Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

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

The Oxford Handbook of Business and The Natural Environment

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The Handbook, edited by Pratima Bansal and Andrew J. Hoffman, provides a first-of-its kind synthesis of scholarship on business and the natural environment by discipline:

Environmental issues now loom large on the social, political, and business agenda. Over the past four decades, “corporate environmentalism” has emerged and been constantly redefined, from regulatory compliance to more recent management conceptions such as “pollution prevention”, “total quality environmental management”, “industrial ecology”, “life cycle analysis”, “environmental strategy”, “environmental justice,” and, most recently, “sustainable development.”

As a result, understanding the intersection of business activity and environmental protection has become increasingly complex, and there has emerged a focus in academic research on business decision-making, firm behavior, and the protection of the natural environment. This handbook reviews the state of the field as it grows into a mature area of study within management science, its achievements, and its future avenues of research.

I authored Chapter 18, which provides the information systems perspective. Nearly 10 years ago (2002), David Rejeski edited a special issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology on e-commerce, the Internet, and the environment, in which he noted that:

Industrial ecology has been focused largely on the physical world of atoms and spent far less time exploring the informational world of bits or the critical intersection between the computational and physical worlds and sciences. In a postindustrial economy, the term “industrial ecology,” as well as the theory and practices underlying the field, must be examined and possibly realigned with the new realities of a knowledge-based economy. (Rejeski, David.  “E-Commerce, the Internet, and the Environment.”, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp 1-3.)

Chapter 18 takes up this challenge, by first noting that not much has changed in 10 years:

We live in an increasingly digital world. Yet the scholarly discourse on business and the natural environment has proceeded, for the most part, according to business as usual.

The Chapter (available in late 2011) goes on to examine how information systems can generate new sources of value in organizations, both economic and environmental.

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Author: nigelpm

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

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