed our programme around these insights. In 2022, we launched Good Living 2050, a global futures contest aimed at building a digital public library of captivating visions of sustainable living.
We’re also creating compelling futures scenarios as part the IMAGE Sustainable Lifestyles project, reworking a popular climate model (IMAGE) to add sustainable lifestyles actions. The aim is to provide national governments and other actors with information on how to achieve their climate targets by supporting changes in lifestyle behaviours and systems. The project is a multidisciplinary collaboration among experts in modeling and scenario development and in sustainable lifestyles and consumption.
Moving forward, we’re continuing to expand the field by introducing a course on Sustainable Futures – providing online training for sustainability leaders and changemakers to learn how to incorporate futuring in their own daily work. Supporting these and other building blocks towards “imagining futures” is key to envisioning hopeful and resilient pathways forward. Key Beacon partners in this solution area are Strategic Design Scenarios, the Urban Futures Studio and Global Action Plan UK.
Good Living 2050 contest
The Beacon’s Good Living 2050 contest challenged sustainability thinkers and creatives to develop compelling 1-4 images of what a better, more sustainable life might look like in the future. It aimed to expand the number and quality of images depicting these futures, in order to be able to explain and promote them. Winners to be announced in early April 2023.
Post Fossil African Alternatives
The “African Alternatives” concept was a finalist in the Post Fossil City contest and included three detailed images: the underdeveloped status quo of many African cities, as well as two possible alternative futures – a “smart city” and a more sustainable, inclusive city. It aimed to spark debate about what futures are desirable for the world’s most rapidly urbanising region.
IMAGE Sustainable Lifestyles Models
The IMAGE Sustainable Lifestyles project, conducted by Utrecht University, the Hot or Cool Institute, and OneEarth Living, addresses the lack of lifestyle solutions in climate models. Four scenario narratives emerged from expert-driven workshops, all of which represented lifestyles that maintain or lessen average global temperatures in 2050.
Earth 2050 Platform
Earth 2050 is Kaspersky’s online platform for crowdsourcing visions of the future from scientists, futurologists and internet users around the world. It includes over 400 visions, and although the focus is not specifically on sustainable lifestyles, the rich spectrum of ideas may inspire a more sustainable future.
The Futures Bazaar
This open-access workshop toolkit asks participants to transform ordinary objects into “artifacts from the future” in order to open conversations about what alternative futures may look like. The Futures Bazaar “offers a chance to expand horizons, explore new ideas, and develop capacities for foresight, creativity, and storytelling, all in just a few hours”.
In partnership with Veryday, McKinsey Design, Stickybeat and financed by the Swedish Energy Agency, Life 2053 is an interactive website that walks you through what life in Sweden may be like 40 years from now if energy consumption is drastically reduced.