Design Principles and Responsible Innovation for a Sustainable Digital Economy (Paris-DE)

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Computing & Communications


Digital technologies have a transformative impact in the economy and wider society. New innovations in Information Communication Technology (ICT) such as the next generation '5G' internet, automation and robotics, and big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have the potential to make a profound societal impact and the pace of development is staggering. The same technologies can though have a negative impact on society, including significantly increasing the carbon emissions related to ICT and thus creating damaging impacts on our environment. Managing this duality between ICT's benefits and risks must be at the heart of future ICT design and innovation - ensuring ICT can continue to bring value to our society and the economy, while keeping ICT innovations from exceeding planetary boundaries. However, there is currently scarce consideration of systemic impacts within ICT innovation, and design processes today lack the information and tools required to embed environmental sustainability into ICT.

This project, PARIS-DE, will ensure that the carbon emissions associated with the ICT sector are aligned with the Paris agreement: limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To do this, the PARIS-DE project will develop a digital sustainability framework that systemically considers ICT's impacts and ensures Paris-compliant design through two key concepts: i) an evidence base around carbon emissions in the digital economy, and ii) a responsible innovation approach that targets environmental sustainability, yet maintains key aspects of ICT design that enable societal thriving. Using a range of disciplinary perspectives including computer science, human-centred design, philosophy and ethics and environmental economics, PARIS-DE will develop digital tools that support ICT development within planetary boundaries, and will create, demonstrate and evaluate the digital sustainability framework through three case studies: 1) big data and AI, 2) autonomous systems, and 3) video streaming. These case studies, taken as representative of the digital economy, will allow for an evaluation of different underlying technologies that threaten rising emissions. The case studies will also involve working closely with key stakeholders in ICT innovation (e.g. designers and developers in the ICT sector), ensuring the framework is comprehensive and effective. PARIS-DE will ultimately allow the ICT sector to innovate technology more sustainably and in-line with climate change mitigation targets.


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