menu icon

Transitions to
sustainable futures

downwards arrow

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

Extractive → Just

Kiko cover icon
extractive cover icon

The early effects of climate change have been felt disproportionately by certain countries and communities. Several organisations are focusing on making our climate future more equitable.

The organisation

Kiko Network

Kiko Network is a Japanese nonprofit working to make our society fair, peaceful and sustainable, for the benefit of all citizens.

The Network’s work is particularly focused on Japan. Fossil fuels are deeply woven into the story of Japanese modernisation, which began with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Japan’s twentieth-century industrialisation has made a high-carbon lifestyle almost unavoidable for most of its citizens.

Key concepts

Recognition of climate risk

Acknowledging the extent of the risk posed by climate change, and the likely social cost.

Generational and regional justice

Addressing disparities in how climate change affects different generations and regions – particularly given Japan’s depopulating rural areas.

Key frameworks


Created based on the conversation with Takako Momoi, Tokyo Office Director of Kiko Network
Unjust development in rural Japan

Unjust development in rural Japan

Kiko Network’s work highlights unjust energy transitions in rural Japan. Despite a common understanding of the importance of building winder power stations, development does not always take place for reasons such as the destruction of the local environment and the economic inequalities between the companies being attracted and the local population.

Transition in detail

Kiko Network aims to change the injustices caused by existing decision-making structures so that local people can engage in sustainable development.

‘There has been an inequitable structure where many nuclear and thermal power stations are built in provincial communities, while large cities consume much of the electricity generated. Replacing the power stations with renewable energy sources within this structure is not a just decarbonisation.’

— Takako Momoi, Tokyo Office Director of Kiko Network
Current worldPreferable world
Worldviewprosperity at the expense of future generations, economy on top of everythingprosperity for future generations
Lifestyledegenerative by design, mass consumptionregenerative by design, high-efficiency power consumption
Energy Infrastructuretop-down, Tokyo-centric, imposed upon local communitiesbottom-up, pluricentric, designed and managed by local communities
Renewablechoice that is both economically and culturally costlyapproach that addresses regional inequalities and values local culture
Politicsfavouring vested interests, governed by bureaucracy and industry lobbyingfavouring future benefits, decided by local authorities
Media Communicationsuperficial interpretation of sustainability, shifting responsibility to individualssystemic and scientific understanding of the root cause, encouraging collective and systemic actions

Transition pathways

Kiko Network identifies a key dilemma: between the mission to accelerate climate action and the other mission to respect the will of local citizens. They believe in the importance of building consensus through communication between stakeholders.

Media communication plays a key role in enabling citizens to understand and engage with decision making as stakeholders.

‘We need a movement to bring the growing voice of citizen participation to the political arena.’

— Takako Momoi, Tokyo Office Director of Kiko Network
Kiko Network - pathway diagram

What you can do

Pressure governments and businesses

Public pressure can encourage governments and businesses to work in a just, participatory way, giving local citizens a meaningful stake in sustainable development.

Become an active citizen

People can also harness the democratic options that already exist, and engage in initiatives that put more power in their hands – for example, energy co-operatives.

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