Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

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

IS Innovation for Environmental Sustainability


Information systems play a critical role in

  • shaping beliefs/attitudes/understanding about the natural environment
  • enabling and transforming sustainable processes and practices in organizations
  • improving environmental and economic performance.

I make this case in a framework that draws on Coleman’s (1986) work exploring how micro actions link macro phenomena. 


From the paper:

In contrast, few studies of environmental sustainability incorporate the information systems perspective. Organizational adoption of sustainability strategies necessitates new data regarding environmental impacts, new information about causes and effects, and knowledge sharing about what works, what doesn’t, and why. For example, Chevron responded to the need for improved environmental risk management by developing a decision support system to systematize cost-benefit analysis (Reinhardt et al. 1999). Similarly, DuPont employed knowledge management systems for pollution remediation and prevention, creating a tension between organizational privacy and the need to pool environmental information among industry participants (Carberry 2001). Many firms have implemented environmental management systems (EMS), management programs requiring information systems to monitor, evaluate, improve, and communicate environmental performance – including information baselines on inputs (energy, water, materials, etc.) and outputs (waste, emissions, etc.) (EPA, 1996).

Looking to the future, increased energy costs and the transition to renewable energy sources will necessitate, for example, an understanding of the design of innovative information systems for energy monitoring, understanding of the antecedents of use of energy optimization systems, and understanding of the impact of demand response on energy markets and peak load requirements. Such issues at the intersection of information, organizations, and the natural environment are precisely the types of problems for which IS researchers are uniquely well equipped to analyze. Moreover, the locus of IS scholarship spanning individuals, groups, organizations, and markets – as well as design – (Sidorova et al. 2008) is congruent with the requirements of complex sustainability problems involving the micro (individual beliefs and actions) and macro (organizational sustainability programs and their economic and environmental outcomes). There is much that IS scholarship can contribute to environmental sustainability.

Source: Melville, N. (2009) “Information Systems Innovation for Environmental Sustainability,” MIS Quarterly (forthcoming).

Author: nigelpm

Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan - Helping organizations to navigate digital transformation.

6 thoughts on “IS Innovation for Environmental Sustainability

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