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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

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While technology will not create a balanced world on its own, it may have a crucial role to play in this transition.

The organisation

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) was established by the Japanese government with the support of Kanagawa Prefecture. It conducts research and develops policies aimed at building a more equitable society, in particular through the use of electrification and digital technology.

Currently, companies and societies are free to pursue unlimited growth that only benefits a very few. This problem is particularly acute when you consider disparities between urban and rural areas in a country like Japan.

Key concepts

Digital transformation

Using digital technology to automate or replace manual services and businesses.

Digital economy

A new economy built on digital technology, with much higher efficiency and lower costs.

Electrification of energy

Shifting from, for example, vehicles with internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.

Key frameworks


Created based on the conversation with Akihisa Kuriyama, Policy Researcher at IGES
A prosperous net-zero

A prosperous net-zero

The IGES argues that a net-zero society can also be a prosperous one. Their vision involves compact cities, a circular economy, and growing resilience to extreme weather.


Created based on the conversation with Akihisa Kuriyama, Policy Researcher at IGES
Digital transformation

Digital transformation

This transition depends on electrification and decarbonisation at the societal level, and will result in the digitisation of many of the systems and services we all use.

Transition in detail

The IGES places digital transformation at the heart of our transition to a sustainable world.

Current worldPreferable world
Worldvieweconomic rationality, valuing ownershipenvironmental, well-being and economic rationality, valuing functions
Cityurban sprawl, partial roll-out of zero-emission buildings, defence-oriented resiliencecompact city, selection and concentration of infrastructure, widespread of zero-emission buildings, mitigation-oriented resilience
Lifestylemass consumption, product ownership, AI-supported efficient matching between desire and productscircularity, demand-flow production, product sharing, AI-supported visualisation of social cost of carbon
Industryhigh-efficiency production technology, reliance on fossil fuelselectrification of production, reliance on renewables
Energycontinued use of fossil fuels, use of carbon capture and storage technology, centralised power griddiverse portfolio of renewable energy, distributed and demand-responsive power grid

Transition pathways

Internal initiatives like the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals can help transform industries built around vested interests. Meanwhile, digitisation of production and services and retrofitting of old houses and buildings must happen quickly to build a more efficient, more connected way of living.

IGES - pathway diagram

What you can do

Embrace digital

Higher efficiency and lower costs made possible by digital tools such as smart meters are key to low-carbon lifestyles.

Retrofitting for efficiency

Actions like installing solar panels on your home can save you money as well as contributing to a more sustainable energy system.

Learning from the pandemic

A sudden rise in remote working enables us to challenge an economy built on commuting and carbon-intensive travel.

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