By Adam Siegel
Futures thinking is a tool – it's a way of opening an internal dialogue about innovation and strategy that addresses the economic, environmental, and social performance for the long-term. Beginning that conversation allows people to step out of their day-to-day and lowers the walls of resistance, so that new ideas can be generated and new strategies can be considered. It's the best way to align the environmental and social impact of your business with the profitability of your business.
There will be no better way to determine how to leverage futures as a tool to enhance your sustainability program than to attend the futures sessions, facilitated by Forum for the Future, at the Retail Sustainability Conference in September.
How does thinking about 2030 help you with strategy today?
As Forum puts it, the long-term existence of your business is not a given: "creative destruction" is a key idea at the center of our economic model. Markets continually reinvent themselves, as the retail industry is doing today.
With the pace of technological and societal change increasing ever more rapidly, the possibility of missing pivotal market shifts is ever more likely.
In retail, profound change is now a guarantee
If there is one thing that is clear from the work we have done over the last year, it is that retail is changing – dramatically. Sales are going online and mobile, consumer demographics are increasingly multicultural, the volume of data about our businesses and consumers is exploding, and resources are ever scarcer.
Innovation is needed beyond all else
So how can retailers ensure their sustainability given these pressures for change? Beyond all else, they will need to innovate. Of course retailers have always driven significant innovations: the performance of global supply chains has increased enormously over the last 40 years, as a result of logistics, packaging, and other innovations.
However, the innovation that is needed now is a new type of innovation: one that creatively reinvents the business to incorporate the trends of today with the needs of the future – in short, sustainable innovations that improve the economic, environmental and social performance of the business.
What might sustainable innovations look like in retail?
Using a futures lens, we can unlock the creativity that is just not accessible when we're steeped in our daily thinking. Here are a few examples for retail:
- Re-envisioning stores. Considering that people are increasingly looking for experiences and services, stores can become community hubs – places where consumers can come to learn to service their car, share cooking recipes, fix furniture, build a personalized gadget, or more. Not only could this bring people to your store and build loyalty, it connects the store to the community and reduces the dependency of your business on natural resources and raw materials.
- Re-envisioning value chains. Considering that the availability of product, supplier and supply chain data is increasing exponentially, how will you use that data to find efficiencies in the production and distribution of goods? Is there an opportunity to begin conversations with suppliers now to ensure that you are collecting actionable supply chain data and that your internal IT systems can take full advantage of that data? And that the process is in place now to collect the product information that consumers will be looking for in five years? Currently, consumers are trending to gluten-free and organic foods, and more natural cleaning supplies. Will the next wave of more sustainable preferences be an unbreakable, long-lasting smartphone?"
- Re-imagining consumers and employees. It is clear that the demographic mix of consumers and employees are changing, The United States has an aging and increasingly multicultural population, and the Millennial generation, natives to the digital age, are taking leadership roles in companies, government and nonprofits. Those shifts are already translating to changes in lifestyles – as younger people are driving less and both the young and the old are moving to urban areas – and ultimately the country's brand preferences and buying habits. But an even greater shift is underway in countries with the largest populations in the world: the consuming middle class in developing countries like China are rapidly expanding, changing markets, production and product flows around the world. Companies are looking for lower cost countries to manufacture products; when entering those new countries, is there an opportunity to change the model of production in ways that support the safety, health and wellbeing of factory workers and the environment?
How can you use this tool to advance your sustainability objectives?
The futures tools are powerful ways to drive an internal dialogue about sustainability. To learn how to use them, be sure to attend the three futures workshops at the upcoming Retail Sustainability Conference!
You can register at www.rila.org/rsc.
I look forward to seeing you there!