Why wellness is an integral part of a sustainable future


Alisha Bhagat works with Forum for the Future, an independent non-profit working globally with businesses, governments and other organisations to drive forward new models of change. Here are her five wellness trends to watch this year.

Wellness is an integral part of a sustainable future and it is essential for people to be healthy both physically and mentally in order to thrive. Our work at Forum for the Future has included a focus on health and wellness, proving once again that it is a critical trend with retailers, brands, and industry bodies. In thinking about these trends we utilized data from our projects as well as scanning from our Futures Centre. This short list is by no means comprehensive, rather it highlights a few wellness trends we are most excited for in the New Year.

We are noticing a drop in interest in previous trends. For example, antioxidants is no longer the buzzword it once was, and consumers seem to care less about superfoods. Conversely, many of the trends we prioritized last year, such as the microbiome, remain dynamic and cutting edge, while others such as “down with sugar” have evolved into larger trends around eating more simply.

One major shift in health and wellness is the inclusion of mental health. Wellness is no longer simply exercise and nutrition but also positivity, mindfulness, relaxation, and self-care. The trends around holistic consumerism and minimalism speak to this shift.

1. Trend: New Minimalism

Consumers, especially young consumers, often value experiences over material goods — preferring to spend their money on concerts, dining, and exotic vacations. Owning too many items is seen as wasteful and stressful. The rise of Marie Kondo’s Japanese tidying method is one way that people are seeking bliss through decluttering. The philosophy of the new minimalism advocates for “buying less but buying better” whereby consumers take more time to purchase fewer goods of a higher quality and staying more organized overall.

Sustainability Impact: Advocates of the new minimalism movement are consuming less. When they do choose to make purchases they choose goods that are sustainably made and long-lasting, thus keeping more items out of the waste stream.

2. Trend: Back to Basic Foods

The diet industry is hurting. Rather than opting for fad diets, more and more consumers simply want to make healthier food choices in the long term. In one survey 77% of consumers stated that “diet products are not as healthy as they claim to be”. People are choosing foods that are minimally processed and natural with the belief that eating whole foods in moderation is better than over processed diet foods. Companies such as Blue Apron, Plated, and Hello Fresh offer consumers a box of ingredients and cooking instructions each week. New food services such as Munchery and Sakara Life offer a sustainably sourced meals delivered to homes and offices.

Sustainability Impact: By caring more about food labelling and additives, consumers are valuing whole food diets. This can have a positive sustainability impact when it is paired with eating with the seasons and minimizing food waste.

3. Trend: Clean Labelling

Non-toxic now encompasses a range of items and consumers are much more aware of “negative” or perceived harmful chemicals and additives in products. The amount of labelling is also increasing. The number of eco labels have gone from a few dozen in 1990 to more than 400 today. Clean labels are those which depict products as minimally processed, natural, organic, and free- from toxic chemicals. Consumers rely on tools such as Good Guide and Skin Deep to provide third-party data on the chemicals within personal care products. Clean labelling is particularly important with regards to foods, cosmetics, and baby products.

Sustainability Impact: Clean labelling allows consumers to make up their own minds about the chemicals in their products. Depending on consumer needs, people can choose products with features such as less impactful production requirements or biodegradability.

4. Trend: Thriving Microbiome

More people are now aware of the importance of bacteria that lives on and within the human body. Conventional wisdom around the importance killing bacteria is being questioned as research is revealing that much of the bacteria within us is linked to healthy, functional systems. There is an increased consumer interest in probiotics and other products that will improve health from within the body, and greater attention paid to good bacteria on the skin that is harmed by anti-bacterial products. New products such as Mother Dirt, a bacterial spray, restore and maintain good bacteria on the skin.

Sustainability Impact: As antibacterial resistance is a growing problem globally, fewer products that contain antibacterial substances is a positive development. More research is demonstrating that growth of good bacteria is good for overall physical and mental health.

5. Trend: Holistic Consumerism

Consumers want products that make them feel good mind, body, and soul. A number of brands are offering transparency around sourcing, wages, and supply chain costs in order to help consumers understand their business model. Brands such as Everlane, Cuyana, and Zady showcase ethically made products. Brands like TOMS and Warby Parker donate products to those in need. Businesses that don’t hurt the environment and contribute to social causes make consumers feel good about what they are buying.

Sustainability Impact: Buying products with a positive message and social justice mission can contribute to higher wages for producers, lower environmental impact, and community development. However, this should be part of the “buy less but buy better” movement so that people do not overconsume.

About Alisha

Alisha works in Forum’s futures team. She specializes in futures and strategic foresight methodology, research, designing workshops, and tackling challenging multi-sectoral problems. Alisha also served as an Asia analyst to US government agencies focusing on global trends including climate change, international security, and ethnic conflict.