This blog is the second one in a series about foresight and eco-consciousness. If you haven’t read the first one yet, have a read here. I believe that knowing what the future might bring will help us prepare for different futures. We might think that the future we will live in will be not much unlike how we’re living now, but boy, that won’t happen. There are so many changes happening in our world so rapidly, and some of them will influence how we live in the future.
In the previous blog, I gave tips to start defining different futures. The first step is to look at the environment surrounding the issue we focus on by creating a systems map. We started this map by understanding the trends and critical forces connecting to our problem.
I’ll explain how foresight can help with eco-conscious living in this post. We will also finalise the systems map. Then we’ll investigate some data for the trends we already found and prioritise them based on their relevance to the topic. It will give us focus for the next exercise – to come one step closer to finding futures!
Why are we doing this again?
Foresight is a way of study not done often enough, as futures cannot be proven right at this moment. It is and will stay speculative as we cannot predict the future. Therefore, people won’t spend time figuring things out. However, we can use data available to us now to create different futures, which will help us prepare for them, might they turn out correct. Also, we can create a preferable future and work backwards from it with actionable steps. Using foresight in your life and business is a great strategy to prepare you for the future.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you may end up somewhere else” – Yogi Berra
Foresight and eco-conscious living
Foresight is not about predicting the future. It’s about thinking about different futures and helping to prepare for those different futures. So that we can act in the present to create the future we want and prepare for a different one, no one can see what the future is going to be, but we can come close by really understanding the past and the now.
We start with the systems map, which maps out the stakeholders, trends, forces, and relationships in a visual map. We started with it using this current issue:
"Our linear product design system creates a massive amount of landfills globally"
We spoke about the stakeholders, trends, and forces. Now, what will be interesting to see is how these connect. We are going to make it visual.
Making it visual gives a much easier perspective of how all these elements could connect. I first draw lines to make connections, then move all areas more logically.
How you can do this is by thinking through, for example:
Do machines have something to do with the climate crisis? I believe this is a definite YES, as machines, e.g. create linear products, which leads to overconsumption which leads to too much use of energy like gas and oil
Do short term profits over long-term results have something to do with the climate crisis? YES, as well. As we instead keep buying cheap, non-sustainable products that quickly end up in landfill
For every connection, I draw a line. If the answer is no, I don’t draw a line.
Next, we will use these relationships and see if we can make groups within groups.
Once again, there are other trends and stakeholders involved. It is just the start! Feel free to make your systems map.
Next up: prioritise the trends
We will better understand the trends by looking at historical data of one of these trends as an example. The idea of prioritising trends is to analyse the relevance to the issue we’re forecasting. I’ll only do one trend as an example and end this blog with an analysis of all four but won’t add the extrapolated data of three as otherwise, this will become a very long blog.
Let’s analyse the climate crisis trend.
Based on historical data, let’s look at how pressing this trend is for our issue. As climate crisis is a complex issue, I focused on four elements. Two effects and two causes. There are many more, and I’d encourage you to find more data that you see relevant.
1.The global temperatures
We all know that the temperature on the planet is rising due to human activities. It has been doing so since 1880, and the rate of warming over the past 40 years has been more than twice that per decade since 1981. The ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2005.
Find more information about the global temperature here.
2. Natural disasters
Climate change influences severe weather by causing more prolonged droughts and higher temperatures in some regions and more intense deluges in others, say climate experts. Among the most vulnerable are communities in the exposed mountain and coastal areas. In those settings worldwide, citizens are adjusting to new weather realities by strengthening warning, shelter, and protection systems.
Read more about the change in weather here.
You might have read in my blog about the circular economy, that we are still using a linear create-product-end up in landfill system for the most significant amount. We do not reuse or recycle our products enough. Here is scientific data supporting this point:
80% of consumer waste is burned and landfilled because of poor design and lack of end-of-life collection options, according to Planet Ark.
According to the World Economic Forum, we’re using about 1.6 earth, which is more than the earth can handle.
Only 27% of these businesses could correctly identify the definition of the circular economy when presented with a list of options, according to the Australian Circular Economy Hub.
Besides the fact that we waste a lot of products due to our linear system, we also throw out a lot of food. In residential homes, a stunning 44% of food is thrown out! Find here more information about this topic.
Furthermore, what we eat is essential in the climate crisis issue. Plant-based foods are far less greenhouse-gas-intensive than meat. More than half of food emissions come from animal products (see link here). Stop eating animal-sourced foods is the best thing we can do to help combat climate change. According to Cowspiracy, a person who eats plant-based food saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 lbs of grain, 30 SQ ft of forested land, 20 LBS CO2 equivalent and at least one animal’s life. Every day. According to Viva, we could save 8 million lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, which can avoid climate damage of $1.5 trillion.
The other trends
In the background, I have analysed the other three topics, and below summarised what I found.
Pieces of products are created all over the world. For example, the iPhone
The iPhone is designed in California, built in China and exported to consumers across the globe. The rise of smartphones and their impact on developing economies is just one example of globalisation in the modern world.
Globalisation is booming. However, it is less relevant to our issue than the other trends. Even though globalisation helps collaboration, innovation, and technology, it does quite a job of creating a linear economy.
Making the circular economy work on a global level will require significant changes in production and consumption systems, far beyond resource efficiency and waste recycling. On an international level, our systems are not circular. They are linear, as we focus on short-term results, not long term. Read more here.
We have seen a massive technological and digital change over the last dozen of years. For example:
Digital has decreased the number of materials we need – 3D is much faster and easier
Digital has increased the easiness for people to buy things
Examples of technologies that drive the circular economy:
gCycle (biobased material) – diapers from 100% compostable material
Apple: able to fully refurbish the iPhone
It has positive and negative effects on our issue and its future. It is relevant but not as relevant as the climate crisis itself or the impact of globalisation.
Demographic shifts of mindsets
Research says younger demographics, generations Y and Z, are more eco-conscious than the older generations. They know the effects of climate change will be much bigger than the older generations, as the younger ones have a longer life span. Due to this different way of thinking, more rapid action on climate is expected as the younger generations enter the workforce.
The shift of mindset will impact as soon as the older generation leaves the workforce and the younger ones take over the leadership positions. This, however, will be a slow change as there are already so many systems in place. Some of which are large and not easily changeable.
To sum it up
The climate crisis is incredibly complex. There are many more effects like the shrinking of the ice sheets, decreased snow, and sea-level rise as there are many other causes, like the use of gas and oil and our increase in travelling internationally (despite COVID). Innovations and new technology play a role in the climate crisis’s future. I believe, however, that we can state that it is a trend needed to be prioritised as to its highest relevancy to the issue:
Our linear product design system creates a massive amount of landfills globally.
Generational shift in mindset
In this blog, we completed the systems map and prioritised the trends. Next up, we will look at other drivers of change, such as people’s world views and belief systems – which will be part of more systems thinking methods. We’ll also put the climate crisis and the other trends on a Trend Cycle to visualise their size, impact, and timeline (to see how they started, peaked, and could continue in the future). That will help us consider the effect on us in the short, medium, and long term concerning our challenge.
There’s so much stuff to figure out and to learn. I hope this engages you to be curious and learn about all kinds of foresight and eco-conscious design stuff!
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