New Research Projects to Shed Light on the Indirect Environmental Impacts of the Digital Economy

Updated: Jul 26


New Research Projects to Shed Light on the Indirect Environmental Impacts of the Digital Economy


April 2022 (Washington, DC)—


The Network for the Digital Economy and the Environment, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is pleased to announce the selection and funding of a portfolio of new research projects. These projects focus on the indirect energy and environmental impacts of the digital economy. Indirect impacts refer to the changes in energy use and carbon emissions that arise from digitally mediated behaviors and larger structural transformations of society.


“These research projects are an important component of the Network for the Digital Economy and the Environment’s effort to catalyze a body of literature and a research community on the environmental impacts of digital technologies,” says Reid Lifset, Research Scholar at the Yale School of the Environment and co-leader of the Network.


The Network for the Digital Economy and the Environment is a three-way initiative between the Yale School of the Environment, the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Environmental Law Institute. The Network supports research that improves our understanding of the environmental impacts of digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of Things, and sharing/e-commerce platforms. The newly funded research projects are as follows:


“Energy Use and Carbon Emissions from E-Commerce: Implications for a Decarbonized Future.” Principal investigator Dr. Miguel Jaller of the University of California, Davis will quantify energy use and carbon emissions in retail distribution arising from recent changes to e-commerce during the pandemic.


“Sustainability Implications of the Rural-Urban Digital Divide.” Principal investigator Dr. Shelie Miller of the University of Michigan will use life cycle assessment (LCA) to compare the energy and environmental impacts of online grocery delivery in rural and urban environments.


“Autonomous Ridesharing Vehicles and the Environmental Rebound Effect.” Principal investigator Dr. Andrea Hicks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison will explore the knock-on environmental impacts of autonomous vehicles and autonomous ride-sharing vehicles.


“Research on the Environmental Impacts of Artificial Intelligence — Gaps and Opportunities.” Principal investigator Alan Porter of Search Technology, Inc. will use statistical (bibliometric) analysis of publications and citations to identify trends and gaps in research on the environmental impact of artificial intelligence.


This funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provides additional support to two research projects that began under a previous grant from the Internet Society Foundation. Principal investigator Dr. Tamar Makov is researching the environmental impacts of product returns and how they affect the environmental performance of online retail. Principal investigator Dr. Juliet Schor is examining changes to transportation patterns arising from Airbnb and the resulting climate impacts.


Evan Michelson, Director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Program on Energy and Environment, highlights the importance of these research projects, stating that, “we need far more research that goes beyond quantifying the direct impacts of digital technologies and toward addressing the environmental effects of human-technology interactions — our digital lives. We are pleased to join with the Internet Society Foundation to partner with Yale University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Environmental Law Institute to help fill this critical research gap.”


To learn more about these projects, please visit https://networkdee.org/ or reach out to networkdee@berkeley.edu.


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