Digitisation and the transition towards a sustainable society

Expected early 2021
Digitisation and sustainability transitions are inextricably linked. What would be the best role for government to ensure digitisation will contribute to the transition towards a sustainable society?
picture ‘the digital court of justice’: close-up of a keyboard enter key depicting a set of scales

Rationale and advice request

The ongoing digitisation will bring about fundamental changes within our society, but is still only marginally oriented towards sustainability. In the meantime, digital technology is mainly contributing to efficiency and growth in existing markets and there are signs of current digital technology developments exacerbating sustainability problems. In its Green Deal (2019), the European Commission (EC) speaks of a ‘twin challenge’ when referring to the transition towards a sustainable society and the digital transformation. The EC considers the digital transformation to be one of the key factors in achieving the Green Deal’s objectives.

The Dutch Government has set various policy objectives for sustainable development in the Netherlands. For example, the Netherlands is committed to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. To achieve these goals, government policy has been formulated to realise several transitions within the physical environment, such as the energy transition, the transition towards a circular economy, and improving the sustainable character of our systems of food and accessibility. Various digital applications have already been implemented to achieve this, such as digital smart grids to enable the increasingly complex task of attuning the demand and supply of electricity, and databases of material passports to facilitate the reuse of products.

Despite this focus on digital applications, there is insufficient systematic consideration in government policy about how the digital transformation will fundamentally change the economy and society, what that would mean for the sustainability of our economy, and about the interrelationship between digitisation and sustainability transitions. Barely included in the debate is the question of whether and, if so, how digitisation should be applied to facilitate the transition towards a sustainable society.

The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure poses the following questions: What is the relationship between digitisation and sustainability transitions, and what role of government is possible, necessary and effective to ensure digitisation will contribute to the required transition towards a sustainable society?

Demarcation of the advisory process

The advisory report will focus on the significance of the digital transformation for the changeover to a sustainable physical environment. In the advisory process, the council will focus on the SDGs that specifically deal with the physical environment and the way in which these goals have been translated into national policy objectives. It goes without saying that the advisory report will also discuss shared public values, such as autonomy, privacy and democratic legitimacy. In the report, issues relating to cyber security, surveillance and disinformation will be dealt with only indirectly. And although a high-quality digital infrastructure is indispensable for the future-proof application of data and digital technology, this advisory report will only consider this subject in so far as this is necessary to fathom its relationship with sustainability.

Planning

Publication of this advisory report is planned early 2021.

Composition of the council committee

Professor Pieter Hooimeijer, council member and committee chair
Jeroen Kok, MSc, council member
Sybren P. Bosch, MSc, junior council member

External committee member

  • Pallas Agterberg (Director of Strategy, Alliander)
  • Staf Depla (Strategic Advisor and former Alderman Eindhoven)
  • Sander Klous (Professor of Big Data Ecosystems for Business and Society, University of Amsterdam and leader of the Big Data Analytics team at KPMG)
  • Sofia Ranchordás (Professor of Law (TT), University of Groningen. Comparative Public Law, Regulation & Technology, Social Media)
Information or response: 

For more information about the advisory report, please contact project leader Bart Swanenvleugel; bart.swanenvleugel@rli.nl