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Special Issue "Sustainability and Digital Environment"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Engineering and Science".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2018)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Roland W. Scholz

1. Chief senior scientist and professor, Department of Economics and Globalization, Knowledge and Information Management, Danube University, 3500 Krems an der Donau, Austria
2. 2 Professor emeritus of Environmental Sciences: Natural and Social Science Interface, ETH Zurich, Rämistrasse 101, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +43-79-422-44-01
Interests: coupled human–environment systems; sustainable digital environments; sustainable resources management; industrial ecology
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Gerald Steiner

1. Department of Knowledge and Communication Management, Danube-University Krems, Dr. Karl-Dorrek-Straße 30, 3500 Krems, Austria
2. Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA), Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +43-(0)2732-893-2313
Interests: sustainability-oriented innovation systems/-processes; sustainable resource management; phosphate rock mining; organizational and regional innovation systems; organizational communication
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Peter Parcycek

Departement of E-Governance in Business and Administration, Danube University, 3500 Krems an der Donau, Austria
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +43-(0)2732-893-2312
Interests: e-governance; e-democracy; e-participation; open access; digital environments

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The ongoing digital revolution is changing all domains of life and technology. Against this background, it is remarkable that so little attention has been given to the unintended feedback loops (i.e., rebound effects) that may be faced by social, economic, and environmental systems. In a discussion of the major changes and threats, a recent paper (https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/8/8/726) elaborated that the current digital transformation heralds a new stage of evolution. A main environmental concern is that the large-scale manipulation of genetic processes and cell processes (i.e., directed evolution) is inducing new regulatory processes in evolution. Others stress that big data, the Internet of Things, and the global networking of all human minds are double-edged swords, and may endanger systems and structures that should be sustained from a resilience or sustainable development perspective.

The special issue, Sustainability and Digital Environments, will address a broad range of topics that should help readers to understand both the generic and specific aspects of the critical developments related to the spread of digital environments. Thus, the issue may include papers on challenging economic questions (e.g., the potential loss of workplaces and employment due to digitalization and what the future of both may look like), sociopolitical issues (e.g., altered human behavior, communication, or networking and different forms of cyber addiction), or environmental questions (e.g., the loss of agrobiodiversity linked to digital technologies). However, in addition, contributions related to technological aspects such as durable digital storage are welcomed. In particular, we invite contributions that reflect on the unintended side effects of digital technologies and papers that contribute to the structuring of critical aspects or types of rebound effects related to digital environments, as well as from epistemological or ethical perspectives. Finally, we invite papers that sketch processes related to the type of transdisciplinary or other processes of science and practice collaboration needed to establish sustainable digital environments.

In order to build sustainable digital environments as a component of sustainability science, those who are interested in the field but unsure whether their work may align with the goals of this Special Issue are invited to correspond with the guest editor of this special issue.

Prof. Dr. Roland W. Scholz
Prof. Dr. Peter Parcycek
Prof. Dr. Gerald Steiner
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • digital revolution
  • rebound effects of digital technologies
  • sustainable digital environments
  • vulnerability
  • resilience management

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Open AccessArticle Unintended Side Effects of the Digital Transition: European Scientists’ Messages from a Proposition-Based Expert Round Table
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 2001; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10062001
Received: 9 May 2018 / Revised: 6 June 2018 / Accepted: 7 June 2018 / Published: 13 June 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (2341 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
We present the main messages of a European Expert Round Table (ERT) on the unintended side effects (unseens) of the digital transition. Seventeen experts provided 42 propositions from ten different perspectives as input for the ERT. A full-day ERT deliberated communalities
[...] Read more.
We present the main messages of a European Expert Round Table (ERT) on the unintended side effects (unseens) of the digital transition. Seventeen experts provided 42 propositions from ten different perspectives as input for the ERT. A full-day ERT deliberated communalities and relationships among these unseens and provided suggestions on (i) what the major unseens are; (ii) how rebound effects of digital transitioning may become the subject of overarching research; and (iii) what unseens should become subjects of transdisciplinary theory and practice processes for developing socially robust orientations. With respect to the latter, the experts suggested that the “ownership, economic value, use and access of data” and, related to this, algorithmic decision-making call for transdisciplinary processes that may provide guidelines for key stakeholder groups on how the responsible use of digital data can be developed. A cluster-based content analysis of the propositions, the discussion and inputs of the ERT, and a theoretical analysis of major changes to levels of human systems and the human–environment relationship resulted in the following greater picture: The digital transition calls for redefining economy, labor, democracy, and humanity. Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based machines may take over major domains of human labor, reorganize supply chains, induce platform economics, and reshape the participation of economic actors in the value chain. (Digital) Knowledge and data supplement capital, labor, and natural resources as major economic variables. Digital data and technologies lead to a post-fuel industry (post-) capitalism. Traditional democratic processes can be (intentionally or unintentionally) altered by digital technologies. The unseens in this field call for special attention, research and management. Related to the conditions of ontogenetic and phylogenetic development (humanity), the ubiquitous, global, increasingly AI-shaped interlinkage of almost every human personal, social, and economic activity and the exposure to indirect, digital, artificial, fragmented, electronically mediated data affect behavioral, cognitive, psycho-neuro-endocrinological processes on the level of the individual and thus social relations (of groups and families) and culture, and thereby, the essential quality and character of the human being (i.e., humanity). The findings suggest a need for a new field of research, i.e., focusing on sustainable digital societies and environments, in which the identification, analysis, and management of vulnerabilities and unseens emerging in the sociotechnical digital transition play an important role. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability and Digital Environment)
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Open AccessArticle Rationalizing a Personalized Conceptualization for the Digital Transition and Sustainability of Knowledge Management Using the SVIDT Method
Sustainability 2018, 10(3), 839; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030839
Received: 25 October 2017 / Revised: 4 March 2018 / Accepted: 6 March 2018 / Published: 16 March 2018
PDF Full-text (1356 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The objective of a current design science research (DSR) undertaking is responding to the call for a decentralizing Knowledge Management (KM) revolution by conceptualizing a Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system. The rationale is rooted in today’s accelerating information abundance and lack of adequate
[...] Read more.
The objective of a current design science research (DSR) undertaking is responding to the call for a decentralizing Knowledge Management (KM) revolution by conceptualizing a Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system. The rationale is rooted in today’s accelerating information abundance and lack of adequate tools which signify—in the author’s view—the presently emerging and most crucial barriers to individual and collective development. For validation, it employs prototyping and verifies its design decisions against DSR guidelines and KM-related methodologies and practices. For the latter purpose, this article employs the SVIDT methodology (Strengths, Vulnerability, and Intervention Assessment related to Digital Threats) by adopting a hindsight reverse-engineered logical perspective in order to present the line of reasoning from the proposed technologies back to the underlying motivations. Its focus is the sustainability of PKM systems, processes, and outcomes combined with SVIDT’s concerns with goals and environments, actors and affiliations, strengths and weaknesses, threat and intervention scenarios, and synergies and strategies. In following the SVIDT’s nine steps, the broad span of the Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) concept’s “wicked” problem space is presented. The results reaffirm the DSR concept of theory effectiveness in terms of the system’s utility and communication, and present the PKM concept and system as sustainable interventions to confront opportunity divides independent of space (e.g., developed/developing countries), time (e.g., study or career phase), discipline (e.g., natural or social science), or role (e.g., student, professional, or leader). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability and Digital Environment)
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Open AccessArticle Broadcasting and Telecommunications Industries in the Convergence Age: Toward a Sustainable Public-Centric Public Interest
Sustainability 2018, 10(2), 544; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10020544
Received: 12 January 2018 / Revised: 13 February 2018 / Accepted: 14 February 2018 / Published: 19 February 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (539 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
The emergence of new digital technologies, such as the Internet and new business models such as over-the-top (OTT) operators that utilize them, has transformed the media and broadcasting industries. As advanced technologies and business models are adopted, convergence between the broadcasting and telecommunication
[...] Read more.
The emergence of new digital technologies, such as the Internet and new business models such as over-the-top (OTT) operators that utilize them, has transformed the media and broadcasting industries. As advanced technologies and business models are adopted, convergence between the broadcasting and telecommunication (“telecom”) sectors has become a common business practice. Using the South Korean case study of a failed acquisition attempt of CJ HelloVision by SK Telecom, this research identifies the three essential features (economic, sociocultural, and industrial structure issues) related to convergence in the broadcasting and media industries. Further, this study reveals the potential consequences of convergence to the public, industry, and society, and offers critical implications for future policy direction. Finally, this study suggests the need for a change in the policy direction in the age of convergence in the broadcasting and media industries. In addition, it calls for the importance of a public-centric public benefit. Social and consumer welfare, and not profit or industrial growth, should dictate the public interest orientation in the broadcasting and media industries. Therefore, the meaning of public interest in broadcasting and media should not be limited in the industrial context of media; rather, it should consider the access to service by the public, the condition of consumption, and its consequences in the perspective of social and consumer welfare. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability and Digital Environment)
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Open AccessArticle Unintended Side Effects of Digital Transition: Perspectives of Japanese Experts
Sustainability 2017, 9(12), 2193; https://doi.org/10.3390/su9122193
Received: 8 October 2017 / Revised: 13 November 2017 / Accepted: 14 November 2017 / Published: 28 November 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1364 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The core of the digital transition is the representation of all kinds of real-world entities and processes and an increasing number of cognitive processes by digital information and algorithms on computers. These allow for seemingly unlimited storage, operation, retrieval, and transmission capacities that
[...] Read more.
The core of the digital transition is the representation of all kinds of real-world entities and processes and an increasing number of cognitive processes by digital information and algorithms on computers. These allow for seemingly unlimited storage, operation, retrieval, and transmission capacities that make digital tools economically available for all domains of society and empower human action, particularly combined with real-world interfaces such as displays, robots, sensors, 3D printers, etc. Digital technologies are general-purpose technologies providing unprecedented potential benefits for sustainability. However, they will bring about a multitude of potential unintended side effects, and this demands a transdisciplinary discussion on unwanted societal changes as well as a shift in science from analog to digital modeling and structure. Although social discourse has begun, the topical scope and regional coverage have been limited. Here, we report on an expert roundtable on digital transition held in February 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Drawing on a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, our discussions highlight the importance of cultural contexts and the need to bridge local and global conversations. Although Japanese experts did mention side effects, their focus was on how to ensure that AI and robots could coexist with humans. Such a perspective is not well appreciated everywhere outside Japan. Stakeholder dialogues have already begun in Japan, but greater efforts are needed to engage a broader collection of experts in addition to stakeholders to broaden the social debate. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability and Digital Environment)
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Open AccessArticle Digital Threat and Vulnerability Management: The SVIDT Method
Sustainability 2017, 9(4), 554; https://doi.org/10.3390/su9040554
Received: 28 January 2017 / Revised: 28 March 2017 / Accepted: 30 March 2017 / Published: 5 April 2017
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (3980 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
The Digital Revolution is inducing major threats to many types of human systems. We present the SVIDT method (a Strengths, Vulnerability, and Intervention Assessment related to Digital Threats) for managing the vulnerabilities of human systems with respect to digital threats and changes. The
[...] Read more.
The Digital Revolution is inducing major threats to many types of human systems. We present the SVIDT method (a Strengths, Vulnerability, and Intervention Assessment related to Digital Threats) for managing the vulnerabilities of human systems with respect to digital threats and changes. The method first performs a multilevel system–actor analysis for assessing vulnerabilities and strengths with respect to digital threats. Then, the method identifies threat scenarios that may become real. By constructing, evaluating, and launching interventions against all identified digital threats and their critical negative outcomes, the resilience of a specific human system can be improved. The evaluation of interventions is done when strengthening the adaptive capacity, i.e., a system’s capability to cope with negative outcomes that may take place in the future. The SVIDT method is embedded in the framework of coupled human–environment systems, the theory of risk and vulnerability assessment, types of adaptation (assimilation vs. accommodation), and a comprehensive sustainability evaluation. The SVIDT method is exemplarily applied to an enterprise (i.e., a Swiss casino) for which online gaming has become an essential digital-business field. The discussion reflects on the specifics of digital threats and discusses both the potential benefits and limitations of the SVIDT method. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability and Digital Environment)
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Open AccessPerspective Governance Strategies for a Sustainable Digital World
Sustainability 2018, 10(2), 440; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10020440
Received: 4 December 2017 / Revised: 1 February 2018 / Accepted: 2 February 2018 / Published: 8 February 2018
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (488 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Digitalization is changing society by the increased connectivity and networking that digital technologies enable, such as enhancing communication, services, and trade. Increasingly, policymakers within various national governments and international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
[...] Read more.
Digitalization is changing society by the increased connectivity and networking that digital technologies enable, such as enhancing communication, services, and trade. Increasingly, policymakers within various national governments and international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are examining the original sustainability policy concepts applied within the Brundtland Report of 1987 through the lens of digitalization. While the growth of a digital economy may increase productivity and benefit local and global economies, digitalization also raises potential sustainability challenges pertaining to social (i.e., the benefits or costs imposed by disruptive digital technologies upon social networks and ways of life, including threats to economic sustainability and the rise of economic disparity) and environmental wellbeing (i.e., natural resource stewardship and concern for future generations) driven by the automation of information processing and delivery of services. Various perspectives have been raised regarding how the process of digitalization might be governed, and national governments remain at odds regarding a single best strategy to promote sustainable digitalization using the Brundtland concept to meet the development needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations (i.e., social and environmental well-being). This paper reviews three governance strategies that countries can use in conjunction with adaptive governance to respond to digitalization sustainability threats: (i) a laissez-faire, industry-driven approach; (ii) a precautionary and preemptive strategy on the part of government; and (iii) a stewardship and “active surveillance” approach by government agencies that reduce the risks derived from digitalization while promoting private sector innovation. Regardless of a state’s digital governance response and how it is shaped by political and institutional realities, adaptive governance approaches are likely necessary to address the economic and social sustainability challenges posed within differing manifestations of digitalization. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability and Digital Environment)
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Open AccessHypothesis Towards Homo Digitalis: Important Research Issues for Psychology and the Neurosciences at the Dawn of the Internet of Things and the Digital Society
Sustainability 2018, 10(2), 415; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10020415
Received: 2 December 2017 / Revised: 29 January 2018 / Accepted: 30 January 2018 / Published: 6 February 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (689 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The present article gives an overview on central challenges humans face at the dawn of complex digital societies and the Internet of Things (IoT), i.e., a world completely connected to the Internet. Among the many challenges to be handled in digital societies is
[...] Read more.
The present article gives an overview on central challenges humans face at the dawn of complex digital societies and the Internet of Things (IoT), i.e., a world completely connected to the Internet. Among the many challenges to be handled in digital societies is a growing fragmented life style leading to loss of productivity as well as moments for self-reflection. In all this, it is of tremendous importance to understand the impact of digital worlds on our brains and psyches and to reveal possible unintended side-effects of technology use. Does human nature change due to constant interactions with virtual realities? In this context, we also face the challenge to design digital worlds according to our mammalian-emotional heritage deeply anchored in subcortical areas of the human brain. Here, we refer to emotional needs as carved out by Panksepp’s Affective Neuroscience Theory and how they can or cannot be fulfilled in digital worlds. Aside from a review of several key studies dealing with the raised challenges, some first solutions to successfully meet the mentioned problems are provided to achieve sustainable and healthy digital worlds, with whom humans can interact carefree on a daily basis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainability and Digital Environment)
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