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Digital systems for sustainability: a classification of ICT4S and smart green startups distinguishing automation, social computing and cleantech push

Digital systems for sustainability: a classification of ICT4S and smart green startups distinguishing automation, social computing and cleantech push
Digital systems for sustainability: a classification of ICT4S and smart green startups distinguishing automation, social computing and cleantech push
Amongst the many innovations of the digital industry have been systems termed “smart green”, “cleanweb” or “Sustainability by ICT” that enable more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. The field of ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) has developed conceptualisations of these systems such as the LES Model that describes their “enabling impacts” upon production and consumption. However, initial action research amongst cleanweb startups suggested that important groups of smart green system are not distinguished by existing conceptualisations, notably the highly social systems with many interacting users, and the systems that support the adoption of more sustainable products.

To address these limitations with existing conceptualisations of ICT4S, a qualitative analysis was undertaken of cleanweb companies, mapping out the range of possibilities being explored by the industry. 500 company descriptions were analysed, primarily from the CrunchBase online database. A list of search terms was developed to identify the most relevant companies. Significant characteristics of the companies were coded, and the codes were then sorted and resorted to identify higher-level concepts and categories, refined by classifying new samples, and modelled by diagramming. The result, and main contribution, is a typology of the enabling impacts of smart green systems termed the “Smart Green Map” (SGM) that organises them along five dimensions.

Digital systems were found to decouple resource use either by “saving” resources directly through efficiency, or otherwise indirectly by “pushing cleantech” i.e. enhancing the adoption, construction and operation of more sustainable products. This dichotomy forms a dimension of the SGM called “Decoupling Directness”. The contrasting mechanisms of “saving” and “pushing” were modelled with the LES Model’s resource-use hierarchy theory. The new “push” category of enabling impacts of DDS was not clearly distinguished by established conceptualisations of ICT4S. These push impacts work by actually increasing consumption of certain products such as solar panels, bicycles, or home insulation.

A fresh sample of cleanweb companies and ICT4S research papers was then classified with the SGM, to assess its utility for research. Classification by Decoupling Directness found that, as hypothesised, whilst “push systems” comprised half of the startups, they made up only 18% of research papers.

Digital systems were found to combine people and digital technology in four contrasting ways, termed the “Enablers”: “Automation” is purely technological with little human involvement; “Augmentation” supports and shapes the actions of one main user; “Coordination” supports the communication, interaction and collective action of many users; whilst “Autination” – a term proposed here for “automated coordination” – automates interactions between human actors. These four Enablers are the cells of a 2x2 matrix whose axes are “level of automation” and “level of social interaction”, two further dimensions of the SGM. A venture capital firm has used the Enablers as the basis for their investment framework, informing decisions and communicating policies to investors and the wider market, as described in a case study.

The processes of production and consumption by which resource use is decoupled were best described as part of the Circular Economy. These processes form a further dimension of the SGM that situates recycling, reuse and maintenance within ICT4S, and Sharing Economy systems such as tool-sharing and ride-sharing platforms. The remaining dimension of the SGM is the type of resource, such as heat energy, water or materials.
Sustainability, Sustainability by ICT, ICT, Information and Communication Technology, Internet, Social Computing, social computation, Sharing economy, circular economy, Environmental, Renewable energy, cleantech, wind energy, solar energy, resource efficiency, Open Data, Web Science, internet science, Optimization, Automation, Blockchain, interdisciplinarity, Digital, Tech, Software, IT, Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Smart cities, Home automation, Connected home, Smart Home, smart meters, Collaborative consumption, Smart Grid, demand response systems, Distributed generation, ICT4S, Rebound effect, Enabling Impacts, Enabling Effects, LES Model, Three-Levels Model, Green IT, Green ICT, Green Computing, Sprengs Triangle, Smart Green Map, Push Impacts, substitution effect, Digital Sustems
1-9
University of Southampton
Townsend, Jack H.
671b0907-26ec-4b34-bd39-ccca53c4b157
Townsend, Jack H.
671b0907-26ec-4b34-bd39-ccca53c4b157
Tiropanis, Athanassios
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Taylor, Gail
f3851db9-d37c-4c36-8663-e5c2cb03e171
Noble, Jason
6e8de7cc-e051-4d4f-b89c-5b5e0b2554dc
Rogers, Alex
e60d4ae1-78da-4b4c-9dd7-dac5c46a9405

Townsend, Jack H. (2017) Digital systems for sustainability: a classification of ICT4S and smart green startups distinguishing automation, social computing and cleantech push. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 242pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Amongst the many innovations of the digital industry have been systems termed “smart green”, “cleanweb” or “Sustainability by ICT” that enable more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. The field of ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) has developed conceptualisations of these systems such as the LES Model that describes their “enabling impacts” upon production and consumption. However, initial action research amongst cleanweb startups suggested that important groups of smart green system are not distinguished by existing conceptualisations, notably the highly social systems with many interacting users, and the systems that support the adoption of more sustainable products.

To address these limitations with existing conceptualisations of ICT4S, a qualitative analysis was undertaken of cleanweb companies, mapping out the range of possibilities being explored by the industry. 500 company descriptions were analysed, primarily from the CrunchBase online database. A list of search terms was developed to identify the most relevant companies. Significant characteristics of the companies were coded, and the codes were then sorted and resorted to identify higher-level concepts and categories, refined by classifying new samples, and modelled by diagramming. The result, and main contribution, is a typology of the enabling impacts of smart green systems termed the “Smart Green Map” (SGM) that organises them along five dimensions.

Digital systems were found to decouple resource use either by “saving” resources directly through efficiency, or otherwise indirectly by “pushing cleantech” i.e. enhancing the adoption, construction and operation of more sustainable products. This dichotomy forms a dimension of the SGM called “Decoupling Directness”. The contrasting mechanisms of “saving” and “pushing” were modelled with the LES Model’s resource-use hierarchy theory. The new “push” category of enabling impacts of DDS was not clearly distinguished by established conceptualisations of ICT4S. These push impacts work by actually increasing consumption of certain products such as solar panels, bicycles, or home insulation.

A fresh sample of cleanweb companies and ICT4S research papers was then classified with the SGM, to assess its utility for research. Classification by Decoupling Directness found that, as hypothesised, whilst “push systems” comprised half of the startups, they made up only 18% of research papers.

Digital systems were found to combine people and digital technology in four contrasting ways, termed the “Enablers”: “Automation” is purely technological with little human involvement; “Augmentation” supports and shapes the actions of one main user; “Coordination” supports the communication, interaction and collective action of many users; whilst “Autination” – a term proposed here for “automated coordination” – automates interactions between human actors. These four Enablers are the cells of a 2x2 matrix whose axes are “level of automation” and “level of social interaction”, two further dimensions of the SGM. A venture capital firm has used the Enablers as the basis for their investment framework, informing decisions and communicating policies to investors and the wider market, as described in a case study.

The processes of production and consumption by which resource use is decoupled were best described as part of the Circular Economy. These processes form a further dimension of the SGM that situates recycling, reuse and maintenance within ICT4S, and Sharing Economy systems such as tool-sharing and ride-sharing platforms. The remaining dimension of the SGM is the type of resource, such as heat energy, water or materials.

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Digital Systems for Sustainability Doctoral Thesis Jack Townsend - Version of Record
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Published date: January 2017
Keywords: Sustainability, Sustainability by ICT, ICT, Information and Communication Technology, Internet, Social Computing, social computation, Sharing economy, circular economy, Environmental, Renewable energy, cleantech, wind energy, solar energy, resource efficiency, Open Data, Web Science, internet science, Optimization, Automation, Blockchain, interdisciplinarity, Digital, Tech, Software, IT, Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Smart cities, Home automation, Connected home, Smart Home, smart meters, Collaborative consumption, Smart Grid, demand response systems, Distributed generation, ICT4S, Rebound effect, Enabling Impacts, Enabling Effects, LES Model, Three-Levels Model, Green IT, Green ICT, Green Computing, Sprengs Triangle, Smart Green Map, Push Impacts, substitution effect, Digital Sustems

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 424894
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/424894
PURE UUID: e9d546ab-2f15-4b87-818d-9cb939b02ddf
ORCID for Athanassios Tiropanis: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-6195-2852
ORCID for Gail Taylor: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-8470-6390

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 05 Oct 2018 11:56
Last modified: 25 May 2019 00:36

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Contributors

Author: Jack H. Townsend
Thesis advisor: Athanassios Tiropanis ORCID iD
Thesis advisor: Gail Taylor ORCID iD
Thesis advisor: Jason Noble
Thesis advisor: Alex Rogers

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