TU Wien Informatics

How Sustainable Is The Footprint Of Digital Technologies?

  • By Ivona Brandić
  • 2021-11-15
  • Social Responsibility

A workshop on digital technologies, energy, and sustainability.

How Sustainable Is The Footprint Of Digital Technologies?
Picture: Shutterstock

A life without digital technologies is almost inconceivable. However, what impact do digital technologies have on our energy infrastructure, and how sustainable is the use of information and communication technologies and thus the transformation(s) they bring about? This workshop provides the space to discuss the complex impact, challenges, and opportunities that the use of digital technologies has on our energy systems, and on sustainable development overall.


Welcome & Introduction

  • Georg Brasseur, President of the Division of Mathematics and the Natural Sciences, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Impulse Lectures

  • Digitalization and Sustainability – The Good, the Evil, and the Complex by Vlad C. Coroamă, Senior Research Associate, Computer Science Department of the ETH Zurich, Switzerland

    Information and communication technologies (ICT) pervade ever more sectors of our economies and societies, bringing about profound societal, economic, and environmental transformations. These can be either beneficial or detrimental to sustainable development, and can often lead to conflicting goals and trade-offs. In particular, ICT can help reduce societal energy consumption and carbon emissions, by making existing processes more efficient or substituting them altogether. On the other hand, however, ICT itself features an ever-growing energy and carbon footprint and – arguably more important – by the very efficiency gains it induces, it can also cause more economy-wide consumption of diverse goods and resources through various rebound effects. The presentation addresses this complex relationship and possible ways out of its dilemma.

  • Digitalization of Daily Life and Impacts on Carbon Emissions by Charlie Wilson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia, UK

    Digital technologies and applications are shaping the way we live, eat, travel, and manage our domestic environment. The digitalization of daily life can have both positive and negative impacts on carbon emissions. Digitalization can help reduce emissions by: (1) substituting physical activity for digital activity; (2) accessing services instead of owning goods; (3) exchanging physical goods and reducing waste; (4) controlling and managing use of energy and resources; (5) coordinating how services are provided; (6) integrating systems so they work more efficiently and emit less carbon; (7) tracking emissions through supply chains. However, digitalization of daily life can also result in energy and material consumption increases, with detrimental impacts on emissions, including by: (1) rebounding towards higher consumption levels; (2) intensifying new forms of energy-hungry activities; (3) dividing society into digital haves and have nots; (4) distrusting how data are used by service providers. Digitalization of daily life offers both large opportunities but also considerable risks for climate change. Digitalization for public purpose is a major policy challenge.

  • Sciences Digitalisierung, Energiewende und Infrastruktur by Steffen Bettin, Researcher, Institute of Technology Assessment, Researcher, Institute of Technology Assessment, Austrian Academy of Sciences

    Energie-Infrastruktur ist langlebig! Heute getroffene Entscheidungen zu ihrer Ausgestaltung werden uns noch Jahrzehnte beeinflussen; genauso wie unsere heutige Welt ein Ergebnis von weit zurückliegenden Entscheidungen ist. Energie-Infrastruktur ist geprägt von sozialen und technischen Pfadabhängigkeiten und Lock-Ins, steht aber auch durch die Klimakatastrophe vor notwendigen großen Umbrüchen und einer Energiewende. Der Vortrag beleuchtet vor diesem Hintergrund nun digitale Systeme wie smart grids. Diese haben das Potenzial, das Thema Energie nun wieder vermehrt in den gesellschaftlichen Vordergrund und näher an Endnutzer*innen zu bringen, was mit neuen Herausforderungen und Chancen einhergeht.

Breakout Sessions

  • Breakout sessions start after a brief coffee break.

Roundtable Discussion

  • Moderation: Ivona Brandić, Professor for High Performance Computing Systems, TU Wien

Closing Statement

  • Ivona Brandić, Professor for High Performance Computing Systems, TU Wien

  • Georg Brasseur, President of the Division of Mathematics and the Natural Sciences, Austrian Academy of Sciences


The working languages of the workshop are English and German.

The 2,5-G-rules or other legally required COVID-measures applicable at the time of the workshop will apply.


Please send an email to kathrin.humphrey@oeaw.ac.at by November 10, 2021 to register for this workshop.


Kathrin Humphrey, M.A., Austrian Academy of Sciences, kathrin.humphrey@oeaw.ac.at, +43-1-51581-1208

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