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How the megatrend will shape our decade

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Neo-ecology: It’s sustainability reimagined, Environmentalism 2.0. Many experts are sure of one thing: The megatrend will radically transform how we live and work – and how we manage our economy and consume – over the coming years. “Neo-ecology fundamentally realigns entrepreneurial activity and the entire economic system,” say the trend researchers and futurologists at the Zukunftsinstitut. But what exactly is neo-ecology and how can sustainability and consumption work hand in hand?

Neo-ecology title image

Planet over profit? Neo-ecology combines the best of both worlds (photos, l. to r.: Markus Spiske & Sirisvisuell, Unsplash)

Neo-ecology: what’s behind it?

Sustainability is not a short-term trend that’s here today and gone tomorrow. It’s not a phenomenon that companies can make a short, awkward TikTok video about, and the issue is sorted. Far from it: Sustainability has been a concern for us for several years now. Heightened environmental awareness has now entered many spheres of everyday life and become a social movement.

But who can claim that their lives are genuinely 100% sustainable? We buy our vegetables from organic stores, forgo meat and buy compostable furniture . That’s a good start, but ultimately, all it does is ease our bad conscience at best. This is because some other desires often get in the way of the call for a greener future: “We cannot assume that doing without will be the driving force for the necessary eco-social renewal of our society and economy. People’s striving for pleasure and businesses’ striving for profit are too great for that to work,” says the online portal Utopia quoting Andreas Steinle, Managing Director of Zukunftsinstitut Workshop GmbH.

The answer to this problem according to Steinle could lie in neo-ecology. The megatrend is a blend of ecology and economics, sustainability and consumption, and is based on rational, intelligent and environmentally responsible stewardship of resources. Neo-ecology also describes the emergence of a new business ethics. It recognises that, for companies, sustainability and environmental action aren’t merely marketing tools and greenwashing, pure and simple. Instead, they are essential for survival because more and more consumers are demanding this awareness.

Poster at a climate change demonstration

“Act now”: The call of the Fridays For Future demonstrators also appears on the cover of the Zukunftsinstitut’s study. (Photo: Markus Spitze, Unsplash)

Probably the most important megatrend of our decade

The Zukunftsinstitut impressively demonstrates how important the neo-ecology megatrend is for our society and how significant it will be over the coming years in its 160-page study . Drawing on in-depth analyses and expert opinions and combining them with hands-on tips, the study makes clear that companies will no longer be able to avoid the issue of sustainability. From sustainable store concepts to resource-conserving furniture , neo-ecology “will shape the 2020s like no other megatrend – and it will shake the very foundations of how businesses think and act,” says the Zukunftsinstitut in the introduction to the study. The futurologists highlight four areas in which neo-ecology will transform our lives:

1. New values: Generation Global

The environment and sustainability are global issues that are giving rise to a global identity. The result is a planetary mindset and value system, which will be the drivers of the paradigm shift in how we manage the economy.

2. New markets: Post-individualism
A more global identity brings a stronger sense of togetherness with it. People increasingly see themselves as global citizens and as globally responsible. They are questioning their role as consumers and put community spirit first. This, in turn, will influence how brands and markets behave.

3. New environments: Next nature
People’s health is the utmost priority in the new value system and guides environmental and economic action. Nature acts as a metaphor for human well-being. Neo-ecology stands for a new relationship between people, nature and the economy.

4. New economy: Post-growth
Our understanding of growth must also be redefined. This is where politicians are needed: By implementing regulations and creating incentives, they must lay the groundwork for the environmental transformation to enter all spheres of society. This is the only way to overcome a challenge for our society as a whole like the climate crisis.

Seen in this light, it doesn’t sound too far-fetched when the Zukunftsinstitut writes that the new zeitgeist “is producing new market logics and new customer needs, disrupting business models and turning the economic system upside down. [...] Companies that want to remain viable must make it [editors’ note: the new zeitgeist of neo-ecology] part of their DNA.”

A green future

Nobody can say exactly what tomorrow will look like. But many experts agree that neo-ecology will significantly influence the near future. (Photo: Yen Le, Unsplash)

An example from practice

Neo-ecology is not some imagining of tomorrow, as some impressive examples already demonstrate. These are companies that want and have to make a profit, but clearly put the environment first – and not as a marketing stunt. One of these highly promising companies is Made of Air. From wall and facade cladding to automotive parts and sustainable furniture, the progressive company produces construction materials for highly diverse applications. Founders Allison Dring and Daniel Schwaag pursue lofty objectives: They have set out to make their sustainable materials not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative. That means that the materials are able to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and lock it in.

Commenting on a Made of Air project in Mexico City that involved recladding the facade of a hospital, Allison Dring says in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung that “It’s reducing the pollution of about 1,000 cars a day.”

At the time, the panels for the hospital could be produced only from environmentally unfriendly plastic. The team subsequently began looking for other source materials. The solution: biochar made from wood waste mixed with bioplastics or plant-based plastics. This creates a new material that can be used for a wide range of applications and simultaneously locks in carbon dioxide permanently – in short: carbon-negative. And it gets even better: After decades of use, the sustainable materials can be safely returned to the earth, either directly or as biochar.

Berlin-based Made of Air can already count major industry players among its customers and backers, including Audi, H&M and BMW.

A look ahead to a green future

The neo-ecology megatrend is bigger and more all-encompassing than the overview we could provide in this article. One important step forward that the megatrend makes is to resolve the conflict between doing without and “carrying on as before”. Neo-ecology recognises that both sides must be reconciled: Yes to consumption, but let’s make it intelligent and sustainable. This will be the task for businesses in this decade.

More exciting insights into the future and current trends in the interior design industry are revealed regularly in our magazine by imm cologne newsletter .