In a resource-constrained world, big brands have to make major adjustments. Some are already doing this; the Institute for the Future and Forum for the Future are often tapped by companies to offer insight into the future global landscape. Others still operate unaware of (or unwilling to pay attention to) the shifting environment around us.
Fiona Bennie, head of sustainability for design and innovation agency Dragon Rouge (and former sustainability advisor for the Forum for the Future), worked with a design team to come up with a series of concepts for how today’s well-known brands could adapt to an "aspirational future" in 2030—that is, a future where humanity hasn’t devolved into an apocalyptic cesspool.
The six brands chosen—Primark, Bupa, Argos, EasyJet, Rio Tinto, and Morrisons—are all popular in the U.K. (where Bennie is based) and span a variety of sectors, from transportation to mining. "We wanted to go with strong-loved brands. We went to brands that aren’t necessarily really outspoken on sustainability," says Bennie.
None of the brands were consulted for the project, which examines the brands as they exist today and then offers alternative versions of what they might become. Popular airline EasyJet is reimagined as a high-speed rail company. British health care organization Bupa is refashioned as a global preventative health care specialist. And clothing retailer Primark is transformed into a style subscription service. "We deliberately kept ourselves away. We let Rio Tinto know [about the project] because they’re a Dragon Rouge client, but they didn’t have any input," says Ruth Wyatt of Dragon Rouge.
Here, we look at some of our favorite versions of Dragon Rouge’s brand futures.
If you’ve traveled in Europe, you’ve probably encountered EasyJet. It’s the biggest airline in the U.K., and it’s the second biggest low-cost airline in Europe (RyanAir is first). But despite the company’s earnest overtures towards sustainability, it’s impossible to ignore the realities of air travel: It guzzles lots of fuel, and it’s responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. While some airlines are moving towards biofuel, the industry will rely on fossil fuels for a long time to come.
So Dragon Rouge’s future rebrands EasyJet as a high-speed rail operation that retains the company’s values (more value for less, honesty, fun, etc.). In this future, EasyJet connects the smart grid and offers fares based on excess capacity. All trains give energy back to the grid via an "advanced kinetic energy recovery system."
Today, Rio Tinto calls itself the "world leader in finding, mining, and processing the earth’s mineral resources." Tomorrow, Dragon Rouge imagines that it will instead be "the global leader in sourcing, grading, re-purposing, and processing the world’s used metals, plastics, and minerals." With metals and minerals creeping up in cost, pressures to mine sustainably, and concerns about issues like peak metal, it makes sense for Rio Tinto to turn towards re-use. After all, we throw away unconscionable amounts of perfectly good materials with our old electronics.
The alternative future version of Rio Tinto takes in used materials for recycling and ensures that its leased metals, plastics, and minerals all come back to it at the end of use. The company also has mastered landfill mining techniques.
This popular U.K. supermarket chain is facing many of the same issues as other supermarket chains: a rise in the collaborative consumption culture, increased online purchasing, on-demand manufacturing, and a desire for a local, more personalized shopping experience.
In its Dragon Rouge-inspired future, Morrisons is all about "keeping local, local." It provides fresh goods via partnerships with local bakers, butchers and greengrocers. Other household and grocery items can be found in neighborhood Morrisons stores. It’s less of a transition than the proposed futures for Rio Tinto and EasyJet; Morrisons already lays out its stores like a "market street," with special awnings for bakers, fishmongers, and other goods. It’s almost like being out on the street, but inside a store.
Some brands will undoubtedly react positively to their Dragon Rouge makeovers. "I think that Rio Tinto is a really forward-looking company. I wouldn’t be surprised if they looked at the [proposed future] and nodded sagely," says Wyatt. But others might not take too kindly to the idea that their business models need to be flipped upside down. But Bennie believes that a lack of inspiration and storytelling in the sustainability movement has caused it to be left behind in the CSR department of companies, when really it should be integral to business. "We want to talk about trends in an open and approachable way," she says.