Unleashing the convergence amid digitalization and sustainability towards pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): A holistic review

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Journal Article

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Published In:

Journal of Cleaner Production

Year:

2021

Author(s):

G. Del Río Castro
M.C. González Fernández
Á. Uruburu Colsa

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the United Nations 2030 Agenda emerged in 2015, becoming an unprecedented global compass for navigating extant sustainability challenges. Nevertheless, it still represents a nascent field enduring uncertainties and complexities. In this regard, the interplay between digitalization and sustainability unfolds bright opportunities for shaping a greener economy and society, paving the way towards the SDGs. However, little evidence exists so far, about a genuine contribution of digital paradigms to sustainability. Besides, their role to tackle the SDGs research gaps remains unexplored. Thus, a holistic characterization of the aforementioned topics has not been fully explored in the emerging literature, deserving further research. The article endeavors a twofold purpose: (1) categorizing the main SDGs research gaps; (2) coupled with a critical exploration of the potential contribution of digital paradigms, particularly Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, towards overcoming the aforesaid caveats and pursuing the 2030 Agenda. Ultimately, the study seeks to bridge literature gaps by providing a first-of-its-kind overview on the SDGs and their nexus with digitalization, while unraveling policy implications and future research directions. The methodology has consisted of a systematic holistic review and in-depth qualitative analysis of the literature on the realms of the SDGs and digitalization. Our findings evidence that the SDGs present several research gaps, namely: flawed understanding of complexities and interlinkages; design shortcomings and imbalances; implementation and governance hurdles; unsuitable indicators and assessment methodologies; truncated adoption and off-target progress; unclear responsibilities and lacking coordination; untapped role of technological innovation and knowledge management. Moreover, our results show growing expectations about the added value brought by digitalization for pursuing the SDGs, through novel data sources, enhanced analytical capacities and collaborative digital ecosystems. However, current research and practice remains in early-stage, pointing to ethical, social and environmental controversies, along with policy caveats, which merit additional research. In light of the findings, the authors suggest a first-approach exploration of research and policy implications. Results suggest that further multidisciplinary research, dialogue and concerted efforts for transformation are required. Reframing the Agenda, while aligning the sustainable development and digitalization policies, seems advisable to ensure a holistic sustainability. The findings aim at guiding and stimulating further research and science-policy dialogue on the promising nexus amid the SDGs and digitalization. © 2020 Elsevier Ltd