Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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Planetary (Data) Ecosystem: 3 Perspectives & 1 Question

A healthier planet requires better data on a global scale that is enabled by 4IR technologies and systems, such as cloud, AI, sensors, IoT, and APIs. Such data enables insights and actions that support environmental sustainability. Here are three significant developments in this complex space – and one question.


Promotes a Planetary Computer that enables monitoring, modeling, and managing planetary resources.


The UN Environment Programme is promoting a Digital Ecosystem for the Planet, comprising data, infrastructure, rapid analytics, and real-time insights (begins at 1:05:39).

European Commission

A final development is a proposed artifact: a Digital Product Passport that contains data on the environmental sustainability of a product.

These and other initiatives are significant developments in the digital environmental sustainability space with a great deal of possibility (and risk).

At the same time, there may be some duplication of effort given parallel initiatives going after the same vision. So my question is:

How to effectively engage diverse stakeholders with very different knowledge competencies to develop a consensus on how best to collaborate on a shared vision for a planetary data ecosystem?

Some efforts are getting different stakeholders together, such as the UN CODES. My own initial take on this is that

  1. those from the technical community need to learn more about environmental sustainability from an SDG and data perspective, and
  2. those from the environmental sustainability community need to learn more on the intuition of basic 4IR tech, such as the intuition and governance of APIs and the affordances of AI.

In the absence of a basic level of shared knowledge across these domains, it is difficult to listen, understand, and collaborate towards the shared vision.


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U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality –

Seventeen commissioners and over 1000 people worked for two years to address GHG emissions reductions objectives:

“Encompassing two years of work, the Commission’s report provides President Schlissel and the Regents with a proposed roadmap to carbon neutrality. It describes, in great detail, how certain cultural or institutional practices could spur a more sustainable university community, and how various technical approaches across emissions categories could move U-M toward a carbon-free future.” (p. 7)

Strategic and tactical recommendations are thoughtful, supporting a roadmap for how to achieve carbon neutrality and beyond via financial investment and cultural shifts.

A critical enabler mentioned throughout the report is the need to implement a carbon accounting system (what I refer to as an ECMS, or energy and carbon management system, i.e., a digital system used to gather, store, and analyze emissions and related data. Here’s an example:

My research documents the people, process, and technical challenges of implementing an ECMS here, as well as the need for accurate data to achieve emissions reductions objectives here.

Kudos to the colossal effort and detailed modeling and recommendations described in the PCCN. The next steps involving implementing an ECMS that achieves the wide scope of objectives detailed in the PCCN within budget and on time will be challenging – but attainable with appropriate planning and implementation expertise.

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Can APIs Support a Greener Economy?

An API allows one machine to talk to another for exchange of resources or data, such as:{Detroit} ==> get current weather conditions in Detroit ==> get emotions of person identified in this photo

The key is, APIs allow companies to interact, share resources, transfer data, etc. programmatically, i.e., directly from one machine to another.

Patch, an API developer focusing on carbon offsets, asserts that:

The road to global carbon-neutrality will be through programmatic compensation. That’s why we’ve built a best in class API to automate your sustainability goals with just a few lines of code.

How does it work? According to TechCrunch:

The company has an API that can calculate a company’s emissions footprint based on an integration with their ERP system, and then invests money into offset projects that are designed to remove an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

Translation: Determining the carbon footprint of a large organization like Starbucks is a difficult moving target. So Patch uses an API that connects to the backend financial operating engine of companies (ERP), grabs pertinent metrics, makes certain assumptions, computes Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, and connects to offset opportunities to net emissions out to zero. It’s a nice idea. How accurate though? And, does it impact incentives to reduce overall energy use and other forms of emissions, rather than just offsetting?

Bottom line? If it works, this would be a useful step forward towards an API that not only enables offsetting but also the identification of emission reduction opportunities, perhaps by employing generative machine capabilities.

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Blockchain and Energy Consumption – New Evidence

In “The Energy Consumption of Blockchain Technology: Beyond Myth” published in BISE, Johannes Sedlmeir, Hans Ulrich Buhl, Gilbert Fridgen & Robert Keller analyze the energy consumption within and across different blockchain architectures (proof of work, proof of stake, permissioned, etc.). A key implication of their analysis is to provide empirical grounding in support of a more complete understanding of blockchain energy consumption, in particular (but not limited to) PoW blockchains.

We conclude that, although the energy consumption of PoW blockchains is arguably enormous in relation to their technical performance, it does not represent an essential threat to the climate, even if significantly more transactions are processed in the future. Moreover, since the area of application of most blockchains – and, in particular, the major cryptocurrencies – is often far beyond payments, plenty of opportunities for new ecosystems and business models arise. An evaluation should therefore not only compare performance metrics and energy consumption, but also take into account the unique opportunities offered by this technology.

This study represents an important step towards a more complete understanding of the benefits, costs (including energy costs), and risks of blockchains used in enterprise contexts, versus legacy approaches.

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Cryptocurrency + energy efficiency + crowdfunding + @stevewoz = climate change mitigation? #generative4IR

WOZX Trading on HBTC

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak announced the launch of Efforce, just in time for the holidays. What is it? (and how do you say it?)

Installing variable flow rate metering in an auto factory to save electricity? Expose the financial case and allow external investment via cryptocurrency WOZX. The WOZX blockchain subscribes to factory sensor feeds to track energy savings, which are later apportioned to investors as energy credits (perhaps in the form of WOZX). Also, WOZX floats on a market so investment rises (and falls) over time.

Sound complicated? It is. Instead of trying to take a point of view on whether this business model may “succeed” or “not,” (who can predict the future?) it’s more productive to think of mechanisms that may work for or against the vision.


  • Start with the obvious: well-connected founding team with software / energy experience and expertise.
  • European-oriented – good fit market-wise (I’m speaking to you, USA).
  • Someone will figure out the hat trick of energy markets: self-reinforcing reduction incentives, transparency, digitization. Why not Efforce?
  • Cryptocurrency is blazing and will likely continue to be so – whatever underlying asset is represented can surf that wave. Good choice there.


  • Third-party vetting of energy efficiency projects is difficult, complex, and somewhat subjective. Can this be done in a way that satisfies investor requirements (maybe for GAAP-like qualities such as consistency)?
  • In theory, energy metering that transmits data directly to the blockchain is feasible (see blockchains for food supply chain visibility and traceability). In reality, it’s complicated, enabled by APIs that require a certain level of tech infrastructure maturity that not all companies undertaking energy efficiency projects have achieved. How to cross this chasm?
  • Complex 4IR projects like energy efficiency involving people, processes, and digital technologies often go over time, over budget, and don’t deliver on expected benefits. What happens if investors don’t get the return they expect from the projects themselves?

That’s my take based on what I understand of the vision at this point.

I wish Steve Wozniak and his team all the best in their efforts to accelerate energy savings and mitigate climate change.

It is the right north star in the generative 4IR.

(Views are my own. I have no financial stake in Efforce).

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AI Should Incorporate Environmental Costs When Evaluating Effectiveness

Research manuscript published by Emma Strubell, Ananya Ganesh, and Andrew McCallumin in June 2019 and available on ( develops an AI environmental cost framework and assesses several algorithms. Popular NLP approaches exhibit wide variation in power, hours, and emissions. Recommendation:

Authors should report training time and sensitivity to hyperparameters. Our experiments suggest that it would be beneficial to directly compare different models to perform a cost-benefit (accuracy) analysis.

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U-M President Schlissel: “I am committed during my presidency to putting U-M on a trajectory towards carbon neutrality”

Citing regional collaboration and replicability, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel commits to net carbon neutrality during his presidency. From the University Record article:

Speaking at his annual Leadership Breakfast, Schlissel said he would appoint a commission in the coming months to develop a plan that includes specific strategies and a timeline for the university to achieve carbon neutrality in a fiscally responsible manner.

“Throughout our history, we’ve always strived to impact society in profound ways. I’d like to figure out how to do this in partnership with Ann Arbor, and with other regional stakeholders, in a fashion that can be replicated by others all around our state and around the nation.”



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BBC: “Five things we have learned from the IPCC report”

Full BBC article about the IPCC special report can be found here.

There’s no doubt that this dense, science-heavy, 33-page summary is the most significant warning about the impact of climate change in 20 years.

“It is seriously alarming,” Amjad Abdulla, a lead author on one of the chapters from the Maldives, told BBC News.

“The small islands will be the first, but nobody can escape; it is quite clear.”

But while the warnings about the dangers of letting temperatures go beyond 1.5C are dire, the report says, surprisingly perhaps, that the world can keep below the limit.

“We face a really large challenge but it is not impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees,” said Dr Natalie Mahowald, an IPCC author