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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

Centralised → Distributed

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centralised cover icon

Organisations and governments are experimenting with greater transparency and decentralised decision-making. This helps give people a greater sense of ownership and control.

The organisation

Yuji Yoshimura

Yuji Yoshimura is a Project Associate Professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo. He focuses on participatory democracy, helping governments and planners give more ownership of decision-making to citizens.

For Yoshimura, the main reason that initiatives like this often fail is that citizens do not see the future of their city as their own. While technology has an important role to play, it isn’t a substitute for proper democractic engagement. And the right answer will vary from place to place.

Key concepts


A free, open-source participatory democracy platform introduced in Barcelona, which Yoshimura aims to bring to Shibuya City, Tokyo. He believes this will highlight issues and ultimately lead to a stronger relationship between citizens and local government.

Participatory budgets

A radically direct model of city planning. 5% of Barcelona’s investment budget (a total of €75 million between now and 2023) is allocated by citizens to improve neighbourhoods.

Key frameworks

Co-creative design

Co-creative design

Instead of applying one framework to every community, Yoshimura and his colleagues have developed an incremental, co-creative approach to community planning.

Transition in detail

This transition is all about making citizens at the heart of democratic decision making, helping them shape their city or community’s future.

Current worldPreferable world
Worldviewleaders decideeveryone decides
Purposefor the world imagined by fewfor the worlds lived by all
Smart Cityfocus on energy and mobility, technology as solutionfocus on citizen's agency, technology as support
Productdesigned once, sold oncecontinuously developed for longer engagement
Innovationone-size-fits-all, designed by corporate, expected to work in every localelocalised approach, co-designed by all stakeholders, expected to be customised
Citizenrecipient of civic services, consumer of city's resourcesstakeholder, designer, manager, decision-maker of civic services, giving back to city's resources

Transition pathways

For Yoshimura, this starts with a core belief: one size doesn’t fit all. Successful models of participation will vary from community to community, and the practical tools used must reflect this reality.

Yuji Yoshimura - pathway diagram

What you can do

Engage in local democracy and decision-making

While much of the onus falls on governments, citizens can help shape these systems by participating in the ones that already exist. We can also tell leaders what a better model of engagement could look like.

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