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Title: Digital systems for sustainability : a classification of ICT4S and smart green startups distinguishing automation, social computing and cleantech push
Author: Townsend, Jack H.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7234 2181
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2017
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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.
Supervisor: Tiropanis, Athanassios ; Taylor, Gail ; Noble, Jason ; Rogers, Alex Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available