“If we could reduce current food waste by just a quarter, that would be enough to feed all of the world’s hungry”
In ancient Greece, the famous Oracle of Delphi answered questions about the future. Today, futurologists investigate by use of scientific standards, which developments will affect our lives in the future. Tim Jones, Programme Director of Future Agenda, London, UK, is one of them.
Mr Jones, Future Agenda is the world’s largest open-source foresight initiative. Its aim is to bring together views on the future decade from many leading individuals and organizations. Could you please tell us more about this project?
The idea of more open foresight was first discussed back in 2008 after we had just completed another futures project for a sector. As foresight is not really confidential in nature, we wanted to try and get more companies to collectively share what they thought about the next ten years so that everyone could see alternative views and so be better informed. The challenge was doing this at scale.
In 2009 we talked with Vodafone and the following year, with its support, ran the first Future Agenda project. This mixed strategic foresight approaches we had developed with Shell, design thinking and co-creation techniques.
We focused on 15 key topics – from the future of energy, data and food to cities, water and health – exploring not only shifts within each area but also the crossover interactions. Via 50 workshops in 25 countries around the world, we engaged with many experts and curated their different views on how the next ten years may unfold. We shared the output online, via social media and also in the first Future Agenda book ‘The World in 2020’.
Hundred of organizations then used the insights to complement their own activities. Some focused on challenging strategic assumptions, others on identifying new risks and opportunities and others on building a broader future view within their cultures. With positive response we soon had requests for another global project and many companies, universities and governments keen to get involved.
In 2015 we therefore repeated the programme but with larger scale and reach. We ran 120 workshops in 45 cities in 35 countries and talked to thousands of experts. Across 24 different topics we again curated the global and regional views and shared online and via two books: The World in 2025 and Six Challenges for the Next Decade.
Again many organisations are using the insights and are keen for another global programme in 2020. So we will be targeting 200 events in 50 countries then. In between each year we are doing smaller deep dives into particular topics of interest. Last year it was on the future of cities, the future of surgery and the future of automotive data. This year it is the future of philanthropy and the future of patient data. All adopt the same approach of collaboratively co-creating more informed views of the future and are sharing insights as we go.
Future Agenda has identified several game changers, which probably will change the world essentially. One of these game changers is Food Waste. How can we reduce it and which consequences will emerge?
We live in a world where 1 in 4 of the calories we create are never eaten. Every day, consumers in the West throw away as much food as is produced in the whole of Sub Saharan Africa, while, globally, the 2bn tonnes of food wasted each year are equivalent to around $1 trillion of financial loss each year. Going forward, if we are to support another billion or so people on the planet this century, with limited land and water resources, reducing this massive wastage is perhaps the most significant shift possible to help us to feed the global population.
If we could reduce current food waste by just a quarter, that would be enough to feed all of the world’s hungry. If we can reduce it by half then we will free up enough to cope with an extra billion or so people on the planet. By 2050 the world will need 60 per cent more calories every day to feed 9 billion people. Cutting current food loss and waste levels in half will shrink the gap by 22 percent.
As a step to this, in 2015 the US Department of Agriculture announced an initiative to reduce national food waste by 50 per cent by 2030. Driven both by the need for greater food security as well as resource conservation, many see that this may soon become a target elsewhere as well: the EU has the same target by 2050.
Today, across the world, we have no meaningful food waste data. If, as we move forward, robust and consistent data collection occurs and is used to both improve famer education, highlight process efficiency opportunities and support clearer guidelines for consumers, then we should be able to make significant progress.
Air Quality is another important issue. Primarily, the big cities in India and China are affected by poor air quality. Which further development do you expect here?
Since Paris COP this has become a major driver for change – not only globally but also locally with cities increasingly driving regulation for cleaner air, healthier cities and banning diesel cars.
Delhi, Patna, Gwailor and Raipur: the four most polluted cities in the world, and all of them in India – 13 of the top 20 most polluted cities are in India. Although Beijing has a worse reputation, with its visible smog formed mostly from 10 micron particulates, Delhi has more of these as well as many more of the more dangerous smaller sub-2.5 micron ones that kill as they go deeper into the lungs. Delhi’s air is 15 times more polluted than the WHO safe maximum.
Whether from vehicle emissions, industrial smokestacks or paraffin stoves in the slums, this pollution is manifested across many Indian cities in escalating asthma rates, higher cancer incidence and more heart attacks and strokes. About 620,000 people are dying every year from pollution-related diseases, but they are not alone. Lives in many Chinese cities are over 5 years shorter than the national average because of air pollution – 80 percent of the population are exposed to pollution above safe levels and the air in Beijing is so polluted that breathing it does as much damage to the lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes a day. The omnipresent paper masks of recent years are being replaced by heavy-duty facemasks; parents are even delaying having children because of the poor quality air. Air pollution in China kills about 4,000 people every day – about 17 percent of all deaths. But, according to the World Bank, when measured across whole nations, the most toxic air today is found not in India or China but in the UAE.
Most of the world’s population will be subject to degraded air quality in 2050 if human-made emissions continue as current trends. The OECD believes that air pollution will become a bigger global killer than dirty water and, as such, is encouraging faster change. The challenge in many countries however is in balancing the public health impact with the desire for sustained economic growth – primarily still powered by fossil fuels. In regions where energy access is a higher priority than clean energy, many are increasingly seeing that it may well be air pollution, and not carbon emission targets, that captures the public sentiment and act as a catalyst for change. More children with asthma, permanently grey skies and increased breathing difficulties for all are seen by some as the triggers for widespread change – both bottom up and top down – and consequently, air quality is fast becoming a core part of the climate change vocabulary.
Dynamic Pricing is another interesting field. What’s it all about?
In the past, prices of things, whether the cost of a loaf of bread, a litre of petrol or a train ticket, have changed on a regular but not constant basis. By contrast, in the world of trading stocks, commodities or currencies, prices and rates have always been in constant flux, moving up and down by the millisecond as buyers, sellers and increasingly automated trading platforms around the world vie for advantage. Now an increasing transfer of technology applications across different sectors enables consumers and providers alike to see and act on fast changing prices in many areas – be that taxi fares, sports tickets, electricity supply, hotel rooms or training shoes. For the consumer, greater transparency of pricing is allowing better purchasing; while for providers, margins and yields are being enhanced as automated algorithms optimize dynamic pricing by the second.
Supported by an overlay of predictive data analytics, flexible business models and more data, better matching supply-and-demand and improving yield is becoming possible in a host of new areas. While profit maximization is a primary driver for many businesses, this has the capability to help improve resource utilization, reduce waste and optimize system efficiencies.
Lastly, when will a self-driving vehicle – Autonomous Transport is the keyword – bring me to the office in the morning?
In some locations you will see this happening earlier than others. The barriers seem to be less about technology and more about different regulations – as well as the key question of insurance – who pays and what is covered.
The concept of self-driving, autonomous vehicles has been talked about for years. Whether from the automotive sector, science fiction or big data enthusiasts, the advent of cars, trucks and buses that navigate and drive themselves has been a common aspiration. The reality is however getting increasingly closer and, over the next decade, many expect to see some pivotal advances introduced at scale in some parts of the world, though at different speeds in different sectors and in different regions.
Over the past thirty years there have been numerous proof of concept tests, such as the European Prometheus project and the DARPA funded Autonomous Land Vehicle project in the US. The 1997 National Automated Highway System Consortium project brought the idea to wider public attention, when twenty or so self-driving vehicles were demonstrated on Interstate Highway 15 in San Diego. These early projects set the direction, proved the principles and also raising many questions, including data access, ownership and sharing as well as network reliability.
Tesla, Google, Uber and Apple as well as some of the major OEMS such as Volvo are spearheading driverless cars. But many see trucks being where the key shifts will take place first. Much attention is focused on moving goods. Already in off-road applications such as mining and farming, many of the ingredients of autonomous and driverless vehicles will get large-scale traction in this area. The advent of truck platoons or trains, lines of long distance trucks electronically coupled to each other running along the highway, is upon us – Daimler’s Freightliner highway pilot has been given approval to operate in Nevada and rivals such as Volvo and Scania are undertaking similar trials in Sweden. However the revolution in this space is for small urban delivery vehicles – slow-moving, driverless electric pods delivering packages to homes, offices, drop-off points and even traditional car boots. No surprise that many are looking at Amazon to take the lead here; the opportunity to simplify the last mile of delivery in terms of both reducing human cost and optimizing drop-off schedule is a hugely attractive business proposition.
What remains to be determined are the all-important issues that sit around the core platforms. Mobile operators are already sharing data, but who owns the shared data required to make the whole system work and how it is accessed? This is matter of trust, value and liability and, depending where you are in the world, the balance between government, tech companies and vehicle manufacturers shifts significantly.
Interview: Sebastian Kaiser
ABOUT DR. TIM JONES
Tim is a recognised expert in innovation, growth and futures. He is the author / editor of ten books and a regular speaker on innovation leadership, growth platforms and future trends. For over twenty-five years he has worked with many leading multinationals, governments and universities identifying emerging opportunities: A leader in collaborative programmes, Tim has made his name in helping organisations to see the world through a different lens and so reveal new areas for potential growth.
Tim is Programme Director of the Future Agenda – the world’s largest open foresight programme; leads the annual Innovation Leaders analysis that profiles the companies making the most of their innovation investments and is also co-founder of a global advisory network, The Growth Agenda. He also has a number of academic positions with leading institutions.