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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

Fast → Slow

Hill cover icon
fast cover icon

‘Slowing down’ isn’t about stifling innovation or giving up on prosperity. Instead, it’s shifting the focus from growth-at-all-costs to balancing growth and sustainability.

The organisation

Dan Hill

Dan Hill is strategic director at Vinnova, the Swedish government’s innovation agency, and previously worked at Arup.

Hill argues that we need to move away from growth as the only measure of our progress, and understand the changes we need to make as productivity and population growth slow down.

‘The idea is that you can still carry on living in a community as people and take care of each other, without the engine of economic growth that we've become used to over the last 100 years.’

— Dan Hill

Key concepts


The new societal and cultural structure that emerges as population and GDP growth decelerate, and climate urgency grows.

Universal Basic Infrastructure

The idea that everyone has a right to the basic infrastructure that supports life.

Slow and fast layers

Different rates of change within different parts of society, occurring at the same time.

Key frameworks


Adapted from The curves beyond the curve ↗, Slowdown papers, 7 April 2020
Harnessing the pandemic to take action on climate change

Harnessing the pandemic to take action on climate change

Hill points to 2020 as an opportunity to rethink how we live. The pandemic broke our ‘fast’ world, and showed us what’s possible when we collaborate to solve an urgent problem.


Adapted from Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100 ↗30677-2/fulltext), The Lancet, 14 July 2020
Catching up with slowdown

Catching up with slowdown

Slowdown is already a reality: many societies are already experiencing rapid ageing and slowing productivity growth. Yet our ways of living haven’t changed to reflect this.


A mix of fast and slow

A mix of fast and slow

Slowdown isn’t just about slowing everything down. While economic and population growth will slow, we can speed up in other areas, such as climate action and cultural change.

Transition in detail

At the core of this transition is a recognition that growth isn’t the only desirable outcome for a society. By embracing slowness, we can help other values take root.

Current worldPreferable world
Worldviewprogress, never-ending acceleration, end of history, large-scale is betterrefinement, stability, historically conscious, small is beautiful
Universal basic infrastructuredwindling accessexpanding access
Climate actioninhibited by economic growthaccelerated through economic slowdown
Mobilityconvenience, speedactive, climate-conscious, meaningful

Transition pathways

The slow city contrasts with the fast – and precarious – city. Changes to build slowness include creating active neighbourhoods and promoting citizen-led decision making.

Dan Hill - pathway diagram

What you can do

Stand up for slowness

We can all make ‘slow’ choices, from walking and cycling to choosing products built on sustainable business models.

Learn from Covid

While Covid has had a devastating impact on our lives, we use it to glimpse some of the positives of slowing down, from reduced work hours to not having to commute.

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