Headline: Digitalisation

Recent years have seen a proliferation of digital technologies throughout the economy and in everyday life. The challenges and opportunities presented by this development are the subject of increasing debate in the media, society, and the policy community. Prominent themes within these debates include the emerging challenges to privacy, the future of work and cyber-security as well as efforts to enhance efficiency, conserve resources and enhance economic growth. At present it remains uncertain whether and to what extent the digitalisation of communication, services, and industrial production will foster or impede transformations towards sustainable development.

What role can digital technologies play in the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals? How will the digitalisation of industrial production processes affect energy and resource use? How will it change the working environment? What effect do these new, digital forms of communication have on democratic participation processes? What opportunities and challenges does digitalisation present for developing countries and emerging economies? These questions lie at the heart of research relating to this topic at the IASS.

Using transdisciplinary research methods, these projects aim to provide robust scientific assessments of the impact of digital technologies and services. Our researchers will identify the potential risks and benefits of digital technologies for transformations towards sustainable economies and societies. The outcomes of this research will include scientific papers as well as recommendations for policymakers actors in the private sector, civil society and organisations for international cooperation.


No Significant Link Between Industry 4.0 and Energy Consumption Or Energy Intensity

To what extent does the digitalisation of industrial and manufacturing processes (Industry 4.0) improve energy efficiency and thus reduce energy intensity? A team from the Research Institute for Sustainability (RIFS) analysed developments across ten industrial manufacturing sectors in China between 2006 and 2019. Their findings show that contrary to the claims of many policymakers and industry associations, digitalisation may not automatically lead to anticipated energy savings in manufacturing and industry in China.

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Data Analysis

Digital-Intensive Industries Not Always More Resilient

It is widely assumed that digitalisation improves the capacity of companies and sectors to cope with crises. But is it the case that digital intensive sectors proved more resilient during the Covid-19 crisis? Researchers from the Research Institute for Sustainability (RIFS) investigated this by analysing data relating to various socio-economic indicators pre- and post-crisis. Their findings are surprising: In some cases, less digital-intensive industries were actually more resilient. Pandemic-related assistance provided by the German government is one possible explanation for this.

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Are Societies Ready For Autonomous Vehicles?

The use of autonomous vehicles is being trialled in cities around the world, with applications ranging from garbage collection to freight forwarding and public transport. Many of these trials examine not just technologies but also the social acceptance of autonomous vehicles. A new study by researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) looks to Singapore to explore how societies can best support the introduction of autonomous vehicles.

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Transdisciplinary Project to Investigate the Unintended Side Effects of Digitalisation

Digitalisation is changing how we live, but not only for the better: In addition to giving rise to new products, opportunities and services, it’s also having unintended side effects. The project “Digital Data as a Subject of Transdisciplinary Processes” (DiDaT) focuses on both the opportunities and the undesired consequences of digitalisation. It aims to identify and analyse side effects and make concrete proposals for coping with them. At an event to kick-start the project at the end of March, researchers and practitioners came together in Potsdam to define the main areas the project will focus on and outline potential solutions.

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Blog Posts


Will the pandemic widen the global digital divide?

Many countries are riding a wave of digitalization in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with office staff working from home, friends meeting on video conferencing platforms, online trade booming and governments rolling out tracing apps to track infection chains. However, developing and emerging countries could suffer setbacks in their efforts to strengthen their economies and societies through the adoption of digital technologies. Now more than ever, states must double down on efforts to ensure a globally just digital transition.

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Thoughts on the Digital Agenda of the Federal Ministry of Environment

The issue of digitalisation and sustainable development has – finally! – reached a wider public. When IASS launched a research project on digitalisation five years ago, only a few researchers were concerned about the relationship between the digital transition and sustainability. However, the number of publications and events on this topic has increased noticeably, especially in the last year. In April of this year, the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) then presented its flagship report entitled "Towards our Common Digital Future". Just a few weeks later at the annual re:publica conference the duo of digitalisation and sustainability was already inseparable. There, the Federal Minister of the Environment, Svenja Schulze, presented a green paper outlining a digital policy agenda for the environment.

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Industry 4.0 – taking efficiency to new heights?

The term Industry 4.0 has been bandied about increasingly since it was established in 2011. Also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 describes the growing use of digital technologies to link manufacturing technologies and facilitate continuous real-time data exchange. These manufacturing systems are based on interconnected cyber-physical systems with the capacity to independently organize and optimize their performance. Industry 4.0 promises to fundamentally transform manufacturing industry.

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