Cleanweb Theory

ICT4S, Green IT, and the Digital Taxonomy
The scope and foundations of the Smart Green Map

Mapping the Cleanweb

A international discusson on mapping the cleanweb provided valuable early insight. The major contributors were Oriol Pascual in Barcelona, John Romankiewicz in San Francisco, Sonny Masero in the UK, and SuperCollider in New York, who recently published this slidedeck report on the state of the US smart green economy.

The Digital Taxonomy for Sustainability

The Smart Green Map is developed from a wider theoretical framework, the Digital Taxonomy for Sustainability, which describes the the role of digital systems in creating effective action to address complex global problems such as sustainability. The Taxonomy was developed during doctoral research at the University of Southampton. An early version of the Taxonomy was explained in my 2015 ICT4S paper. A number of other tools are on the drawing board, including:

  • An assessment framework for smart green companies
  • A set of cards to spur digital innovation
  • A tool for structuring and addressing amorphous problems
If any of these are of interest, get in touch!

The Map's scope within sustainability

The Cleanweb sector combines "smart" digital systems (the digital industry) and "green" sustainable resource use (the cleantech industry). This is the scope of the Smart Green Map. Sustainable resource use is arguably the core challenge of environmental sustainability, and energy is the resource that gets most attention. Several others resources are notable, including water, food, materials and space. Many aspects of sustainability other than resource use are beyond the scope of the Map, insofar as they can be disentangled:

  • Addressing the environment itself, such as biodiversity conservation, environmental health and climate change adaptation
  • The political communication challenges of environmental sustainability
  • The remaining pillars of sustainability beside the environmental: the social, economic and arguably the cultural

© Lorenz Hilty

The Map's scope within ICT4S

The field of ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) is an academic community that works to understand the role of ICT in environmental sustainability, including cleanweb. (The term ICT ("information and communication technology") being equivalent to digital technology.) There are several other overlapping terms and communities including green IT, sustainable HCI and computational sustainability. The Hilty Model is a authoritive map of the field of ICT4S, the theory of which is explained in Hilty et al's overview of ICT4S. It distinguishes between the first, second and third order effects of digital technologies, and whether they are good or bad for the environment. The scope of cleanweb is circled in the diagram: positive applications of digital technologies, positive second order effects, which Hilty calls green "through" ICT. The Smart Green Map develops this single cell of the Hilty Model to describe the key role of human partipants. At its core, cleanweb is not about mitigating the first order negative environmental impacts of the technology such as data center energy use and reducing e-waste. This is the role of Green "in" IT (often simply referred to as "Green IT"). Neither does it seek to understand the large scale systemic effects of ICTs on the environment (third order effects). The perspective of cleanweb is limited to creating innovative digital tools to make resource use more sustainable, and thus supporting the wider goal of environmental sustainability. There are signficant critiques of this innovation as leading to counterproductive consumerism (see Knowles 2014), naïve solutionism in the face of wicked problems, and above all rebound effects (as discussed in my 2014 paper). Besides creating digital systems per se, many institutions of digital culture are being applied to making resource use more sustainable, most notably the "hacker ethic" of openness and creativity espoused by Zapico.

Other dimensions for analysing the smart green economy

The two axes developed for the Smart Green Map were chosen from many dimensions that were identified to be of potential relevance. The smart and green axes can now be "remixed" with these other dimensions to analyse the space and address different questions. These are some of the most promising dimensions to consider:

  • Market participants and scale: B2C, B2B, C2C, C2B, B2G
  • The type of resource used; this is the standard way of organising the cleantech sector, and indeed much of the economy
  • Stage of contribution to the life cycle of action (The Digital Taxonomy). Similar to the "green" axis but more detailed and widely applicable.
  • Sustainability effects: resource use vs environmental interactions vs sustainability capability (Digital Taxonomy)
  • Incentives for participation (social machines)
  • Depth in the value chain / consumer visibility (Wardley Maps)
  • State of evolution / commodificaion (Wardley Maps)
  • Order of environmental impact (Hilty, see above)
  • Positive or negative environmental impact (Hilty, see above)

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