Data-Driven Unsustainability? An Interdisciplinary Perspective on Governing the Environmental Impacts of a Data-Driven Society

Reference Type:

Report

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Published In:

Social Science Research Network

Year:

2020

Author(s):

Federica Lucivero
Gabrielle Samuel
Gordon Blair
Sarah J. Darby
Tina Fawcett
Mike Hazas
Carolyn Ten Holter
Marina Jirotka
Michael Parker
Helena Webb
Hang Yuan

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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.