“Future is written in our dreams”: Interview with Rodrigo Bautista (Forum for the Future)

Forum for The Future is a non-profit organization specialized in sustainable development. They work with companies, governments and other organizations to solve sustainability challenges. We spoke with UK-based industrial designer Rodrigo Bautista, member of the System Innovation team at Forum for the Future.

PN: Let’s talk about Forum for the Future

RB: We are an organization of around 100 people with offices in New York, London, Singapur, and many others. We help organizations and companies to be more sustainable. If they want to reduce their carbon footprint or improve their portfolio in terms of their products and services to be more sustainable, we have processes to help them. We could say we are like a think tank.

PN: But always focusing on sustainability, that is your speciality, isn’t it ?

RB: We have three big areas: Food, Energy and Sustainable Business. Regarding the Food area, we aim to change it, make it more efficient and reconnect producers with consumers. Nowadays our relationship with food is broken: we go to a supermarket and our relationship is packaged. Many children can’t even recognize fruits and vegetables. Concerning the Energy area, we address a lot of problems mainly related to the consume based in fossil fuels. We are interested in generating more circular economy models.

In Sustainable Business area we have rather an one-to-one approach. It is usually a long-term program,  to help companies by embedding sustainability in their internal processes. It is more like building capacities, it requires a lot of strategy.

We have some great tools to create future scenarios, this is also the reason of our name, Forum for the Future. For instance, Consumer Futures 2020 or Fashion Future 2025. One year ago we published the Informal City Dialogues, it was a project developed in six cities of the South hemisphere: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila, and Nairobi. We generated scenarios of how the informal economy could be by 2040.

PN: Explain to us more about how these future scenarios work…

RB: For instance, Unilever. Two years ago they came to us, they wanted to know what will be the innovation pipeline of their products in the following ten or fifteen years. We worked on this project during one year, we generated four possible scenarios by 2030: one with a very poor economy, another one with a very rich economy, and two others. We don’t forecast the future, we explore all these scenarios to show to the companies how they could react to different perspectives, including wildcard futures: for instance, which could be the role of digital manufacturing for cleaning products, if there is any.

These future scenarios also allow us to talk about sustainability without addressing the issue so straightforwardly.

Besides, everyone has a sort of attraction or passion by the future. It is written in our dreams. That helps as creative tool to address these big problems. We are not just talking about how to produce packages in a cheaper fashion, but also how to extract materials, who will be the competitors, how asian countries will react once emerging countries make the shift over developed ones, which will be the future of Europe.

PN: Issues that are big enough to be analyzed well in advance …

RB: It is quite difficult. I have been working at Forum for the Future since around two years.  We as human beings are not used to think in the long term. We say 2020 and it can seem a lot of time but is only six years away! If you look back, fifteen years ago, it is just a generation, we didn’t have computers in our pockets that can do almost anything. Things change a lot, changes happen, but sometimes we don’t realize because we don’t look back and neither see things in the long term. So this is what we are committed to and we do at Forum for the Future.


PN: Could you tell us about some specific project that you worked on.

RB: Yes. For instance, the Glocal project that we run in Mallorca island. We did that process and developed some products, they are more like experimentation areas. One of them raises which will be the role of distributed manufacturing or decentralized production in a future where maybe oil will be much more expensive,  where centralized production is no longer competitive. Perhaps in that scenario, Fab Labs can flourish and help to decentralize the production, a distributed production.

So these are the trends we are exploring with Glocal… We were invited to start the project in Mallorca and we accepted because, being an island, it is easier to define what is local and what is not, there is clear physical limit that has been essential for us.

The project has been growing bit to bit, we have partners there like Ecover, the natural cleaning products manufacturer. We are experimenting with new enzymes to create new cleaning products. It is a local circular economy experiment, made by Mallorca, in Mallorca and for Mallorca. Neolocalism.

We also use satellites to analyze the flow of materials, where they are and where they are going. We were also able to map the number of hectares planted with olive trees, citrus fruits, almond trees. And we can also track not cultivated land that could be exploited. Now we are in the process of understanding Mallorca’s economy on a large escale. We are aimed to make more effective use of available resources in Mallorca.

PN: Did Majorcans get involved with the project ?

RB: There has to be a local understanding of the project. That is a fundamental part, and it is not that easy, we go from satellites to enzymes! We can’t forget that behind the technology, there is people, and all this is not worthwhile if people don’t connect in a cultural level to the project –if people don’t gain benefits that actually help them to improve their quality of life.

PN: So you really need the participation of people and companies at a local level … How do you achieve that?

RB: We go there, we make workshops, we explain the project. Now we have more Mallorca companies interested in partnerships. Participation and engagement: being in the place, talking with the local people is key for the success of the projects.

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