Sophie Thomas
January 24, 2024

2024-Predictions for the Year of the Dragon

It seems that the year of the dragon will live up to its reputation and is set to be fiery and hot.

Reading through many predictions posts for this year really shows the current temperature of businesses and colleagues. In summary they echo an almost desperate desire for optimism and call for innovation and solutions.

I feel the same. Just from a business perspective - and for those that have worked in sustainability for as long as I have - last year ended with a definite feeling of exhaustion and depression and the feeling that we were crawling to the finish line. A year of tipping points in climate and conflict, putting untold pressure on people and planet.

So, now we have flipped into 2024 - what can we hope for? Where will the art of the possible, the disruptive game changers, the innovation shifts happen? Where should we focus our energy? These are my resolutions and predictions. If I am honest, I have been saying some of them for a few years now – but they are still and now even more relevant IMHO. Add your own in the comments!

Firstly, resolutions:

1.     DIY (not in the ‘time to fix that shelf’ meaning but more in the ‘Just do it’ category).

Now is the time for purpose driven businesses, positive investment choices, better future start-ups, and mission driven objectives. We have finite time to fix this planetary situation, no time to muck about the clock is ticking.

2.     Good News goes far. We need good news stories and positivity to build hope and optimism. There are lots of people and companies working hard to find climate solutions. They need our support and investment – in time, money and intelligence.

3.     Look to the unconventional for help in finding the solutions. One evening when death scrolling Instagram (note to self - reducing this is high on my stop list) I came across a clip from ITV’s The Chase. The contender, Claire from Oxfordshire was asked what she does for a living: “I am a multi-layered insulation technician…I make the shiny blankets for satellites. But I am not an engineer, I used to have a crafts business. The space company had advertised for engineers but didn’t get any takers, so they had a brainwave, saying ‘we want the people who make things’. So, they advertised at the local crafts fairs and I saw the advert”.
Now that is out-of-the-box thinking.

4.     Pick the harder to reach fruit. We need to face up to the hard stuff. Take a deep breath, roll up our sleeves and tackle the trickier/wicked challenges. This stuff requires head space and finance to allow for a whole lot of trialling, testing, failing and creative thinking but some of the knottier challenges will give us the best return in progress.

5.     Collaboration is the superpower.

We must play well with others across the vast supply chains in order to find out where the challenges actually lie and where there are the innovation gaps. This is about partnerships with those that have the scale and resource on the side and know they have to do something but can’t get the time to think, unpick and redesign.

And now, predictions:

6.     Away is now really not away and waste is definitely not waste. You can’t throw things away and expect it and the related problems to disappear. It’s basics Physics - the law of conservation of mass which implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or changed in form. As a passed article I wrote discussed – where there is muck there is brass. We must invest as much time in working out the capture back and re-looping of our products and materials as we do in the initial R&D.

7.     The Future is material. 2024 is looking like it will have a big focus on material scarcity and therefore security. Already people are discussing Rare Earth Metals, Sand (silica) and Seaweed to name a few. Regenerative design will help eliminate substitute one problem material with one that will ultimately create other issues (think over farming, illegal mining or its own scarcity issues).

8.     It’s all about 100%. Back to old fashioned values of the rag and bone men who used to collect scraps from doorsteps. There is real value in the bits we are not using. I have seen some incredibly surprising and exciting innovations using by-products (aka wastestreams) from food processing or industrial processes. The Icelandic 100% fish model sets the scene.

9.     Re-use and refill back on the table. They shouldn’t have left, but we seem to be led by mysterious focus groups that give super markets ideas that we don’t want it. This is an area where technology has definitely led the way and helped clean up the backroom logistics as well as the shop floor. There is no silver bullet in the circular economy system so it needs all the ‘REs’ working.

10.  Ai for good. Material innovation is known for having the longest innovation timescale albeit with a massively impactful end point. Ai and related Deep-tech will get us there faster. We need to accelerate the testing process for materials in the same way we did for vaccines and medicines.

And for etsaW and my work – we are just at the beginning of a very exciting journey (that is jammed packed full of optimism, innovations, and potential solutions!). I am really looking forward to getting stuck into new wicked challenges where complexity, wastage, and habit (the “that’s just how it’s always been”conversation) gets in the way of circularity. I am excited by the new people we’re meeting, and the collaborations being set up. My creativity is being pushed in ways I never thought it would – (into fish waste for example!). This year for me is about positivity, action, conviction in people and solutions and belief that we can rebuild towards a much better future.