Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

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

Robust Spending on IT for Environmental Sustainability

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Despite economic, political, and regulatory uncertainty, the outlook for investment in information systems targeted at energy management, carbon emission management, and other forms of environmental sustainability appears bright, according to Christopher Mines from Forrester:

Call me crazy, but there’s a revival of interest in sustainability underway. Despite the Collapse in Copenhagen, the Demise of (US) Cap & Trade, and the ongoing Great Recession, companies around the world continue to invest in IT solutions to improve their efficiency and reduce their environmental impact.

My travels these past few weeks had me visiting with two sustainability practice leaders at large consulting/integration firms, the product heads for two of the leading energy & carbon management software providers, and the internal sustainability champions at a very large IT systems company.

In all five instances, folks were surprisingly chipper given the economic environment, and its drag effect on sustainability spending. One of the sustainability practice leads, for example, told me of their plans to grow from 150 people at the end of 2011 to 1,000 people 3 years hence.

Christopher theorizes that

Sustainability is becoming embedded in corporate behavior, metrics, and strategy.

I agree, and would add that this is part of a trend of automation, informatization, and transformation that has occurred across the spectrum of business processes (supply chain, accounting, human resources, etc.) and is now occuring in environmental sustainability. As I wrote three years ago in this blog:

Information technology has enabled business processes to evolve through automate (computerize) and informate (make processes more visible and transparent) stages. Think supply chains, HR apps, personal productivity software, etc. Some have been completely transformed, such as via e-markets like eBay, foreign exchange trading systems that shift the basis of value from spreads to value-added services, and social networking systems like Linkedin.

Energy generation, distribution, and consumption has certainly been automated. But I’d claim that it has yet to be informated. Evidence? Ask any CEO/CIO/COO how much energy was consumed last year, as a percentage of revenue, profit, etc. What about a simple breakout by areas of the organization? There is little if any visibility.

Much has changed since I wrote that post three short years ago.   Informating and transforming have begun in earnest.


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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