THE BLOG

We Must Get Real About Sustainability Now to Ensure the Lifestyle We Want in 2050

23/12/2013 10:49 GMT | Updated 19/02/2014 10:59 GMT

We recently revealed a glimpse of the homes and cities of the future, drawing on the work of our innovation team to explore the technologies that will shape our lives in 2050. Imagine 2050 revealed a futuristic vision, with bin-less homes, self-cleaning bathrooms, home-grown plastic and ultrasonic baths. It included smart packaging that breaks down in line with the food's sell-by date, and microscopic nanobots sorting waste into its constituent elements.

Whilst still a little way off, these technologies are already becoming a reality: challenging the prevailing perception that an environmentally friendly lifestyle can't go hand in hand with comfort and convenience.

Yet focusing on the gadgets and gizmos only gives us half the picture. Our report, based on joint research with the London School of Economics, considers more serious issues alongside this tantalising glimpse of the future. It looks at the wider context of urban lifestyles in 2050: how our waste will be dealt with and resources such as energy and water used and reused. After all, there is no point in having the dream home of the future if the environment around us is unsustainable.

The report looks at two potential scenarios for the future of our cities. In one scenario, system-level planning has created a resource-efficient society characterised by collaborative consumption, shared ownership and local self-reliance. In this scenario, people have embraced the concept of the Circular Economy, with resources and raw materials recovered from waste and fed back into the system to be used again.

In contrast to this, the report also models a completely different possible future. In this scenario, disparate and unregulated development has led to a resource-hungry urban sprawl where private consumption and ownership is prioritised over long-term communal thinking. Quality of life is hampered by the chaotic, disorderly environment and people live in more fragmented social structures. A linear economy means the shadow of resource scarcity is ever present.

A stark warning accompanies these two visions. Our cities are at a crossroads, and we must decide now which future we want for our children. Before we think about how our bathrooms and kitchens will look in 2050, we must consider how our most basic needs will be met. We need to start shaping our behaviours to embrace more sustainable ways of living.

Whilst much of the responsibility lies with policymakers and businesses, this is something every person in UK can help drive. Indeed, support from individuals is critical to ensure that we have advocates for environmental reforms and to help create the systems and infrastructure we need to support our lifestyles in 2050.

These are not pipe dreams and here are some examples of how Veolia is doing this today. In joint partnership with Southwark Council Veolia has recently opened London's first energy from waste district heating network from its SELCHP facility in Deptford to heat and provide hot water to 2,500 properties. In Brussels, Veolia's technology team are working on the technique to turn sewage sludge into plastic and at Veolia's facility near Rugby its recycling street sweepings and extracting precious metals such as palladium and platinum!

And when it comes to ultrasonic bath time with the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of 2050, we'll be glad we embraced the future when it mattered.