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Sustainable Futures

Retail Horizons: It's time to choose our future

This is the final article in a 12-part series about the future of U.S. retail for the Forum for the Future-led 2014 Retail Horizons project in partnership with Retail Industry Leaders Association. For more about the project and the toolkit available in October, read the first post, which also contains a table of contents for the series.

"ISIS, Ebola, Ferguson, Israel … do you ever just think this is the beginning of the end?" I asked my mother on an uncharacteristically gloomy Skype call recently. "Oh, that's depressing; don't think like that," she replied. "And it's not all bad: I just read that Greece is doing much better."

Some days you have to be a particular type of optimist to feel good about what's going on in the world.

Many trends we've shared over the course of this blog series — climate change, biodiversity loss, water shortages — are deeply worrying. If we don't understand these as existential problems, then we're really deceiving ourselves.

On the opposite side of the ledger is a wave of potentially transformative innovation. The sorts of things that allow a sustainability professional to get out of bed in the morning: low and zero-carbon energy solutions, breakthroughs in the circular economy, new business models which allow value through sharing rather than production of assets.

Creating a sustainable future — one which meets human needs while respecting environmental limits — won't happen without serious work, or without deliberative action for change. "Adapt or die" goes the motto, and this is a do-or-die period.

So we urgently need retailers and the retail supply chain to look at themselves and understand what radical change means.

Doing so will be a great route to business success: There's gold in them hills, as they say. Starting now and developing new approaches will not only make you resilient to future changes but allow you to create business value in the face of disruptive change.

I started this blog series a few weeks ago with a promise not to make predictions, but to set out some key social, environmental and economic trends in the coming years and decades and look at how they will affect the retail industry.

I slightly broke that promise in the 10th blog item by making a prediction (that low or zero carbon business models will offer a competitive advantage in the future), but apart from that, we've stuck to the plan. We've explored topics from time poverty to fracking, from virtual shopping to the resurgence of brick-and-mortar retail stores, and more. We hope you've enjoyed reading them and that they've provided food for thought.

This week we'll release the full Retail Horizons toolkit at the RILA Sustainability Conference. It will appear online on both RILA and Forum's websites, where you can freely download either the whole kit or just the parts that you find useful.

Now's the time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on shaping the future we want. We're ready to work with you as you go on that journey. The toolkit is a starting point for that exploration. Good luck.

Top image of shopping bags by Elnur via Shutterstock.

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