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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

Degenerative → Regenerative

IPBES cover icon
degenerative cover icon

Our flora and fauna are in deep crisis. We need to move towards a regenerative society, where the impact we have on the natural world is always reversible.

The organisation


The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services works to bridge the gap between science and policy, promoting biodiversity, environmental protection and sustainable development.

Globally, biodiversity and ecosystems are deteriorating rapidly – and nature’s ability to support human populations is decreasing in tandem. We need to reverse this decline if we want to build a sustainable world.

‘Goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.’

Media Release: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ↗

Key concepts

Nature loss

The irreversible loss of biodiversity and habitats.


Environmental impacts caused by humans.


Forces that directly or indirectly affect our climate or biosphere.

Key frameworks


Adapted from Nature’s Dangerous Decline ↗, IPBES (2020)
Extinction is accelerating

Extinction is accelerating

IPBES explores the many different ways human activity affects the planet. Its research has shown that extinction rates have increased exponentially over the past 500 years, highlighting the massive impact we have.


Adapted from Fig. 9 Transformative change in global sustainability pathways, The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystems services ↗, IPBES (2020)
Direct and indirect drivers

Direct and indirect drivers

IPBES describes both direct and indirect drivers of environmental disturbance. These drivers often interact in complex ways, multiplying their effect. For example, human conflicts and technological development can both accelerate climate change.


Adapted from The origins and drivers of emerging zoonotic diseases and pandemics, Workshop on Biodiversity and Pandemics ↗, IPBES (2020)
Spillover effects

Spillover effects

Coronavirus makes IPBES’ research particularly timely. Spillover – where diseases move from one species to another – becomes more likely when natural environments are disturbed.

Transition in detail

IPBES want to make clear that we are at a crossroads. If nothing is done, irreparable environmental breakdown will become very likely.

‘Nature can be conserved, restored, and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.’

The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, 2019 ↗
Current worldPreferable world
Worldviewhuman as apart from naturehumans as part of and intertwined with nature
Purposethriving human worldthriving interspecies world
Consumptionwasteful by designreduce, go wasteless
Educationsiloed, varying levels of accessadapt, generate new, share
Governanceborderedcross-sectoral, pre-emptive
Conservationstate-leddiversity and inclusion
Good lifesingular, modernplural, diverse
Externalitiesexternalise as much as possibleinternalise as much as possible

Transition pathways

IPBES stresses the need for close cooperation at the global and local level. We need to unlearn our current relationship with the planet, and understand that protecting the natural world is inextricably linked with protecting ourselves.

IPBES - pathway diagram

What you can do

Demand regenerative solutions

Individuals can put pressure on government and companies to move away from environmentally destructive policies and business models.

Reconsider what supports our society

Educating ourselves about nature's role in supporting our society will help us embrace and protect other living beings around us.

Consume food sustainably

Individuals can act on businesses by choosing sustainably sourced food, consuming mindfully and moving away from the wasteful-by-design food system.

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