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Backcasting starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect the future to the present.[1] The fundamental question of backcasting asks: "if we want to attain a certain goal, what actions must be taken to get there?"[2][3]Forecasting is the process of predicting the future based on current trend analysis. Backcasting approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposite direction.[4]

a method in which the future desired conditions are envisioned and steps are then defined to attain those conditions, rather than taking steps that are merely a continuation of present methods extrapolated into the future

Practical applications[edit]

Backcasting is increasingly used in urban planning and resource management of water and energy. It was used by Dr. Peter Gleick and colleagues at the Pacific Institute in a 1995 study on California water policy, as an alternative to traditional California water planning approaches.[5] In 2006, the Capital Regional District Water Services, which services the greater Victoria area in British Columbia, Canada, committed to backcasting to the year 2050 as a formal element of all future strategic water planning initiatives.[6]

Backcasting is a key component of the soft energy path, a concept developed by Amory Lovins after the shock of the 1973 energy crisis in the United States.[7]

Backcasting from Sustainability Principles, or System conditions of sustainability is a key concept of the 'Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development' pioneered by Karl-Henrik Robèrt, founder of The Natural Step, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to applied research for sustainability, in cooperation with a global academic Alliance for Strategic Sustainable Development which links universities which cooperate with businesses, and other NGOs.It has been refined and tested by peer-review and application within businesses (widely-known examples are: Interface, Nike, Whistler).

Research groups that use backcasting[edit]

Other resources[edit]


  1. ^ Page 12. The Soft Path for Water in a Nutshell (2005). Oliver M Brandes and David B. Brooks. A joint publication of Friends of the Earth Canada and the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. University of Victoria, Victoria BC.
  2. ^ Tinker, J. 1996. From 'Introduction' ix-xv. Life in 2030: Exploring a Sustainable Future for Canada, edited by J.B. Robinson et al. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
  3. ^ Page 5. Environmental Change and Challenge : A Canadian Perspective by Philip Dearden, Bruce Mitchell. ISBN 0-19-541014-9 / 9780195410143 / 0-19-541014-9. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Holmberg, J. & Robèrt, K.H. 2000. Backcasting from non-overlapping sustainability principles: a framework for strategic planning. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, 74, 291–308.
  5. ^ Gleick, P.H., P. Loh, S.V. Gomez, J. Morrison. 1995. California Water 2020: A Sustainable Vision. Pacific Institute, Oakland, California (May 1995)
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?" published in Foreign Affairs, in October 1976