Digital technologies are changing our day-to-day lives increasingly. The digitalisation has been accompanied by ever growing energy and resource consumption, as well as global production and consumption patterns that place an even greater burden on ecosystems. Technical innovation surges do not automatically translate into sustainability transformations, but must be coupled closely with sustainability guidelines and policies. The flagship report "Towards our common digital future" of the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WBGU) emphasises that sustainability strategies and concepts need to be fundamentally developed further in the age of digitalisation. Only if digital change and the sustainability transformation are synchronised, we can succeed in advancing climate and Earth-system protection and make social progress in human development. Without formative political action, digital change will further accelerate resource and energy consumption, and exacerbate damage to the environment and the climate. Therefore, it is an urgent political task to create the conditions needed to place digitalisation at the service of sustainable development.
But: Which direction should digitalisation take to ensure that it contributes towards globally sustainable development? The Wuppertal Institute's latest edition of In Brief entitled "Steering digitalisation in the right direction – key points for science and politics" provides answers to this question. The authors Dr. Holger Berg and Dr. Stephan Ramesohl from the Digital Transformation Research Unit advocate that more attention should be focused on the socio-cultural, organisational and institutional environment of the digital economy. However, digitalisation also harbours risks, as author Holger Berg is aware: "The process of digitalisation is associated with increasing energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and the usage of materials for end-use appliances and infrastructures. These environmental impacts must be minimised as far as possible taking the planetary boundaries of global ecosystems into consideration. Energy efficient technologies and meeting energy needs using renewable energy are key components to achieve this goal."
In the In Brief article, the authors highlight that this megatrend of digitalisation is not necessarily taking over the economy and society in an uncontrollable way. Its impact depends on human behaviour and on designing new processes in organisations, but also on modifying the statutory framework. This socio-cultural, organisational and institutional environment of digital innovations can and must be shaped to ensure ecological sustainability. Policymakers are called on to take supportive action based on sound analyses. The authors therefore advocate that a sector-specific policy should be developed for the digital economy, just as policies are already established for other sectors with environmental relevance – such as the energy, chemical and automotive industries.
We wish you a pleasant reading!
Christin Hasken & Anna Riesenweber