Menü image/svg+xml

International SymposiumEuropean approaches towards a Sustainable Digitalization

Datum: 6. Mai 2021, 15:00–18:00 Uhr

online

Date & Time

May 6th, 2021, 15.00-18.00 CEST, online via Zoom

Organizers   

Einstein Center Digital Future/ TU Berlin, Department for Socio-Ecological Transformation and Sustainable Digitalization; 
Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW); 
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Institute for Sustainable Development and Learning

Funding       

Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research within the funding program “Junior research groups in Social-ecological research” (SÖF) and the Robert Bosch Foundation.

Look back on exciting impulses and interesting discussions with our Aftermovie, graphic recording and a review on the event.

Review

How can digitalization be shaped in a way that nurtures common goods and respects planetary boundaries? At the International Symposium “European approaches towards a Sustainable Digitalization” on May 6th, 2021, representatives from civil society organizations and science, as well as policy-makers came together in order to develop a European approach. The digital event was hosted by the Technical University Berlin (TU Berlin), the Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF), the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) and the Leuphana University Lüneburg. 

The need for sustainable digitalization has been stressed once again by the EU Council, which, in December 2020, approved conclusions on how to shape “digitalization for the benefit of the environment”. Existing analyses show that current forms of digitalization increase resource demand and aggravate social inequalities. In order to change this, concerted action on the EU level is necessary: “We hope this symposium will push the debate, lift ambition and turn into ideas for collaboration across national borders. We believe this is essential in order to achieve a deep sustainability transition”, explains Tilman Santarius, professor at TU Berlin and ECDF, during the opening panel. Tilman Santarius, Daniel Lang from the Leuphana University Lüneburg as well as Friederike Rohde from IÖW, opened the event by emphasizing the importance of a specifically European approach in order to achieve sustainable digitalization: While Germany increasingly recognizes the need for a digital transformation towards sustainability, as of now, individual activities under the Green Deal are not enough but need goal orientation and policy actions, the three panelists agree. 

During three parallel workshops, participants were able to dive deeper into certain questions. In the first workshop A three-level approach for a sustainable digital transformation, participants emphasized the need for regulation and a vision: “How can we make Europe both digital and green?”, Kim van Sparrentak, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA), asked. In order to achieve this, individuals need to be empowered, a new perspective on commons needs to be developed and ethics in a digital environment need to play an increased role. Marc Schattenmann of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety stressed the double load of this project: “It is a challenge to master two big transformations at the same time but absolutely necessary. While digital technologies have big potential to help us solve our environmental problems, they have a massive environmental footprint. Policy makers need to be made aware of this”. In addition, the civic society needs to be provided with the correct and accessible data in order to achieve a change in behavior. 

Participants of the second workshop Forging a European interdisciplinary science network on digitalization and sustainability discussed a solution for the lack of knowledge transmission between various disciplines, despite the current momentum. Tilman Santarius introduced the Project Digitalization for Sustainability (D4S) of TU Berlin which aims to establish a solution to this: A European science network that delivers a comprehensive analysis of opportunities, risks and governance options regarding digitalization and sustainability; develops guidelines, policies and new institutions and outlines an inter- and transdisciplinary research agenda. The first panelists Angelika Hilbeck (ETH Zurich) and Mattias Höjer (KTH Stockholm) gave an overview of challenges within the sectors of agro-food, transport and building, and emphasized the need for a common agenda: “We need to be very clear on what we want and where we want to go. Technology is going forward full speed and the sectoral side is lacking way behind. We have to unite behind a transformation agenda and make sure that tech development is really in sync with sustainable transformation”, Hilbeck said. Höjer also pointed to the responsibility of research to highlight both, potentials and total consequences of digitalization and criticized current funding practices in favor of the first. Éliane Ubalijoro (Executive Director of Sustainability in the Digital Age) and Tim Unwin (UNESCO Chair in ICT4D) then agreed that what the discourse needs is more collaboration, especially across sectors and with policy makers, more reliable data on the impact of digital tools and, most importantly, a fast translation of the knowledge and ideas into real action. To have impact researchers must make sure that sustainability is included in already existing and future EU policies and there is no time left to act, the researchers settled.

The third workshop The 'Bits & Bäume Movement' goes Europe discussed, how civic society can become part of the process of sustainable digitalization on the EU level. “Literacy and social power dynamics shape who has a say and is heard within the discussion about sustainable digitalization – we need to make an effort to move beyond this”, Vivian Frick from IÖW, one of the organizers of the conference Bits & Bäume and the event series Forum Bits & Bäume, emphasizes: “It’s not enough to talk about technical details – we also need to make the connection between social justice and sustainability part of the discussion”. Marie-Kathrin Siemer from Liquid Democracy points out that digital participation can be a part of the solution: “It is independent of time and space, it’s scalable and indicates the level of participation: Were people merely consulted or part of decision making process?”. The panelists also discussed the need for concerted action: there are many similar processes happening within national borders but actors do not sufficiently communicate with each other, as Gauthier Roussilhe points out, designer and researcher at ENS Saclay. 

The closing panelists Michelle Thorne (Mozilla Foundation), David Jensen (UNEP Digital Transformation Task Force), and Kim van Sparrentak (MEP, Greens/EFA) then discussed the vision for future collaboration: Academia and the scientific community need to set a focus on engaging with the civil society and actors like the tech industry in order to achieve real change. For Jensen, there is one central issue – the business model of big tech companies: “How can we regulate or get them to transform their business models towards sustainability? Currently, there are little incentives”. Michelle Thorne pleads for a holistic approach when it comes to the usage of digital tools: “The environmental impact of certain tools is not yet part of the equation, this needs to change. Carbon Accounting is central for sustainability”. All panelists agreed that a common assessment framework on the EU level is necessary, in order to achieve broad sustainability. But what will the future look like? “We need rules and regulations and ambitious proposals for a sustainable digitalization which will benefit businesses and society”, Sparrentak summarizes. 

In December 2020, the EU Council has approved conclusions how to shape ‘Digitalization for the benefit of the environment’. In the same month, the European Commission has proposed the ‘Digital Services Act package’, which will now be further developed in a two-year process and may pave the way for a truly ‘European Way’ for governing the digital economy. This Symposium wants to provide a forum for debate amongst civil society organizations, science, and policy-makers how to join forces to address the question: How can digitalization be shaped in a way that nurtures common goods and respects planetary boundaries? 

Existing analyses show that current forms of digitalization increase resource demand and aggravate social inequalities. Therefore, there is an urgent need for concerted action from civl society, science and politics, including strong regulatory frameworks to reap the sustainability benefits of digitalization and to include such demands into ongoing policy processes at national and EU levels. The event is a joint initiative by the Einstein Center Digital Future/ TU Berlin, the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) and Leuphana University. The Opening Panel will introduce the issue and the scope of the Symposium and three parallel breakout groups will discuss the European approach for a sustainable digitalization from different perspectives: 

  • With a view to policy-makers, the Symposium will discuss which enablers are needed at a social, organizational, and individual level for a sustainable digital transformation;
  • With a view to the science-policy interface and scientists from all disciplines, the Symposium will bring together researchers from European academia and think tanks on the nexus of digitalization and sustainability and discuss potential cooperation;
  • With a view to representatives from civil society organizations, the Symposium would like to provide a forum to discuss how collaborative action between green and digital advocacy groups as experienced within the German “Bits & Bäume” movement can be internationalized in order to join forces for shaping the ongoing policy processes at the EU level.


The Closing Panel consists of a concluding discussion, with a focus on required initiatives, collaborations and key levers on the way to implement elements of a sustainable digitalization within current political frameworks at the EU-Level.

The main topic of the International Symposium is also discussed in a Special Issue of the journal OekologischesWirtschaften (Ecological Economy). Several articles of the open access issue explore the nexus of digitalization and sustainability.
 

15:00-15:25Opening Panel A European Way for a Sustainable Digitalization – introduction to the topic and the scope of the Symposium
  

Panelists: 

  • Tilman Santarius, TU Berlin
  • Daniel Lang, Leuphana University Lüneburg
  • Friederike Rohde, Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW)
 
15:35-16:35Parallel Workshops

The European approach for a sustainable digitalization from three perspectives

  Workshop I: A three-level approach for a sustainable digital transformation
  

To promote increased, ongoing cooperation between digitalization and sustainability stakeholders at a social, organizational, and individual level is the goal of the Leuphana University project, “Sustainability and Digitalization - A European Perspective”. Various topics in the broader context of digitalization and sustainability were discussed with selected experts in six online Roundtables. Necessary political and administrative framework conditions were collected across all levels. In this workshop, we would like to briefly present these, discuss them with you and bring them together: What enablers do we need at a social, organizational, and individual level? What do our findings mean for policy frameworks and administrative processes across all levels? What is needed to promote individuals, organizations and society for design of political frameworks and administrative processes for the 21st century? For this purpose, we invite political actors to discuss with us.

Speakers:

  • Uwe Gartenschlaeger, EAEA and DVV International
  • Ilias Iakovidis, Adviser on Societal challenges at the European Commission, DG CONNECT
  • Marc Schattenmann, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety Germany
  • Kim van Sparrentak, MEP, Greens/EFA
 
  Workshop II: Forging a European interdisciplinary science network on digitalization and sustainability
  

Research on digitalization and its manifold impacts on social justice and environmental integrity has been gaining momentum in recent years and the need for societal and political action is becoming increasingly clear. Yet, there is a lack of knowledge exchange between the various disciplines and epistemic communities, and the development of comprehensive analyses and integrated policy solutions for a sustainable digitalization is deeply needed.

The recently launched European dialogue project “Digitalization for Sustainability - Science in Dialogue” (D4S) aims to systematically connect expert researchers from European academia and think tanks in order to co-create interdisciplinary approaches towards a sustainable global future in the face of the rapid development of digital technologies and applications. At its core, the project will bring together researchers reflecting different disciplines, thematic strains, and national backgrounds in order to synthesize an integrated, comprehensive analysis of prospects, risks, governance options and policy solutions for a sustainable digitalization.

This workshop will 1) introduce the thematic approach of the dialogue, and 2) offer discussions with participants on mutual findings and blind spots on the road towards a deep sustainability transition and 3) reflect on the ongoing policy processes at EU and global level. 

Speakers:

  • Angelika Hilbeck, ETH Zurich
  • Mattias Höjer, KTH Stockholm
  • Éliane Ubalijoro, Sustainability in the Digital Age initiative
  • Tim Unwin, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D
  • Tilman Santarius, TU Berlin
 
  Workshop III: The ‚Bits & Bäume Movement’ goes Europe
  

In Germany, the ‘Bits & Bäume Movement’ provides a network in which civil society actors and organizations that either engage in sustainability politics or in tech and digitalization politics can get together, exchange information, learn from each other, and develop joint political demands and strategies. The movement gained momentum at a joint conference in 2018 and significantly shaped public and political debates at the nexus of digitalization and sustainability. Up to now, many actors from civil society and science engaged in various events, workshops, and talks to move the issue forward. Taking into account current developments at the European level, it is key to broaden the scope and deepen the exchange of European sustainability and tech actors. This workshop, therefore, aims at discussing ideas and prospects for collaborative action of civil society and science to call for a European policy for sustainable digitalization. How can civil society increase pressure on the EU and its member states to make digitalization more sustainable? How can an integrated agenda for sustainable digitalization carried by European civil society organizations look like? What could be joint activities?

Speakers:

  • Vivian Frick, Bits & Bäume and Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW)
  • Alexander Sander, Free Software Foundation Europe
  • Gauthier Roussilhe, Designer and researcher, Design Research Center, ENS Saclay
  • Marie-Kathrin Siemer, Liquid Democracy
 
16:45-18:00Closing PanelFrom concept to action: How can elements of a sustainable digitalization be implemented?  
  

A number of proposals for how a sustainable digitalization can be designed are on the table, mostly driven by  actors outside the mainstream. In the closing panel discussion, next concrete initiatives, collaborations and key levers on the way to implementation will be discussed. Furthermore, it is discussed to what extent the Digital Services Act/EU Council Decision in their current forms are suitable as a blueprint for a deep sustainability transition?

Panelists: 

  • Michelle Thorne, Mozilla Foundation
  • David Jensen, UNEP Digital Transformation Task Force
  • Kim van Sparrentak, MEP, Greens/EFA
 

"Workshopseries: Sustainability and Digitalization - a European Perspective" 
Digital transformation provides the means to a better future, while sustainability guides us on why we want to achieve it. Neither can be accomplished in isolation. Despite the need for partnership between the two disciplines, there is currently a lack of interaction between leaders and stakeholders in the respective communities. The project, “Sustainability and Digitalization - A European Perspective” supported and promoted discussions between selected experts in the areas of digitalization and sustainability in six roundtables from a social, organizational, and individual learning perspective. These discussions will establish a common understanding and suggest practical ways forward to help sustainability and digitalization work in partnership.
The project aims to stimulate scientific, political, and civil discourse, both within the scope of the project and beyond and to share thinking, findings, and outcomes with the general public to increase awareness and engagement. More information on the project under sustainability-digitalization.leuphana.de 
 
"Digitalization for Sustainability - Science in Dialogue"
The European research network “Digitalization for Sustainability - Science in Dialogue” (D4S) is dedicated to develop a progressive vision for a digitalization that fosters environmental and social sustainability. At the very core of the research network stands a group of 15 renowned experts, consisting of European researchers as well as practitioners representing a variety of institutions and schools of thought. 
The project aims at enhancing the science-policy discourse by (i) delivering a comprehensive analysis of opportunities, risks and governance options regarding digitalization and sustainability; (ii) developing guidelines, design principles, policies, and new institutions to shape digitalization towards deep sustainability transformations; and (iii) outlining an inter- and transdisciplinary research agenda on ‘digitalization for sustainability’. More information on the project under digitalization-for-sustainability.com

Research group "Digitalization and Sustainability"
Machines, products, and people are increasingly interconnected through information technology, but what are the consequences?  Will we see a “smart green world”, with technological advances benefitting everyone – including the environment? Alternatively, are we heading towards a digital growth economy where money and power are bundled in the hands of a few,  reaching the planetary boundaries even sooner? These questions are the starting point of the research group "Digitalization and Sustainability". It examines the opportunities and risks of digitalization for a reduction in energy and resource consumption and develops approaches for shaping digitalization politically and socially in a way that ensures its contribution to the necessary changes in society towards sustainability. More information on the project under www.nachhaltige-digitalisierung.de/en

Hauptnavigation

Servicenavigation