digitally processed, and what is needed is a product database containing
the environmental calculations for the
vast majority of commonly consumed
items so consumers can readily undertake green comparisons of products.
Computing professionals can play a
key role in defining the data standards
for consumer environmental calculations and then designing systems for
making this data publicly and conveniently accessible. We can help consumers choose greener products and
understand the environmental consequences of their purchasing decisions.
Consequently, another imperative for
the profession is to: Implement efficient
approaches for collecting and persuasive
means of presenting product sustainability information to promote green
Many people want to maintain a
sustainable lifestyle, but they do not
know how. For example, the householder who wants to do the laundry
with electricity primarily from renew-able sources typically lacks relevant
information. Furthermore, even when
some information is available, it is often aggregated so that individual action is hidden in collective behavior.
For most, the monthly electricity bill
omits the necessary details to promote
change. Consumers would be better
informed if each action were accompanied by information about its environmental effects. Therefore, as a profession, we need to: Develop information
systems that provide individuals with
accurate, meaningful, and actionable
information about the environmental
impact of personal decisions.
In summary, accurate pricing and
well-informed perceptions among all
members of society—individual, organizational, governmental—are the
foundations of an information strategy for environmental sustainability.
Such an information strategy requires
processing and storing more information (along with studying its reception
by consumers). Sensor networks and
product sustainability information will
add new streams of data that we need
to manage securely and sustainably in
a world already experiencing a data deluge. We certainly do not want a situation where the energy required for storing and processing this data results in
a net increase in harmful emissions.
What matters now
is that we stimulate
debate within the
its role in creating
a sustainable society.
Thus, in designing and developing an
information strategy for sustainability, we must take into account the full
life cycle impact of these solutions and
their own intrinsic demands on the
environment for materials and energy
consumption. Critically, we need to:
Develop professional standards for data
processing and storage that minimize
their environmental consequences, while
simultaneously helping to create a sustainable society.
a Call for action
Large-scale endeavors, such as reducing the effects of global climate
change, require the incremental and
cumulative action of many working toward a common outcome. Like those
in other fields,
11 we believe it is our
ethical imperative to address environmental sustainability issues. Collectively, we can start on this path by first
tackling current tractable issues, such
as designing and building local sensor
networks, and then scaling up as we
learn how to create a global network of
linked sensor networks, using the Internet as both a platform and a model.
Similarly, the behavioral scientists in
our community can begin exploring
the relationship between information,
perceptions, and environmental consequences, and scale as they learn.
What matters now is that we stim-
ulate debate within the profession
about its role in creating a sustainable
society. Despite differences between
ACM members, there is ongoing work
on which we can build—see the work
on computational sustainability of the
Computing Community Consortium
as well as the work of the Association
for Information Systems special inter-
est group on green information sys-
tems. It matters that we take action,
and as we learn, we will refine our
notions of an effective information
strategy and sound tactical solutions.
John Holdren, President of the Ameri-
can Association for the Advancement
of Science and advisor to U.S. Presi-
dent Barack Obama for Science and
Technology, called on his colleagues
to tithe 10% of their time to working
on the globe’s significant problems;
it might well be appropriate for ACM
to make a similar appeal to its mem-
bership. In summary, ACM members,
both collectively and individually, must
apply their computing knowledge to con-
tribute to the creation and implementa-
tion of an information strategy for a sus-
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Richard T. Watson ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the J. rex
Fuqua distinguished Chair for internet strategy in the
department of Mis at the terry College of business at
the university of georgia, athens, ga.
Jacqueline Corbett ( email@example.com) is
an assistant professor in the department of Management
information systems in the school of business
administration at laval university in Quebec City, Canada.
Marie-Claude Boudreau ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is
an associate professor in the department of Mis at the
terry College of business at the university of georgia,
Jane Webster ( email@example.com) is
the e. Marie shantz Professor of Management
information systems at Queen’s university in Kingston,
Copyright held by author.