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Transitions to
sustainable futures

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How do we build a sustainable world?

The world is at a tipping point. The actions we take over the coming years will have a profound impact on the future of our planet. But finding the best way forward can be hard – especially given the scale and complexity of the challenge facing us.

That’s why we need to approach the problem in a new way.

Focusing on transitions

This website is based on a research report jointly created by the R&D Group of Hitachi, Ltd. and Takram, a design innovation studio based in Tokyo, London and New York. The report explains nine transitions we can make toward a more sustainable world.

A transition is a gradual, progressive shift from one state to another. In this context, we’re talking about moving from one social, political, or economic system into another.

The power of transition thinking

It’s hard to imagine a world you don’t yet live in. Before World War II, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, or the modernisation that came with Japan’s Meiji Restoration, few could have imagined what life would be like afterwards.

Thinking in transitions can give us a much fuller picture of how we build a sustainable future. And it gives us practical, concrete steps we can take to help get us there.

‘When you are forecasting a future, you’re thinking within the paradigms that you’re already embedded in. Your social, political, and economic paradigms and current worldviews. All of which are part of the problem, because all of those paradigms are inherently unsustainable in the long term.’

— Terry Irwin, Director of the Transition Design Institute

Crises showed us that, when we act together, rapid, multi-dimensional transformation of the way we live is possible.

2020 as a tipping point

2020 was a year of crisis. The coronavirus pandemic caused untold disruption to mental and physical wellbeing, as well as to the global economy. Meanwhile, wildfires, extreme weather, conflicts, famines and political upheaval devastated many corners of the globe. These problems are linked, and illustrate both the scale and the urgency of the challenge we face.

But 2020 also showed us that, when we act together, we can achieve incredible things.

The same is true when it comes to building sustainable futures. Multi-dimensional transformation of the way we live is possible. But if we are to succeed, we need to act decisively at every level – as societies, companies, communities, and individuals.

How we created this report

This report covers:


people and organisations


key frameworks


Detailed interviews and profiles of 12 leaders in sustainability:

Arup, Dan Hill, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Forum for the Future, Human After All, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, IPBES, Kiko Network, Renewable Energy Institute, Terry Irwin, The International Energy Agency, Yoji Yoshimura

Zero-sum → Balanced

ARUP cover icon
zero-sum cover icon

We assume there is always a tradeoff between prosperity and protecting the natural world. But some organisations are demonstrating that people and nature can thrive in tandem.

The organisation


Arup is one of the world’s leading engineering and architecture firms. Its Foresight team focuses on improving the resilience and sustainability of the built environment and planning for the future – from envisioning the future of mail and parcel logistics to researching what city districts would look like in a more balanced world.

‘How can we rethink the way that we design and build our physical environments to deliver more positive planetary outcomes?’

— Jonelle Simunich, Sr. Foresight Strategist, Arup

Key concepts

Scenario 2050: Post-Anthropocene

The coming age after the Anthropocene, where people and planet thrive in harmony with each other.

Key frameworks


Adapted from Drivers of Change ↗, ARUP (2020)
Drivers of change

Drivers of change

Arup describes various ‘drivers of change’ such as food and waste. These are all interlinked with each other and with our built environment.


Adapted from 2050 Scenarios ↗, Arup Foresight (2020)
2050 Scenarios matrix

Core trajectories

Arup envisages radically different near futures depending on how we respond to the challenges of today – from a disastrous ‘Extinction Express’ to a prosperous and sustainable ‘Post-Anthropocene’.

Transition in detail

Reaching a healthy ‘Post-Anthropocene’ is a delicate balancing act between environmental and human needs, and action at the individual, corporate and governmental level.

Arup sees a central role for AI in enabling people to navigate their lives and collaborate with greater conscience and understanding towards the planetary well-being.

‘Positive vision [like the Post-Anthropocene], has to do with global and systemic cooperation.’

— Jonelle Simunich, Sr. Foresight Strategist, Arup
Current worldPreferable world
Worldviewexploitation, avoidance, every-person-for-themselvesregeneration, communal, reconciliation
Purposethriving human systemsbalance between environmental and human systems
Consumptionunaware, default choiceappropriate, thought-through
Wealth gapbigsmall
Constructionconvenience, short-termregenerative, science-based standards

Transition pathways

Though technology has an important role to play, Arup puts people at the centre of this transition. We will only be able to build a balanced future if we are well-informed – for example, by knowing and understanding our daily ‘carbon quota’ – and if we have the support we need to live sustainably.

‘We, as humans, do not often see the underlying cost of our collective behaviors. Resource extraction is detrimental to the planet.’

— Jonelle Simunich, Sr. Foresight Strategist, Arup
Arup - pathway diagram

What you can do

Embrace balance

Zero-sum thinking pervades our world. Challenge yourself to find sustainable behaviours that improve your life, rather than simply giving up things you enjoy.

What this research tells us

We need to move beyond our current way of thinking

Many of the organisations featured in this report are radically different, and see different pathways towards the future. But there are also several common themes.

Perhaps most importantly, these organisations agree that we must move beyond the status quo in a few important ways:

Addiction to the short-term

Our actions are biased towards immediate or short term effects, whether that’s annual profits or personal convenience. This means we can overlook long term outcomes.

Consuming without consequences

People and companies ignore the external effects of their actions, focusing too narrowly on the ‘bottom line’.

Endless growth narrative

If we pursue growth in all circumstances, it is almost impossible to reduce our impact on the planet.

Faster is better

Some activities need to be fast – but many don’t. Fast behaviour is generally more destructive, especially when we don’t fully understand its consequences.

To build a sustainable world, we have to work together

It’s tempting to look for quick fixes or technological innovations that could make our current way of living more sustainable. But this report shows that there are multiple transitions we need to make, at every level of society.

This research also underscores the vital role consensus-building has. By listening to those who have been ignored in previous conversations about sustainability, and by shifting decision making to local people and communities, we can create a future that everyone owns, and bring fresh ideas and perspectives into the conversation.

Ultimately, a sustainable future will only work if it works for everyone.

What you can do

Frameworks for seeing the world differently

Together, these frameworks help us better understand our world, and the transitions we need to make toward a more sustainable future.

They are not an end in themselves. Rather, they are a starting point for a diverse set of actions, which can be undertaken by individuals, communities, businesses and governments to improve our relationship with the natural world – and with each other.

These ways of thinking can be applied to other complex, multi-faceted problems. They help us make progress on issues that would otherwise feel too big or too difficult to contend with.

By taking the time to understand these frameworks, we can make them second nature, so they drive our choices and actions day to day.

‘If you really want to work on behalf of sustainable transitions, if you want to ignite positive, systems-level change, you have to change many things about yourself. You have to change your posture, you have to change your attitudes toward collaboration. You have to, I think, revise your ideas.’

— Terry Irwin, Director of the Transition Design Institute