Smart Green World? Making Digitalization Work for Sustainability

The digital revolution is currently changing the daily lives of billions of people worldwide. It is also disrupting the economy, generating new opportunities and creating new challenges. Yet can the much-discussed disruption potential of digitalization be harnessed for the purpose of sustainability? Can digitization help achieving a social and environmental transformation of society? The book “Smart Green World” provides guiding principles for a sustainable digitalization and develops hands-on policies and proposals how to achieve those.

A former version of the book has been published in German, see here.

Digitalization and the Decoupling Debate. Can ICT help to reduce environmental impacts while the economy keeps growing?

Digitalization can increase resource and energy productivities. However, the production and usage of  ICT require materials and energy, and the application of ICT fosters economic growth. This article by Tilman Santarius, Johanna Pohl and Steffen Lange in the Journal Sustainability examines whether digitalization helps or hinders an absolute decoupling of environmental throughput from economic growth. The paper combines the literature on “green IT” and “ICT for green” with studies on the relationship between economic growth, technological change, and environmental throughput. Comparing the mitigating and the aggravating impacts of digitalization, we conclude that a more active political and societal shaping of the process of digitalization is needed to make ICT work for a sufficient absolute decoupling.

Do online environments promote sufficiency or overconsumption?

Sustainable consumption is increasingly shaped by online environments. Everyday exposure to online advertisement and social media content by peers may influence individual consumption decisions. By representative online surveys in the German population, this article by Vivian Frick, Ellen Matthies, John Thøgersen and Tilman Santarius in the Journal of Consumer Behavior examines how perception of online environments influences individual consumption levels of clothing, digital devices and leisure air travel. Our findings confirm a relationship between perceived consumption‐promoting online content and consumption levels. At the same time, sufficiency‐promoting online content is not linked to aspiration or consumption levels.

Digitalization and Energy Consumption. Does ICT Reduce Energy Demand?

Cover image Ecological EconomicsDigitalization is said to bear large potentials to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, criticism has been raised that digitalization may increase energy demand. Which effect will overall digitalization of the economy and society bring about? This article by Steffen Lange, Johanna Pohl and Tilman Santarius in the journal Ecological Economics combines empirical and theoretical findings from debates on decoupling energy consumption from economic growth and from debates on green IT and ICT for sustainability and finds four distinctive effects. The overall conclusion is: Digitalization will not automatically bring about reductions in energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions, but needs to be actively shaped by policies and measures in order to deliver those.

 

Does the Use of ICT speed up the Pace of Life?

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) greatly facilitate the way we communicate, do shopping, organize our schedules, research information and so on. Hence, ICT help us ‘save time’, or more specifically, increase the time efficiency of doing things, including consumption.This article reviews existing literature and presents genuine own results from a representative consumer survey in the German population in order to address the following key questions: Does the use of ICT correlate with an increase of the pace of life? Access Article here >>>

Sustainable digital mobility: Why Uber hurts public transport – Interview

Fighting congestion is a worldwide challenge. But the claim “more car sharing, less traffic” has come under scrutiny lately. In the interview with 2025AD, Tilman Santarius explains why self-driving vehicles are dangerously data intensive, and what other digital soluations provide better opportunities for an sustainable mobility revolution.

The Dark Side of Digitalisation – Interview

According to a report by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, digital technologies can reduce greenhouse gases by 16% globally until 2030. But is glittering digitalisation really all gold? To what extent can it really contribute to a society that is environmentally and socially more sustainable? In this interview in RenewablesMatter, Tilman Santarius shows the potential for efficiency improvements and environmental opportunitites of digital technologies. But he also detects some pitfalls and risks, including rebound effects and other impacts that make certain digital technologies work against sustainability goals.

Digitalization, Efficiency and the Rebound Effect

Since the very beginning of modern growth-critique, the mainstream response to this critique has always been: “Well, we can grow the limits by making things ever more efficient”. Now, with the shiny user interface of the ongoing digital revolution, the holy grail of the efficiency revolution gets yet another new finish: By digitalizing almost every aspect of production and consumption we can increase our efficiency even more. However, in reality digitalization generates highly ambivalent effects on energy and resource consumption. Therefore, it needs a to be clearly embedded into social and environmental goals. See here the blog post by Tilman Santarius on degrwoth.de.