After Capitalism: The Circular Economy

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Most of us have memorized this phrase to heart in our quest to be better to the environment. In Cradle-to-Cradle, architect William McDonough and former-Greenpeace activist Michael Braungart questions its efficacy. They argue that the 3Rs can at best reduce environmental harm, but not eliminate it. In a world that will peak over 9 billion people by 2050, simply doing “less harm” makes for an inadequate environmental strategy.

What is our alternative? Cradle-to-Cradle’s advocates for environmental policies to design out waste, rather than just reducing them. The authors take inspiration from the natural system; nature has no waste. They remind that waste in nature, such as oxygen from plants or dung from deer, in actuality nourishes other parts of the ecosystem. The natural system is a circular economy. It is an economy of zero waste.

Rather than outlining specific policies, Cradle-to-Cradle is a call to arms for environmentalist to reexamine our relationship with waste, our environmental policies, and approach to manufacturing. In contrast, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation follows-up on Cradle-to-Cradle by outlining the financial, business models and policies to create a circular economy in their report: The Circular Economy: Economic and Business Rationale for an Accelerated Transition. 

The report, written by McKinsey & Company, outlines a plan for transitioning to the circular economy through modular-based manufacturing, enabling access over ownership, and investing in creating environmentally beneficial materials.

For the washing machine industry, they recommend manufacturers should provide home-installed washing machines on a pay-per-wash model rather than being bought outright. Instead of being thrown away at the end of its lifecycle, the washing machine would be redesigned to be effortlessly refurbished or recovered for its metals and plastics at a remanufacturing factory. More radically, the report imagines that the detergent will also be designed to be recoverable and reusable.

As with Cradle-to-Cradle, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation argues for investment in new materials that can benefit the environment. Packaging for consumer goods, instead of being discarded as waste, could provide nutrients for the soil, just like the way a cow’s “waste” fertilizes a field.

Closing the Loop

The circular economy provides for an interesting reframing of the capitalist economy, by asking the capitalist system – specifically manufactures and consumers – to borrow nature’s approach to sustainability and design out waste. The challenge with applying the Circular Economy is that it is contingent on so many other pieces working together seamlessly. New non-toxic, recyclable and even “environmentally beneficial” materials need to be invented. A product’s lifecycle must shift from linear to circular, requiring reassessing its design, manufacturing process, and logistical needs to skip the landfill entirely. And finally, the consumers must shift from preferring to have access (rent) rather than own products.

Fortunately, we have real-world case study in action. Since 2015, the European Union has been discussing placing the Circular Economy ideas into practice to improve the environment and potentially save cost via recovered material. Indeed, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that select EU-based industries could attain “annual net material cost savings opportunity of up to USD 380 billion.” As the EU is expected to implement more circular economy based policies, we will be able to better assess the practicality and efficacy of the circular economy. — Daniel Riveong


Foresight Certificate Boot Camp Registration for 2018 now open

We are pleased to announce that registration for the 2018 UH Foresight Certificate is now open!

The five-day courses will take place January 15-19 and April 30-May 4, 2018 at the Hilton hotel right on the campus of the University of Houston. We’ve been teaching the future in Houston since 1975. Peter Bishop kicked off the certificate program in 2009 and we’ve had over 600 aspiring futurists graduate. It is affectionately known as “boot camp,” as we cover an abridged version of our “Introduction to Foresight” course in 5 jam-packed days. Participants come from a wide range of constituencies: corporations, government agencies, NGOS, non-profits, education, consultancies….pretty much from anywhere. Most participants have some type of foresight role – or are about to begin one — and need an immersion in the basics.That’s just what you’ll get! Hope you can join us!

Sign up here

Email Andy ( with questions about registration or content of the course.







Certificate Alum Rebecca Ryan Hosts Futurist Camp

When do you do your best thinking about the future? In the shower? During your commute to work?

Every summer, Rebecca Ryan hosts Futurist Camp at a lake in the woods of Wisconsin. There’s no internet, no slides. Just forward thinking people gathered to help each other apply foresight to their big, hairy challenges.

Past attendees include engineers and city planners, association executives, IT directors, budget analysts, college students, economic development professionals, workforce development managers, and leadership development specialists.

And yes, it’s camp. There’s archery. And canoe races. And hammocks. And bonfires. And the food is amazing: Camp has its own chef to keep you fueled. And each night there’s a signature cocktail to help you unwind so your brain doesn’t explode.

Learn more here:

You can contact Rebecca or her camp director, Stephanie Ricketts directly: or

NOTE: You can also save the date for the week-long Houston Foresight Certificate Seminar dates, which are set for January 15-19, 2018 and April 30-May 4, 2018. Registration will open soon.



Field Report: Summer of Futures by Bes Baldwin

Greetings from across the pond!  This summer I’m working as an intern in the Corporate Foresight team at Evonik Creavis in Marl, Germany, a location that provided me a wonderful opportunity to attend the Design, Develop, Transform (DDT) futures conference, co-sponsored by the Erasmus University College Brussels and the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA), held 15-17 June in Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium.  This was one of a group of three futures conferences in Europe during early June called the Summer of Futures, with additional conferences in Jondal, Norway, sponsored by the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), and in Turku, Finland, sponsored by the Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC).

The DDT meeting was organized by Maya Van Leemput and others with presentations and discussions of innovative ideas about the future structured around the three main themes of Design, Develop, and Transform. During the first day in Brussels, Jim Dator, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, delivered the plenary lecture, followed by presentations in the three tracks aligned with the Design, Develop, and Transform themes. After the opening day, the conference moved to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, where a temporary art installation of visions of futures is exhibited – and the final days of the program were held.

Here is a link to the program, including presentations by a couple of familiar faces to the University of Houston Foresight program:

  • Peter Bishop, retired Director of the UH Foresight program, presented an update on Teach the Future, an organization he founded and directs with the mission to encourage and support educators who want to include futures thinking in their classes and schools at all levels.
  • Wendy Schultz, UH Foresight Instructor and principal at Infinite Futures, led the Association of Professional Futurists (APF) Professional Development workshop, along with Andrew Curry, where teams worked collaboratively to create scenarios describing museums of the future. It was a fun exercise using a variety of images, media, and manipulatives (Legos!) to inspire and encourage creativity and futures thinking that would lead to scenarios that might push the boundaries of Dator’s Second Law: Any useful statement about the future should seem to be ridiculous.

The conference provided a good mix of theoretical and practical ideas on scenario building and gave me greater insights into the four Manoa scenario archetypes. Best of all, I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and spend time with this group of brilliant futurists and to hear of the work they are doing using foresight and futures thinking to design, develop, and transform the future. A young futurist from Toronto commented to me, “I’m new to this community and have met most of these people for the first time at this meeting, but I’m awestruck with how affirming it feels finally to have found my tribe!”  How true! — Bes Baldwin

Mimicking Mother Nature: Nudging Forests Toward Old Growth Conditions

University of Vermont (UVM) forest ecologist Bill Keeton is taking a “middle-aged” approach to managing forest ecosystems by nudging them towards “old growth conditions“. His 15-year study, some of which consists of research conducted on the 500-acre University of Vermont Jericho Research Forest, involves the regeneration of recovering secondary forests (those in recovery since the 19th century) by using old growth engineering techniques for harvesting trees in a way that mimics mother nature. This includes downed, decomposing trees and girdled tree limbs to “create dead branch snags”, which provide wildlife habitat. Keeton’s work is among that of other forest management practitioners who have applied silvicultural practices in order to improve forest growth and productivity, and/or to promote increased aboveground carbon storage, while enhancing “late-successional biodiversity“.

Forests characterized by old growth should, for the most part, be undisturbed, typically for a number of centuries.  They help foster plant, animal, fungi and micro-organic biodiversity, and mitigate flooding. Nudging secondary forests toward old growth conditions involves selecting and harvesting a forest stand (“an aggregation of trees occupying a specific area and sufficiently uniform in size, age, arrangement and condition“), so as to create animal habitats as well as gaps in the canopy, permitting increased sunlight to enter in. Not only has the old growth harvesting technique revealed a growth rate that is 10% higher than “conventional tree selection harvesting techniques” for maximizing carbon storage, an important factor in mitigating climate change, it has proven to be a source for generating income through carbon offset projects—perhaps something to consider in application to all forest systems.– Kimberly Daniels

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After Capitalism: Values-Driven STEEP Entities

Since adoption of Integral values will play a key part in After-Capitalism structures, it is useful to know what STEEP (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political) entities are founded in each the four values types. There are clear expressions of Traditional, Modern, Postmodern and Integral values under each STEEP category.

We already see some nascent Integral entities forming across the STEEP domains along with emerging values (rights for nature, etc.) which may provide the foundation for future entities crossing all the domains.

Since Integral values are still emerging, most of the listed Integral entities show a strong cross-over with Post-Modern values (Meet-ups, Makerspaces, YouTube channels, Online Retailers, etc.). Those can be considered transitional entities and will likely settle on a stable form sometime in the next 10-20 years.

It should be noted that entities that emerged under older value systems will almost certainly still be in place even after Integral becomes the dominant value system. They will lose mindshare/marketshare, but will likely adapt by adopting some features of later value systems while maintaining their core structure. This way they can serve people who still center on older dominant values while becoming more attractive to those who have a strong mix of older and newer values. — Tim Morgan


AI, the Forest, and Artisans

The quickening pace of technology offers the promise of greater productivity and better decision-making within modern society, but there’s a downside to that potential.  The use of robots and artificial intelligence within industry threatens to displace not only low-skilled human workers, but also many in white-collar positions as AI improves in its competence in offering knowledge products, such as legal, tax, and even medical advice.  Contact in our daily lives with other humans – already somewhat sparse – will decrease even more; with the greater isolation comes stress.  As 3-D printing is applied on an industrial scale, anything from the simplest item to the most exquisite and intricate can be built in great quantities from common substances such as plastic, metal, ceramic, concrete, salt, even wood itself.

In such a world of abundant copies and cheap advice, in what might people place value?  As AI improves, where can people turn when they are frustrated by the cloying and shallow simulacrums of caring that robots will become?  Perhaps humans, especially city dwellers, will find themselves turning more and more back to the forest:  using both visual and non-visual connections and stimuli to relieve their increasing stress; using the parks and the woods for relaxing events to recapture with their fellow urbanites a truer sense of community; and regaining an appreciation for artistry using forest products and for that quality of craftsmanship that can only come from the mind and the hands of another person.  As people strive to avoid the ultimate emptiness of the over-connected city, they may come to realize the saturated and superficial life offered by modern technology reflects both a paucity of meaningful relationships and experiences.  The vicarious allure of the forest through virtual reality can’t substitute for the real and personal participation in “forest bathing”, alone or with one’s family and friends.– Kurt Callaway

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Spring Gathering 2017 Highlights

The annual Foresight Spring Gathering was held over the weekend of April 21-22 and was a blast! It was a terrific way for students, faculty, alumni and friends to get together, network, socialize, and learn.
On Friday night, a dinner was held at our old favorite, Goode’s Taqueria…great tacos and margaritas. Then, the party moved on to Axelrad’s Beer Garden, suggesting that we futurists are tapped into the scene – a big crowd, live bands, hammocks, fire breathing – a little bit of everything!
We regrouped on Saturday at the UH Cameron Building for a day of “Good Futures Work.” The morning featured a demonstration/exercise on “Working with Systems Scenarios” by Christian Crews of Kalypso Foresight. Christian first developed this technique with fellow alum Sandy Burchsted, when he was a student in the program. He has been refining it with alum Laura Schlehuber at Kalypso. Small groups picked a topic and worked through the various steps, including developing third order impacts and looking at how the various impacts influenced one another. It was great to experience this technique firsthand – many of us had heard about it, but not tried it out.
After lunch, our sponsor at the US Forest Service, Dave Bengston, led the group through an Implications Wheel exercise. Before the gathering, Dave chose a topic from our current scanning and scenario project, got some input, and the participants generated implications at the workshop that we hope to use in the project.
The remainder of the afternoon featured a series of 15-minute sessions of tools, projects, and cases:

  • Eric Kingbsury described the Foresight Game concepts for youth in Tajikistan that he and fellow students, Mina McBride and Daniel Riveong, recently presented to UNICEF.
  • Professor Emeritus, Oliver Markley, shared some insight from his ongoing work on “Intuition in Foresight” for which he was recognized by the APF Most Significant Futures Work program.
  • Student, Mark Sackler, described his experience in putting together an awesome series of futures podcasts on his Seeking Delphi site.
  • Alum, Sean Daken, shared his experience on “Foresight & Entrepreneurship”, based on his experience in launching startups since he graduated from the program.
  • Bo Roe, a student and member of the Forest project team, shared his experience in developing a custom approach to scanning source identification for the forest scanning team.
  • Alum, Lee Shupp, teaching at the CCA program, shared some cool project work that a team of his students put together this spring.
  • Katherine Prince and Jason Swanson, Certificate and Master’s alums respectively, talked about how they have adapted the Framework Foresight approach in their project work at Knowledge Works.
  • Finally, Dr. Peter Bishop of Teach the Future, shared a new technique he is developing for combining uncertainties into a manageable number of scenarios.

After a stimulating day, we capped off the weekend with a pool party. One of these years, someone will actually go in the pool! The challenge has been issued!

Before We Let Robots Reclaim the Sahara . . .

With the fast pace of modern technology, it’s no surprise that serious attention has been focused on how it might be applied to reclaiming some of the millions of square miles of non-polar desert which comprise approximately 13% of the Earth’s dry land surface.  It’s not a new idea, but previous attempts have been hampered by the lack of reliable water sources to sustain new plantings.  Yet this may be changing.  The expense of desalinating seawater has fallen – at least, for locations near a coast – and the capability exists now of extracting water directly from even the driest of desert air.  Importantly, both these methods avoid diversion of the already stressed existing groundwater supplies.  With water available, a desert region could be methodically planted, beginning from its green fringe and working outward.  Such a process may at some point be automated, according to a Dutch engineer writing in 2015:  in the future, robots can be developed that will not only grow plants, but also maintain and monitor the new growth as it stabilizes and gains a foothold at the new edge of the desert.

One welcome benefit of reforesting a great desert such as the Sahara would be in the international cooperation it could foster.  It’s happened before:  nations from Senegal in the west to Eritrea in the east have coordinated efforts over the last ten years to contain the further spread of the Sahara southward.  However, much of the work, done by hand, was very labor-intensive.  Perhaps the use of autonomous machines for these tasks would supplant the low-skill human workers, but it would also create the opportunity for the nations to train and employ the many technicians needed for the robots, which will likely be there for a long time.  Perhaps historical rivalries between the regions could be channeled productively into competition for which country or district can average the greatest annual reclamation acreage from sand to farmland or forest.

Yet the slow expansion of plants will mean not only opportunities, but raise some difficult questions, too.  How much of the new growth will be allocated to forest use and how much to farmland?  How will wildlife be managed, as animals move into the new areas, especially as new waterholes form and existing oases expand?  Will existing Saharan mammals (which tend to be small, reducing their surface area water loss) be subject to overwhelming predation by larger animals moving in with the new treelines?  In Africa, as in many other less-developed areas of the world, land is often unregistered and ownership unclear.  Will it be a foregone result that the newly productive land will routinely fall into the hands of cronies working for the local Big Men?

In any case, as the effort gains momentum, education will be necessary for the local indigenous population in interacting with the re-greening robots.  After all, the large-scale use of such autonomous systems could be thought of as introducing an entirely new species to the local ecosystem.  Like natural organisms, the robots would be creatures deeply connected to their environment, and they would remain in a re-forested location for probably many years – if not indefinitely – to monitor and care for the new growth, to assure its success.  Caution may be needed as their activities begin to encrouch on the traditional lands and nomadic culture of the Berber and Bedouin peoples of North Africa.

Finally, in evaluating the progress of such efforts, the global ecological implications shouldn’t be ignored.  Existing evidence has found that the forest of the Sierra Nevada region of the US receive valuable nutrients in dust originating from the Gobi desert.  Similarly, the Amazon rainforest benefits from dust blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara.  A shift in weather patterns above and around new-forested areas will likely also result, with the possibility of corresponding climate change elsewhere.

As we can see, leveraging technology to change the environment, ostensibly for the better, can be easily visualized, but to really make it plausible, one must be ready to consider and address the social, political, and wider environmental aspects as well. — Kurt Callaway

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Futurists as Your Organization’s Steady Cam?

Futurists plot strategy to stay the course while the world sways. We forecast the changes through which we navigate to align strategy and change to core purpose.

Steady-cams minimize a camera’s movement despite turmoil so that unintended jostles are not filmed. They do not focus on the jostles themselves. Futurists can be a strategy version of steady camera tools by anticipating external absolute changes and managing relative internal changes that maintain important stabilities along the identified goal, true north, the reason for existing.

Vision is independent of shifting context while tactics narrow oscillations around the vision’s trend line. Futurists contribute effectiveness in meeting vision through mapping the right thing despite change. The tactical change that a futurist can be an agent of may be in plotting alignment perpendicular in addition to parallel to divergences.

We do not solely course correct to avoid the reality of crossing medium interfaces: a spaceship entering atmosphere, a spear plunging into water. Strategic foresight is a stabilizing force making minute change for continuity, not with implacable resting momentum but in shifting internal changes’ center of gravity; conserved angular momentum, the constraining forces of a cycle or pendulum, the counter weight.

The work of a futurist can be the “boring” sustaining work, a continued reaching objectives of the established mission through the methods of foresight. Strategizing how not to change absolute direction to maintain the original ‘why’. A Futurist is your organization’s steady-cam.

 – Joe Murphy is a former Science Librarian finishing the U.H. MS in Foresight program and wrapping up a concurrent Executive MBA program at SFSU. With a degree in physics, experience as a librarian at Yale U and in the corporate sector (as Director of Client Futures), Joe is passionate about the synthesis and grounding of futures.
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