Plastics and biodiversity: Forum for the Future spotlights sustainability’s biggest challenges

Global non-profit Forum for the Future has named plastic pollution and biodiversity loss as two of the "fundamental" sustainability challenges of the 2020s, arguing that governments and corporates have not yet adopted holistic, long-term solutions to these issues.

Plastics and biodiversity: Forum for the Future spotlights sustainability’s biggest challenges

The report argues that megatrends such as population growth and migration have caused a "perfect storm" for sustainable business

The organisation’s new Future of Sustainability report, published on Wednesday (27 February), claims that a “perfect storm” of seven key global issues are set to drastically impact the global economy – and the sustainable business community in particular – within the next decade.

It outlines climate-driven mass migration, biodiversity loss and the rise of nationalism among the seven factors which could soon combine to create a global “systems collapse”, in which economies, societies and the natural environment are likely to be damaged beyond repair.

Plastic pollution, decarbonising energy systems, sustainability activism by communities and Asia’s shift to a circular economy are cited as the other key issues and opportunities facing businesses worldwide. Forum for the Future argues in the report that national and local governments, NGOs and corporates alike have failed, to date, to develop collaborative solutions which go beyond acting as a “sticking plaster” to these large-scale challenges.

Specifically, it claims that the global rise in anti-plastics campaigning is yet to translate into “substantive change”, with recent corporate and government actions having “only scratched the surface” in fixing the plastics industry’s “broken” value chain. This is largely because individual organisations are creating their own action plans without feeding them into national or global frameworks – or including an overall reduction in consumption in the first instance – the report states.

The 59-page document praises collaborative commitments such as WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy as “steps in the right direction” while stating that more must be done in the fields of materials innovation and behaviour change to truly alter the world’s “throwaway” culture.

“To tackle sustainability issues, we need to understand how the world is changing and what we’re seeing is a convergence of trends that will shape the 2020s,” Forum for the Future’s chief executive Sally Uren said.

“Rapid climate breakdown could trigger mass migration, which in turn could fuel growth in nationalism. At Forum for the Future, we specialise in taking a systems approach to address these challenges –  but the clock is ticking, and we have a limited window of opportunity that we can’t afford to miss.”

Collaborative solutions

The challenges identified in the report were drawn up following extensive research into global megatrends and their impacts on businesses to date, in which Forum for the Future sought the expertise of big-name corporates such as Mars, Danone and Sky. Retailer C&A’s charitable arm, the C&A Foundation, was also consulted throughout the research process

All participating businesses agreed that, in order to spur progress on tackling existing social and environmental issues while preparing for future trends, firms must work more collaboratively with stakeholders and competitors to scale-up their ambitions and actions.

“The need to enact major environmental change cannot be denied but to ensure that we’re reaching our goals, businesses, governments and the public need to work together,” Sky’s head of responsible business and Ocean Rescue Fiona Ball said. “A co-ordinated approach is the only way to guarantee results.”

The businesses to have taken part if Forum for the Future’s research have pledged to support the report’s recommendations, which include aligning existing corporate and government sustainability frameworks and learning from participatory democracy models.

The report additionally urges organisations “not to underestimate their power” in driving change, regardless of their size, sector or environmental footprint.

The Forum for the Future blog

To give edie readers a deeper dive into the causes of the seven challenges outlined in the report – and the steps businesses can take to tackle them – Forum for the Future will be running an exclusive blog series on our website over the coming weeks.

The first blog in this seven-part series is set to be published next week, and will be included in our weekly newsletter.

Sarah George

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