Data-Driven Unsustainability? An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Governing the Environmental Impacts of a Data-Driven Society
Social Science Research Network
Sarah J. Darby
Carolyn Ten Holter
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Data-driven digital technologies are often presented in policy agendas as contributing to the goal of sustainable development by providing information to reduce energy consumption and offering a green alternative to industries and behaviour with a higher environmental footprint. However, it is widely acknowledged in the context of environmental research that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in general, and data centres and cloud computing in particular, have a heavy footprint featuring a high consumption of non-renewable energy, waste production and carbon dioxide emissions. In spite of this, environmental issues have so far figured only sparsely in both policy initiatives supporting data-driven digital initiatives, as well as in recent ethics and governance scholarly literature discussing the data-driven revolution. We convened an interdisciplinary workshop to map out the current conceptual landscape on the environmental impacts of data-driven technologies, and to explore how ethical thinking can contribute to it. In this commentary, we discuss the main themes that emerged and our call for action.