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Digital Europe: E-commerce and Sustainable Development

Project information

Grant agreement ID: IST-2000-28606

  • Start date

    1 July 2001

  • End date

    31 July 2003

Funded under:

FP5-IST

  • Overall budget:

    € 952 959

  • EU contribution

    € 636 019

Coordinated by:

THE FORUM FOR THE FUTURE

United Kingdom

Objective

DEESD aims to identify the crucial role that e-commerce and e-work can play in creating an information society that is more user friendly, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The project will build a convincing "business case" for the contribution that can be made by e-commerce and e-work to sustainable development, including a policy framework for "sustainable electronic markets" and make further recommendations to the EC, EU member states, local authorities, businesses and NGOs.

The specific objectives of the project are:
- To quantify the potential contribution of e-business to dematerialization, resource productivity and transport efficiency;
- To investigate the relationship between e-business and corporate social responsibility;
- To assess the impact of e-business on sustainable regional development;
- The consortium will undertake a state-of-the-art review that will summarise the latest thinking and research about e-business and sustainable development from around the world, and provide an overview of related projects and initiatives. A dedicated public website will be launched as a communication tool for project partners and other stakeholders.

A leaflet will also be produced, and circulated to key decision makers in business, government and NGOs, as a way of raising awareness and building interest in the project. The primary research phase of the project will include in-depth interviews with senior managers in companies, desk-based research and policy analysis, and an in-depth survey of corporate attitudes, results and policies relating to e-business and sustainable development. Case studies will be a central component of the research. Eight sectors have been selected to explore in detail under each research themes: financial services, music, food retailing, paper and pulp, auto-manufacturing, books, PCs and second-hand goods. The findings of the research will be disseminated through a summary report, a full report published as a Look, and a major European conference.
The following are the project's key findings:
1)The miniturisation of computing devices is not a long term environmental solution. Smaller products use fewer resources in absolute terms but there are diminishing returns from miniturisation;
2)Virtual products and services such as ebanking and digital music continue to have significant material impacts, largely due to the electricity consumed by the internet infrastructure. But they can have lower material impact thant their physical equivalents;
3)With virtual products and services, the burden of responsibility for material impact shifts from the production phase to the consumption phase. The following aspects of consumer behaviour play a major role in determining overall material intensity: speed of internet connection; tendency to rematerialise virtual content; and additional or substitutional consumption of virtual products and services;
4)ICT intensity tends to lead to economic dispersion but ICT is not the only factor affecting spatial patterns of development in Europe. Knowledge intensity promotes agglomeration of economic activity. ICT intensive industries are often also knowledge intensive, leading to agglomeration rather than dispersion;
5)It is unlikely that teleworking will deliver significant environmental savings due to reduce commuting. However, telework does offer individuals, companies and communities social benefits, including a better work life balance andincreased participation in local activities;
6)Access to ICT could promote social inclusion by creating new opportunities for individuals to build and maintain social networks. It could also reinforce existing patterns of exclusion ICT reinforces existing patterns of privilege. Digital inclusion is better conveyed through the concept of the digital ladder than the digital divide, where access to technology is only one rung on the ladder;
7)Policies have tended to focus on fixed line access to telecommmunications and the internet. But mobile access has distinct advantages, particularly where access to fixed lines phones is limited and the average income is lower. For example, mobile pricing structures give users more control over spending and the up front costs for operators of rolling out mobile networks are lower;
8)Flat rate broadband internet connections encourage use of the internet. As users spend more time on the internet, they gain confidence and benefit more from being online. From an environmental perspective, broadband can reduce the environmental impact of online activity but it is more likely to encourage greater use, increasing overall environmental impact;
9)The social benefits of ICT are less in its ability to overcome distance and support purely virtual communities than in supporting existing communities. Rooted in existing communities, ICT can provide an additional channel of communication and help build trust between individuals;
10)A survey of 100 companies in Europe across different sectors found that companies leading on the use of ebusiness were also ahead on the measurement of sustainability indicators. But ebusiness leaders did not necessarily lead the pack on sustainability performance;
11)The ever greater connectedness of the internet opens companies up to greater scrutiny as more information is readily available and more difficult to control. This puts new pressure on companies to improve their CSR performance. But ICT also provides companies with the tools for greater transparency and accountability, for example internet reporting and online stakeholder consultation;
12)In a networked society we are influenced by many factors, making change difficult to predict and manage. Traditional command and control structures based on linear concepts of cause and effect become less effective at delivering sustainable development. We need a new model of forward planning that takes regular readings of the environment and makes early and quick adjustments;
13)In a networked society each node in the network is connected to several others, each capable of many different actions and each action can have multiple effects. Thus not only can one action have direct unforeseen effects, it can have indirect second and third order impacts. An action that is environmentally beneficial may be socially detrimental.

Coordinator

THE FORUM FOR THE FUTURE

Address

227a City Road
Eciv 1jt London

United Kingdom

Participants (2)

FONDAZIONE ENI ENRICO MATTEI

Italy

WUPPERTAL INSTITUT FUER KLIMA, UMWELT, ENERGIE GMBH

Germany

Project information

Grant agreement ID: IST-2000-28606

  • Start date

    1 July 2001

  • End date

    31 July 2003

Funded under:

FP5-IST

  • Overall budget:

    € 952 959

  • EU contribution

    € 636 019

Coordinated by:

THE FORUM FOR THE FUTURE

United Kingdom