2018 Edition
Sustainability

Trends – Tools for Sustainable Business

Sustainability is currently a big trend and the big business of the future. A trend refers to the general direction in which something is developing or changing. Futurist and writer Elina Hiltunen points out that change does not usually happen overnight.

The impact of global warming on the environment may be the fundamental motivational drive that guides consumer and B2B customer behaviour in the future.

– We only have one Earth and our population has doubled in 50 years. Consumption is increasing and resources are depleting. Everything that has to do with sustainability is a must and the big business of tomorrow, states futurist Elina Hiltunen.

Trends do not usually emerge and disappear in the blink of an eye. If you want to prepare for the future, you should pay attention to “weak signals”. In the beginning, weak signals may appear in very strange ways, but it is still important to identify them, even though there is no need to jump at every new trend. Some changes happen quickly and spread exponentially. This rarely happens, but when it does, it can change consumer behaviour in a day.

– Awareness and curiosity go a long way. You have to know what’s going on in the world and where the world is going. The future is always a big uncertainty. However, you should be familiar with the megatrends that are currently shaping our world. These trends should always be considered in strategy planning. In scenario planning, these trends provide the tools for envisioning alternative futures.

Endless Business Opportunities

Thanks to overconsumption, there are countless commercial challenges for future-aware innovators to solve. According to Hiltunen, forests will progressively diminish, more species will become extinct and the quality of existing agricultural land will deteriorate due to impoverished soil and global warming.

– Will we have enough raw material or food? What about clean water? According to a UN estimate, by 2030, approximately half of the world’s population will live in an area suffering from serious water scarcity, says Hiltunen.

Circular economy is currently a hot topic. Consumers and businesses can reduce the burden on the environment by re-using products and raw materials, controlling emissions, increasing energy efficiency, recycling, supporting responsible companies, repairing a product instead of buying a new one, extending the lifetime of products and by renting and borrowing instead of buying – and, of course, by reducing overall consumption.

– Sustainability should be the guiding principle in everything we do. What do consumers want right now? What about in the future? It is not easy to get inside consumers’ heads. What do they want and how do they make decisions? Environmental awareness guides consumer choices. Attitudes and values affect our choices and create new needs. The customer of the future is a responsible and ethical consumer, Hiltunen predicts.

What will the consumer choose?

The consumer’s choice is largely determined on one hand by the personal characteristics of the consumer, and on the other hand, by group dynamics.

– Customers have their own values, attitudes and opinions, but their choices are also influenced by society. Such influences may be cultural or social. The opinions and attitudes of friends and family play a part as well. In addition, companies can develop products and services that consumers didn’t even know they wanted.

Trends are about innovations that start small and grow into something large.
– I encourage everyone to test their ideas, says Hiltunen.

A digital future

Future researchers are interested in trends and megatrends because they are useful tools for anticipating the future. Nowadays, everything is online. Billions of devices are already connected to the internet. By 2050, tens of billions of devices will be connected to the internet. Where there is a customer, there is demand, and that’s where businesses need to be.

– Everything is turned into ones and zeroes – bits. The amount of digital data is increasing exponentially. During the past few years, more data has been produced than in the entire history of mankind. Digital consumption is growing rapidly, says Hiltunen.

Technology is constantly introducing new and more effective tools and methods for digital consumption, and at the same time, the demand for effortless and personalised service increases.

Consumer trends in future research

Current trends are not a guarantee of future outcomes. They tell us about the past and the present. Similarly, history has shaped our future in some way, but past trends are no guarantee of what will happen in the future.

The purpose of trend analysis is to allow our mind to envision alternative futures. It can help us develop new products and services. Trends can be studied, combined, and used as a basis for scenario planning. We can also speculate on the likely consequences of certain sudden changes. However, we should always be prepared for surprises. A sudden change is a variable that may disrupt the predicted trajectory.


Elina Hiltunen

Elina Hiltunen is a Finnish futurist and non-fiction writer. Hiltunen has worked in Nokia’s strategy department, at Finpro and the Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC). Hiltunen currently works as an entrepreneur.

In her book, Hiltunen discusses 18 future consumer trends including, for example, the following:
It’s never too late to be a kid
The perfect me
I made this myself
All kinds of traditions
Everyday luxury
Pets, pets, pets
Responsible consumer
Group power
The temple of body and mind
There’s a hero inside of everyone
What do customers want in the future – trends and phenomena, Elina Hiltunen