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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

Fossil → Renewable

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fossil02 cover icon

Japan has specific challenges and opportunities when it comes to adopting renewables, stemming from history, national and international politics, and geography.

The organisation

Renewable Energy Institute

Founded by Softbank’s Masayoshi Son after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the Renewable Energy Institute aims to establish a sustainable society based on renewables.

This challenge is particularly acute in Japan. Following the 1973 oil crisis, Japan became heavily reliant on nuclear and coal, and strong lobbying has maintained this.

The REI develops policies and business models to promote renewables, working with a diverse network of organisations across the globe.

Key concepts

Energy independence

Japan currently relies on fossil fuel imports. A shift to renewables makes geopolitical disruption less likely.

Carbon pricing

Reducing carbon emissions by charging organisations for the emissions they generate.

Energy prosumer

A person who both produces and consumes energy – for example, someone with solar panels on their house.

Asian Super Grid

An idea for an international power grid that could help Asian countries use more renewables by sharing solar, wind and hydro power sources.

Key frameworks


Created based on the conversation with Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director and Secretary-General of the REI
Transforming Japan’s energy industry

Transforming Japan’s energy industry

As the public interest in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which set out tough targets for decarbonisation, increases, Japanese industry is finally turning its attention towards sustainability. The slow progress partly stems from a hope that new technologies, like carbon capture, will solve our energy problems. But the REI believes these technologies will only have a limited impact. Instead, we should focus on electrification, greater efficiency and renewable power, transforming the energy industry itself.

Transition in detail

The REI calls for structural change in the energy industrial, literally and figuratively bringing power to people and communities.

Current worldPreferable world
Worldviewfuture is path-dependentfuture is led by vision
Politicsfavouring vested interests, top-down, Tokyo-centricfavouring future benefits, both top-down and bottom-up, led by local authorities, pluricentric
Citizensconsumer of energy, mass consumptionprosumer of energy, circular consumption
Geopoliticscompeting for limited fossil fuelscooperating for sharing abundant renewables
Perception towards JapanCountry with few natural resources, reliant on fossil fuels importCountry with rich history of appreciating natural resources and local environment, energy independent
Path to decarbonisationHigh-efficiency technology, low-carbon coal-fire power plants, carbon capture and storage technologyHigh-efficiency technology, renewable power plants, electrification

Transition pathways

The REI puts politics at the centre of this transition.

The combined pressure of local leaders, citizens and international companies can overcome the resistance to decarbonisation coming from businesses and vested interests.

‘Through the decentralisation of energy ownership, the structure dominated by energy companies and industry associations will change.’

— Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director and Secretary-General of Renewable Energy Institute
Renewable Energy Institute - pathway diagram

What you can do

Switch to renewable sources

Individuals can help speed this transition by choosing renewables when they can – such as with their home energy provider.

Engage with key issues

Initiatives like the Asian Super Grid will ultimately succeed or fail based on politics. However, we can still turn our attention to these key issues and advocate for them.

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