Our special issue “Sustainability in the Digital Age” has been published in Business Strategy & the Environment. In this article we summarize the key contributions.

This special issue set out to understand the opportunities and challenges arising from the interplay of digital technologies and sustainable development . The call attracted very insightful contributions . The five papers plus editorial looked at:

Business Model Design that balances environmental and financial value;

IoT Technologies for the Circular Economy;

Social Media Communication and greenwashing effects;

Citizen Science for Sustainable Development in Cities;

–        Design Issues on Digital Platforms;

Intended and unintended consequences of digital technologies for sustainable development.

Here are the summaries:

The first paper by Emanuelle Reuter looked at the role of business model design of digital platforms for managing sustainable paradoxes. Based on a case study on Piclo Flex, an energy startup, she found that digital platforms can manage the balance between environmental and financial value creation. Find out how here: To the article

♻ The second paper by Eleonora Di Maria, Valentina De Marchi, and Ambra Galeazzo looked at how Industry 4.0 technologies can unlock the circular economy and create better results in the supply chain. Based on a survey among 1200 Italian manufacturing firms they find that the type of technologies matter, i.e. whether they are a smart manufacturing or data processing technology. Check out which has more influence here: To the article

The third paper by Hanne Knight, Mohamed Yacine Haddoud, and Phil Megicks set out to find out how firms use social media to communicate their sustainability efforts. (Not surprisingly) they find that while firms adopt social media with the intention to brush up their sustainability profile, the quality and credibility of sources affect whether messages are indeed shared, and, maybe even more importantly, whether they are perceived as greenwashing. Check out the results of their survey here: To the article

️ The fourth paper by Francesco Cappa, Stefano Franco and Federica Rosso looks at the interesting concept of citizen science, which is basically crowdsourcing with citizens to gather big data in cities. Based on two case studies in the US and Italy, they find that citizen science creates citizen engagement and generates tax savings, but also creates privacy concerns. Learn all about citizen science here: To the article

❗️❕ Finally, the study of Ilse Hellemans, Amanda Porter, and Damla Diriker explored the very timely topic on how platforms need to be designed to facilitate valuable interactions and avoid dark paradoxical effects. In their study of OpenIDEO, a crowdsourcing platform for challenges related to sustainability, they find that platform design choices are key not only to stimulate engagement but also to avoid entirely unintended consequences such as discrimination and bad working conditions. See how here: To the article

☯ An underlying theme of all papers is that digital technologies for sustainable development create intended consequences, but also unintended consequences due to the generativity of digital technologies. The editorial by Rene Bohnsack, Christina Bidmon and Jonatan Pinkse reflects on the unique characteristics of digital technologies and the resulting dynamics. Learn more here: To the article

We are only at the beginning to understand what digital sustainability means, some authors have provided insights but a lot more research will have to shed light on the concept. The 1987 definition of Sustainable Development in the Brundlandt report – ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ – has served us for more than 30 years. Is it time for a new perspective?