10 Industries and Trends That Will Shape Our Future

What will the future hold? It’s hard to say, but here are ten entities, industries, or trends that will impact it in various ways. 

In the past several years, we have all felt out of control of our lives. We have been hit by economic hardship, rising cost of living, plummeting home values, stagnant salaries, and waves of layoffs. Even as things slowly rebound, there are still many factors that affect our lives that we might not be able to control, but we have found ways to communicate our opinions and, in some cases, make a change. Our society is tackling new and old problems, setting new trends and following a new path, and in many ways, this is a tipping point where the decisions we make now will have a ripple effect far into the future.

Who are the people making these major life decisions for us? You might be surprised.

1. Pharmaceutical Industry

Although prescription prices went up in 2011, Americans are veering away from both doctor visits and excessive prescription use. At the same time, new government healthcare regulations over prescriptions that some women do want to take stirred up debate and crossed boundaries into local government, religious and business realms.

2. Oil & Gas

After the BP spill and the continuing aftermath, no one could fail to see the impact the oil and gas industry has on our lives. Prices have continued to rise and all indications are that they will not go down again for any significant length of time. Car companies have even come to the realization that we need transportation improvements and new higher mileage, hybrid and electric vehicles are emerging onto the market. Unfortunately, they only account for a small percentage of the vehicles on the road but they are gaining in popularity. Alternative energy solutions have become the next big thing, but we are still teetering on the edge of a precipice where we are consuming more energy than these solutions can meet, so oil and gas are still necessary evils. For how long, no one knows. While they still dominate, consumers will not only bear the financial costs, but environmental, political, and health costs as well.

3. Banks

Even before our economy hit a wall in 2008, many mistrusted banks and lenders and feelings deteriorated even further as the situation worsened. The financial landscape is changing. People are becoming more aware of the benefits and pitfalls and are speaking up. When Bank of America saw fit to tack on an arbitrary fee, account holders noticed and protested. After a storm of bad press, Bank of America canceled that fee scheme, but now they are looking to impose more.

The recently passed JOBS Act will also affect small businesses financially in ways we can’t see yet. Now that the gates have opened for people to crowdfund small businesses, this could enable organizations who might not have been able to get traditional or angel funding. Small businesses currently account for 65 percent of new jobs. Perhaps it took a major fall in order to make a change.

4. Supreme Court

We don’t think of many Supreme Court decisions as affecting our day-to-day lives, but recently the Court has weighed in on some pertinent issues. The justices pushed back against physical GPS tracking of a suspect, but the argument exposed the bigger issue of individual privacy. Justice Sotomayor articulated the future concern of eroding personal privacy, pointing out that “physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of surveillance,” which puts into question freedom of expression online, information sent in email and data stored in the cloud. The laws as written by our founding fathers cannot keep pace with the speed of our technological innovations and our society’s increasing dependence on virtual communication, so this issue is sure to come up again.

5. State Government

While the Supreme Court makes decisions felt across the nation, state governments have been flexing their power lately. States have passed a number of measures chipping away at Roe v. Wade and imposing limitations and requirements on abortion that vary state to state.

Arizona went further and crafted legislation that would allow employers to opt out of covering birth control as part of their benefits package. If women wanted reimbursement for prescription costs, it then proposed to compel them to justify to their employers that if they are using birth control, they were using it for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Using birth control for its intended purpose could be grounds for dismissal.

The legislation (in that form) failed, but this trend of state interference in personal and medical privacy seems to be gaining momentum.

6. Work

The job landscape has been a tough one. The last few years have seen layoffs, stagnant salaries, and overworked employees who had to take on the tasks of vacated roles. New opportunities lean toward freelance or contract work and fewer permanent positions with benefits, while our nation is still known for its culture of overwork.

However, mobile tools are giving rise to more work-at-home arrangements to cut down on commuting, eliminate the need for expensive, wasteful office space, and encourage more work/life balance. Will work weeks get shorter? Will more people without location-based jobs (doctors, teachers, etc.) work remotely? The current tide is toward leaner work infrastructure and roles, so expect remote work arrangements to continue to be popular, but as for Americans working fewer hours? It’s a future hope, but not likely to become a reality soon.

7. Utilities

The utility bill is a growing part of monthly budgets, factoring in landlines, smart phones, tablets, cable, internet, as well as basic heating/cooling and water. We use more energy and spend more money, while the big utility fish are gobbling up the smaller ones, so we have fewer choices. If that wasn’t troubling enough, Verizon recently decided to follow in Bank of America’s footsteps and have added an additional fee onto their customers bills. And again, people noticed and protested. Will the future improve people’s abilities to read and comprehend their cell phone bills? Probably not, but hopefully conservation and alternative energy solutions will lessen our utilities’ control over our energy, and impact on our budgets and our planet.

8. Food

Hundreds of emerging books and blogs examine the content of food on the supermarket shelves and have found much of it full of unsavory ingredients. Despite the higher prices, organic food is gaining popularity and gardening has become cool again. Consumers are more food savvy than ever before and are scrutinizing their fare. The demand for healthier food is a positive trend, but it may come at a price, putting it out of reach for many that are still recovering economically or live in a food desert. How consumers shape this industry now will set the tone for the future.

9. Water

It’s easy to forget that water is precious. For most of us, it comes out of the tap when we need it and goes down the drain when we don’t, but water shortage is fast becoming one of the biggest issues of this century. Businesses are realizing how much water impacts their daily manufacturing processes and their profits. Lack of water can shut down a factory for days, while floods can impact crops and cause materials shortages and price hikes.

The price of water varies by region and abundance, but even here in the U.S., wars over water are becoming more intense. In the future we may see prices rise or simply see availability fall. CDP Water Disclosure Project’s Chris Hedemann believes that people will only start to care about conserving water when a water crisis hits.

10. Consumption

As our economy slowly recovers, many facets have changed. Consumer consumption and excessive waste have fallen out of favor, and frugality has spawned a new, sharing economy, also called the access economy. Companies like Zipcar and Airbnb promote swapping and lending, while anti-waste crusader Annie Leonard is seeing her dream of community and sharing start to come true. We’re replacing shopping bags with reusable cloth totes and borrowing from our neighbors rather than buying an item we may only use once or twice a year. Our economy has been hit before during the Great Depression, inspiring a generation of savers. Perhaps this economic disaster will inspire future generations of savers, lenders and borrowers.

Images: BethanFrederic Poirot, Julie Falk, Gisela Giardino, Garry Wilmore, Wally Gobetz, Blake Patterson, Chuck Schneider, Evan Leeson, Wester, aamy.

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.