A solution for pressing sustainability challenges? Or an impediment for socio-ecological transformation? As of today, it is rather impossible to draw an overall conclusion on how digitalisation affects sustainability. In this first digital and open access issue of the journal OekologischesWirtschaften (Ecological Economy), the authors argue that there is no “black and white” answer to this question; instead, the answer is complex and overarching. The issue is edited by the research group “Digitalization and Sustainability”, a cooperation project between the Technical University of Berlin and the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW). 12 articles present the topics of the group’s science-policy workshop series “Forum Bits & Bäume“ (Forum on Digitalisation and Sustainability); the research group is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
How is the interdependence and co-evolution of human economies and natural ecosystems affected by increased digitalisation? How can comprehensive governance arrangements and especially policies steer digitalisation towards sustainability? On the one hand, digital tools and applications may serve as levers and can trigger dynamic sustainability transformations in various sectors. On the other hand, digitalisation can aggravate existing trends of social exclusion and digitally enhanced control, as well as encourage further economic growth that demands additional energy and resource consumption. The articles in this volume address overarching questions that are key to Ecological Economics with a focus on policies for sustainable digitalisation.
Platform economy, ICT hardware, artificial intelligence
Authors from the research group “Digitalization and Sustainability” together with co-authors from science and civil society outline how governments could build a sovereign digital infrastructure and counter the centralization tendencies of the platform economy. Two articles shed light on the ecological and social impacts of the production, use and disposal of ICT hardware as well as the design, use and data traffic of software. The first article illustrates that an increasing number of digital devices not only entails growing energy and resource demands but can elicit massive human rights violations as well. The second article argues from a civil society perspective that the potentials of open hard- and software can only be realized if competences move beyond simply using digital technologies. Researchers from IÖW and TU Berlin furthermore reveal the diverse ecological, social and economic challenges related to applying AI‑based systems.
35 years OekologischesWirtschaften: New Format in Open Access
For its 35th anniversary, the current issue „Digitalisation and Sustainability“ of OekologischesWirtschaften is now published regularly as an online edition – with open access. In addition, on the newly designed website www.oekologisches-wirtschaften.de, over 1.500 scientific papers are available for download. Since 1986, IÖW has been publishing its own magazine OekologischesWirtschaften in co-operation with the Association for Ecological Economic Research (VÖW). Its goal is to strengthen scientific debate and to disseminate research results among the interested public. It presents the scientific foundations for a linkup between ecology and economy, describes the political and social framework conditions for sustainable management and discusses the resulting practical challenges for companies.
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