Good news! The current trends in technology development and increased focus on sustainability combined sets a new horizon for opportunities in digital sustainability. Digital what? Yes, digital sustainability. One of the things that excite me a lot; how digital technologies can support in tackling climate change and promoting sustainable development. As described in a research article by G. George, R. Merrill and S. Schillebeeckx[1], digital sustainability constitutes the organizational activities that seek to advance the sustainable development goals through creative deployment of technologies that create, use, transmit, or source electronic data.

When you think about it, it is actually bizarre how we could have designed and produced so many things that endanger species, climate, our world and thus our own living environment! Luckily the tide seems to change (although not fast enough yet according to experts[2]), with a lot of opportunities for businesses. Not only for new companies developing solutions to climate change, but also for legacy companies, adapting to a more sustainable and mature way of working. Companies are increasingly shifting from a ‘do no harm’ focus to a ‘net-positive’ focus, meaning having a positive impact on the world instead of a less negative impact[3].

How to look at the initiatives for a more sustainable world? The United Nations has set up the 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”[4]. These goals include amongst others no poverty, quality education, affordable and clean energy but also reducing inequality and sustainable cities and communities. Digital transformation and digital technologies can help in achieving these goals. A few examples of these steps in the right direction:

–       Smart cities that measure traffic pressure and streamline travel movements and could also measure safety, inclusion, resilience and sustainability[5];

–       Data analytics can prevent waste in service and manufacturing industries, analysing unnecessary production, bottlenecks and mistakes, but also analyse on a social level what needs to happen to prevent poverty or help citizens to develop and grow;

–       Digital factories prevent humans from having to work in hazardous environments by installing robots or using remote sensors to measure and maintain chemical factories;

–       Blockchains and cryptocurrency are increasingly seen as an alternative to the current financial system in the sense that they reorganize transactions in fairer, more decentralized, open access, efficient and reliable ways[6];

–       Digital developments and increasing data connectivity enable the use of virtual reality and augmented reality. These technologies can be used in a wide range of areas, from decreasing chronic pain[7] to leading firemen through a fire to rescue people;

–       …and many more examples.

With digitalisation, it is now possible to provide for our basic needs in a sustainable way, while also providing transparency so that we can see the consequences of our actions[8]. However, digital sustainability needs conscious decisions. Digitalisation namely also costs a lot of energy; the saving of data needs massive amounts of server space and resulting electricity. If you would send twenty emails a day for a year, that corresponds with the carbon emission of 1000 kilometres of driving a car[9]. So when designing for new services or products, the whole spectrum of sustainability needs to be taken into account. Digital sustainability for companies thus requires choices on the level of strategy, product, needs operations and product reinvention and requires innovative partnerships for obvious reasons[10]. Needless to say, this means a huge challenge for the future. Digital transformation and digital sustainability could support this huge change, one we MUST tackle!

What examples can you think of when thinking about digital sustainability?

Please let me know what you think of this article by liking this article or putting your reaction in the comments. Thanks!

[1] Source: Sage Journals – G. George, R. Merrill, S. Schillebeeckx – Digital Sustainability and Entrepreneurship: How Digital Innovations Are Helping Tackle Climate Change and Sustainable Development –,transmit%2C%20or%20source%20electronic%20data

[2] Source: NRC – (in Dutch)

[3] Source: Cybercom Digital Sustainability –

[4] Source: Wikipedia –

[5] Source: Article J. Diaz-Sarachaga – The contribution of smart cities to the achievement of the sustainable development goal 11

[6] Source: Sage Journals –,transmit%2C%20or%20source%20electronic%20data

[7] Source: Practical Pain Management –

[8] Source: Cybercom Digital Sustainability –

[9] Source: Down to Earth Magazine – (in Dutch)

[10] Source: Bain & Company –

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