New tool seeks to open up sustainability horizons

An online tool has been developed by three British organisations to help companies think in more long-term and strategic terms about the challenges they face in an increasingly resource-constrained world.

The tools has been created by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, sustainability consultancy Forum for the Future, and Aviva Investors, a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest insurance groups.

The tool, known as Horizons, uses picture cards to help companies structure their approach to future challenges such as population growth and water scarcity. According to Horizons, the cards “describe the characteristics of a sustainable economy,” including environmental boundaries, the social and political foundations of modern economies and the essential needs that must be met for societies to thrive.

For each topic, cards set out three levels of action for companies: measures that must be taken, measures that should be taken and measures that could be taken. The card on waste, for example, notes that companies are obliged to follow the reduce-reuse-recycle waste hierarchy, but should also work to use waste as a resource, and could move to entirely closed-loop processes, so that waste is reabsorbed into the production system.

The cards are accompanied by background information and case studies. Their main use is to stimulate discussion, leading ultimately to actions to make companies more sustainable. Understanding future constraints can also open up opportunities for companies, and can make them more resilient.

Clare Martynski of Forum for the Future says that Horizons is broadly targeted at all levels of business and local public bodies. It can be used in workshops by organisations to test their ideas and improve their plans. Its main benefit is that it provides a starting point for discussions about sustainability.

Horizons was published online in spring 2013 and is still in a testing phase. It has been used in the UK in some workshops, for example with the municipal authority of Peterborough, a city in the east of England. There has been no marketing push for the tool so far, and the team behind Horizons is gathering case studies. “We’re still asking for feedback,” Martynski says.

She adds that Horizons could in principle be translated and developed for other European Union countries. “It would be great if people outside the UK use it,” she says