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The Future
of Sustainability

Looking Back to Go Forward

With thanks to all our partners

Headline partner

As humanity and the planet reach a critical inflection point, Forum for the Future’s latest Future of Sustainability thinking reflects on what the past can teach us about what is needed now if we are to shape a more just and regenerative future.

This unique opinion and commentary series:

  • explores lessons learned from the last 25 years in the sustainability movement; where have we succeeded in creating real change and where have we failed? And what does that tell us about how we need to do things differently?
  • synthesizes exclusive insights from diverse voices across the sustainability movement to examine how the world is responding to today’s multifaceted challenges and opportunities, and what pivots might be needed
  • considers what this all means going forward. How can we drive greater change at pace and scale? And how can we encourage the adoption of new mindsets and approaches critical to creating what’s really needed: a truly just and regenerative future?

From November 22 through to mid-April 2022, we published a series of new insights on an ongoing basis. As 2021 came to a close, Parts One and Two of the series helped us scene-set and look back. At the start of 2022, Part Three explored today’s response, and Part Four distilled everything we’ve heard into key takeaways and an overview of what’s next.

Join us on what has been a fascinating journey taking stock of where we’ve been, and where we’re going….


Scene Setting

As global crises escalate, we arrive at a pivotal moment for the sustainability movement. The time is ripe for transformation. And in order to fully realize it we need to look back with humility, to learn from the past and fully acknowledge this harsh truth:

While significant progress has been made, more than three decades of ‘sustainability’ have not got us to where we need to be.

These scene-setters reflect on why now is the time to transform, and why it’s as important to understand where we’ve come from as where we’re going.

Looking back:
lessons learned from
25 years in sustainability

Diverse voices share their personal stories and reflections on the biggest shifts in sustainability over the last 25 years; where we have succeeded and fallen short; unique lessons learned along the way, and what they feel is coming next

Featuring reflections from Jonathon Porritt, Johan Rockstrom, Archana Soreng, Aaron Maniam, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Stephanie Lamma Ewi, and John Elkington

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  • I have learned from spending a lot of time imagining alternative futures - that really there's so much work to do in uncovering the past and challenging the narratives we are told about the past so that we can move forward.

    Nour Batyne

    Creative Producer, Facilitator and Artist

  • Thinking about present-day flawed systems as historical human constructs - created by a subgroup of people for specific aims - can help us understand and change them.

    Alisha Bhgat

    Futures Lead, Forum for the Future

  • "If governments really want to start doing a better job, they need to maximise ways in which community-led organisations can change people’s lives for the good. This is a huge combined resource – and we need to give it what it needs to prosper and thrive."

    Jonathon Porritt

    Founder Director, Forum for the Future
    Writer and campaigner on sustainable development

  • "Today we have come to the end of the road. We have a global carbon budget remaining that is so limited, so ridiculously small, that it is the last little crumbs on the table. It’s a drama - a transformative moment."

    Johan Rockstrom

    Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Professor at the Institute of Earth and Environmental Science at Potsdam University, and Professor in Water Systems
    and Global Sustainability at Stockholm University

  • "The great change happens when people decide what they want, within the realm of the plausible, and then start taking concrete action to deal with it."

    Aaron Maniam

    Deputy Secretary (Industry and Information), Ministry of Communications and Information

  • “When people speak of development, it is really important to ask: ‘Development by whom, for whom, and for what?’”

    Archana Soreng

    Indigenous Environmental Activist, Vasundhara Odisha

  • “We have a proverb in Cameroon which says, ‘If you train a man, you have just trained one person. If you train a woman, you have trained a nation’.”

    Ewi Stephanie Lamma

    Environmental and Climate Justice Advocate
    Forests Resources and People (FOREP)
    Limbe, Cameroon

  • "I think we’re right on the edge, the cusp, of things potentially changing but the question is, do they go in our direction or somewhere else?"

    John Elkington

    Founder & Chief Pollinator, Volans

  • "People are put in leadership for a reason. They need to ensure that things happen faster, that policies are put in place that ensure we do the right thing, and that the most vulnerable among us are not paying the cost of what is done by the richest among us."

    Dr. Agnes Kalibata

    UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy

Today’s response

What are the biggest questions proliferating across the sustainability movement right now? How is the world responding to today’s multifaceted challenges and opportunities? Where are we falling short-and, as our crises continue to escalate, how can we reset our ambition?

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Going forward:
inspired by the past,
exploring the future

A distillation of all we’ve heard to present key takeaways for the sustainability movement and present glimpses of what’s coming…

with thanks to our
contributors and partners

Forum for the Future

Forum for the Future is a leading international sustainability non-profit. For 25 years we’ve been working in partnership with business, governments and civil society to accelerate the transformation toward a just and regenerative future. We use our systems change and futures expertise to help tackle critical global challenges: the climate emergency, transforming our food and farming systems, and ensuring supply chains are more resilient and more equitable. We also enable long-term transformative change by equipping individuals and organisations to act more systemically.

Find out more at or by following @Forum4theFuture on Twitter

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