[vision] Why do you need the backcasting?

Updated: Feb 20

Hi This is Takeshi, CEO of su-re.co.

I am still writing about SCP (Sustainability Consumption and Production) and backcasting, so I continue the discussion (^^). I hope you understand why SCP/SDGs or basically everything needs backcasting after reading this!


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As SCP are a part of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), achieving SCPs has common characteristics with achieving SDGs. Understanding the SDGs will help understand the reason behind the need for backcasting. Moreover, given that the technological innovation in this century moves at a faster pace than the previous century, SCP organization is required rapidly. Because of nature and SCP and the current business and technological environment, the importance of backcasting has now increased.

The three most important concepts of the SDGs are: leave no one behind, get involved in the root causes, and do not just take only the good, but also the bad. All three are also connected. For example, if we look at the concept of "leaving no one behind", we can see the SDGs is more visionary than MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), which is the previous global goal before SDGs. The targets set in SDGs are more fundamental because SDG is aiming for the eradication of social and environmental problems instead of percentage achievement.


The progress in technology and business has also become unpredictable. Table 1 summaries key technologies which did not exist 10, 15 and 20 years ago and became already commodities. Amazon did not exist 20 years ago, and now it is the most valuable company in terms of stock value. It is difficult to imagine life without the services provided by Google. Other technologies listed in the table below will also provide a fundamental technology infrastructure. This fast-moving of technological innovation indicated that it would be impossible to forecast the future and in this condition, one was the best way to predict the future is achieving the future on our own instead of forecasting namely backcasting. Courtney H. et al. explained that there are three strategic postures for businesses namely: 1) shaping the future, 2) adopt to the future, and 3) following others[1] (Figure 1). In the classic literature, they stated that the proportion of “shaping the future” such as backcasting has to be increased in the world with high uncertainty.




Figure 2 The three strategies to manage uncertainties (from Courtney H. et al. 1997).

Table 1 The progress of technology in the last 20 years

What we didn't have 10 years ago

iPad (2010) / Apple Watch (2015) Instagram / Influencer (2010) Aerial Drone (2010) Tesla 3 / Low-Cost Electric Vehicles (2016)


What we didn't have 15 years ago

Uber (2009) Airbnb (2008) YouTube / YouTuber (2005)


What we didn't have 20 years ago

Amazon (1995) Google (1997)


NASA’s Apollo project could be the most famous backcasting case known as the moonshot. US President John F. Kennedy made a vision statement in 1962 to send people to the moon and bring them back by the end of 60’s. At the time he made a statement, the US's space technology is way behind that of Soviet Union. Therefore, the US did not have the capability to achieve the moonshot in 1962. However, because of the vision statement, people in the US worked hard to make the future they want to have. They made the target 1969, i.e. the end of 60s. Kennedy's vision is specific and measurable and has an exact deadline. If he announced the deadline as "the end of 70's", the moonshot would have been achieved in 1979.


SCP is a technological and practical business approach that contributes some of SDG targets.Stakeholders engaging SCP including policy makers, factory owners, and farmers need to know how sub-agricultural sectors can progress their activities in an uncertain future. Therefore, we need to understand the overall concepts and procedures of backcasting.

[1] Courtney, H., Kirkland, J., & Viguerie, P. (1997). Strategy under uncertainty. Harvard business review, 75(6), 67-79.

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