How can we shape future demand?

Technology and new business models make it possible to do much more with much less, thereby reducing demand for resources. Governments and companies must seize the opportunity to shape future consumption trends towards more sustainable practices.

How we meet future needs will be shaped by a variety of factors – population figures, resource availability, income levels, regulatory pressures, policy interventions, relative prices, cultural preferences and technological breakthroughs. But technological innovations are bridging the gap between producers and consumers with novel products and services, whether through car-sharing, holiday accommodation, smart meters or diets. At the same time, governments and companies are exploring new ways, through ‘nudging’, for example, to support more sustainable purchasing decisions. These developments, in turn, are bringing more concrete opportunities to rethink future resource use.

Typically, forecasts of future demand are simple extrapolations of the historical relationships between per capita demand for a specific product and per capita income. The assumption is that, as people get richer, they consume and waste more food, materials or energy, following historical patterns of consumption and business-as-usual trajectories. It is time to revisit these assumptions.

Related publications

  • Environment and Trade 2.0

    Event summary by Carolyn Deere Birkbeck

    10 Oct 2019  •  31 min read

  • The Future of Electricity

    Collection (4 publications)

    1 Feb 2019

  • Shifting to Sustainable Consumption for 1.5°C: Gaps, Solutions, and New Policy Agendas

    Event summary by Sam Airey and Mark Conway

    5 Nov 2018  •  2 min read

  • Shaping demand...A first look

    Event summary by Simone Cooper-Searle and Bernice Lee

    26 Sep 2017  •  23 min read

  • Circular economy & decarbonisation: lessons from industry

    Article by John Gardner

    4 Sep 2017  •  16 min read

  • Scrapping the combustion engine: the metals critical to success of EVs

    Article by Daniel Quiggin

    28 Jul 2017  •  15 min read

Related events

  • Fostering Effective Energy Transition

    Workshop by Hoffmann Centre, World Economic Forum

    4 October 2017, 09:00–13:00 BST  •  London, United Kingdom

  • Fossil Fuels Expert Roundtable: Forecasting Forum 2018

    Workshop by Chatham House Energy, Environment and Resources Department

    12 February 2018, 14:30–18:00 GMT  •  Chatham House, 10 St James's Square, London SW1Y 4LE United Kingdom

  • Finance for Social and Environmental Enterprises: Mainstreaming Impact

    Research Event by Hoffmann Centre

    14 November 2019, 08:30–17:30 GMT  •  London, UK