Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

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

Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Cleaner Energy, Resource Productivity, and Natural Environment Preservation and Regeneration?

Leave a comment

In his book on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab, Founder and  Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum states that:

We are witnessing profound shifts across all industries, marked by the emergence of new business models, the disruption of incumbents and the reshaping of production, consumption, transportation and delivery systems. On the societal front, a paradigm shift is underway in how we work and communicate, as well as how we express, inform and entertain ourselves. Equally, governments and institutions are being reshaped, as are systems of education, healthcare and transportation, among many others. New ways of using technology to change behaviour and our systems of production and consumption also offer the potential for supporting the regeneration and preservation of natural environments, rather than creating hidden costs in the form of externalities. [my emphasis in bold].

I agree, in particular, about the need to change behavior and systems of production and consumption to support the regeneration and preservation of natural environments.

In the video below introducing the new Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco’s Presidio, this theme appears to be echoed by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadalla, if global climate change is considered a “hard pressed challenge” (at 1:35):

My hope is that we have a robust discussion for how [the Fourth Industrial Revolution] can truly help our world solve some of the hard pressed challenges that we have today.


The WEF press release states that

The Center will focus on technologies, concepts, scientific developments and new business models such as artificial intelligence and robotics, precision medicine, blockchain, drones and their civilian use, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, and the role of the individual in the era of big data, the internet of things and artificial intelligence. It will also advance Forum projects such as industrial internet of things safety, digital trade, advancing the shared economy and project-based workforce, and harnessing Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and innovation to improve global ocean health, management and governance.

Though only global ocean health is mentioned, my perspective is that the Center ought to have a focus area on Cleaner Energy, Resource Productivity, and Natural Environment Preservation and Regeneration.

Cleaner Energy

Several approaches to cleaner energy are possible, including renewable sources such as wind and solar, as well as making non-renewable sources cleaner. Possibilities are emerging for digital technologies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution to drive cleaner energy sources.

Resource Productivity

Big data, analytics, and sensors can enable new transparency into resource productivity and insights into how resource productivity can be enhanced. In this way, it may be possible for individuals and organizations to decouple growth from carbon emissions.


Natural Environment Preservation and Regeneration

Water management is a concern for corporate executives, given the growing scarcity of potable water. However, a significant percentage of companies neither measure nor report on their water use. Similarly, while emissions are widely reported within the largest global corporations, it is unclear the extent to which these figures are used to drive emissions reductions and hence support global warming mitigation efforts.


The above themes provide a glimpse into what is currently possible.

To change the conversation and effect change at a strategic level will require industrial and academic partnerships and collaboration.

The new Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution appears well positioned to drive this conversation and change – but will it?

Author: nigelpm

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s