Identifying, understanding and influencing future trends

Konzept der nachhaltigen Entwicklung, der Umwelt und des Umweltschutzes mit Symbolen für den Planeten Erde, erneuerbaren Energien, Menschen und natürlichen Ressourcen, Personenknopf

Those who recognize trends early on can understand and choose to act instead of react. adelphi and its partners are developing and improving processes for looking into the future. This includes the big picture as well as the in-depth analysis of individual trends.


What is still a dream of the future now can quickly become the present. This is how we "suddenly" have only one week to finish our Christmas shopping, or only ten years to reduce our CO2 emissions to net zero. In both cases, we actually knew well in advance. Other events are not as easy to predict – or predictable at all – and many developments have not yet been researched as extensively as climate change. Despite this, there are ways in which we can systematically understand the future. And what we understand, we can better prepare for.

Horizon scanning broadens our perspective

In our complex, networked world, it is not enough to react quickly. Environmental risks in particular often have causes and effects that cross borders. Even trends that appear to be unrelated at first glance can influence each other. Does artificial intelligence help use energy more efficiently? Or does it lead to increased energy consumption? Does social polarisation make meaningful environmental policy more difficult? To respond to these questions, everyone involved needs to broaden their perspective. Strategic foresight – “horizon scanning” – helps to understand interactions, identify warning signs and make better decisions.

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) have institutionalised this method of looking into the future. With support from adelphi and its partners, they regularly carry out horizon scanning processes to identify and assess new trends as early as possible. They pay particular attention to how these developments affect the environment – and always with one question in mind: What measures can be taken to prevent or reduce negative consequences in good time?

In-depth trend analysis improves understanding

Horizon scanning provides information about the future. We have seen time and again that individual trends can have major impacts. That is why adelphi is also involved in the in-depth analysis of individual developments. On behalf of the UBA, adelphi and its partners have investigated topics such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) or new forms of meat production – from artificial in-vitro meat to insect burgers and plant-based meat substitutes. The projects employ a variety of methods to analyse the individual trends and assess their positive and negative, direct and indirect effects. The result: a comprehensive picture that supports political decision-making.

Join the discussion at the conference “The Future in View”

adelphi, the Institute for Innovation and Technology and labconcepts are organising the conference "Die Zukunft im Blick" (The Future in View) on behalf of the BMU. The event will bring together both areas of strategic foresight, i.e. the big-picture perspective and individual analysis. Experts from the UBA and BMU will exchange ideas with specialists and representatives from politics, science, business and civil society. Conference participants will discuss the future themes that have been prioritised in the ongoing horizon-scanning process and work out ideas and suggestions for new, environmentally relevant topics. More information (in German) on the conference is available here. The former conference date of March 10 has been cancelled to avoid further infection with the Corona virus; a new date will be decided in time. Follow adelphi on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to be kept updated.

Contact person: Benno Keppner.