Sustainability through or despite of digitalisation?

Mehr Nachhaltigkeit trotz oder wegen der Digitalisierung? Erkenntnisse des WBGU-Gutachtens "Unsere gemeinsame digitale Zukunft"

by Prof. Dr. Martina Fromhold-Eisebith

Prof. Martina Fromhold-Eisebith

Geographer, University of Aachen

22. Oct.


Key Words:


In the 1970s, the first personal computers (PCs) became affordable, enabling the breakthrough of the Internet a decade later. While large companies like Google have helped us since the late 1990s to sort the vast information and data available through the Internet, these global players gradually also turned into powerful controllers of our access to information. With the creation of Facebook in 2004, Internet use reached a new level – a personal and personalised one. Some years later, the first smartphone was introduced, bringing the digital revolution even closer to our bodies. Through smartphones, the Internet can be accessed almost anytime and anywhere, which has substantially changed our ways of communicating and consuming content und information. Cloud solutions now help us using and storing data instantly, and virtual reality devices create new worlds. Automated production processes drastically alter our labour systems (#co-bots), in line with cybersecurity, block chain, artificial intelligence, … it is hardly possible to completely sketch all the features of the ongoing digital transformation. But one thing is certain: we have only just begun to understand its systemic implications.

In the latest flagship report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) “Towards our Common Digital Future” the authors emphasize the urgency of monitoring and understanding these developments, since digitisation inevitably profoundly influences what is probably the greatest challenge of our time: the climate and sustainability crisis. Yet, how do sustainability and digitisation mutually affect each other, and how should or could interdependencies be designed? Can sustainability be achieved through or despite of digitisation? In her research talk, a member of the German Advisory Council WBGU and co-author of the report, Professor Martina Fromhold-Eisebith, Chair of Economic Geography at RWTH Aachen University, gave us a nuanced and thorough answer to this question. In this audio blog you can learn more about her arguments and why she calls for understanding digitisation as a chance, while at the same time recognising its potentially negative impacts.

The research talk took place at the Department of Geography of the University of Innsbruck on 22. October 2019 and was hosted by the Research Group Transient Spaces & Societies.
Professor Dr. Martina Fromhold-Eisebith holds the Chair of Economic Geography at RWTH Aachen University, where she focuses on topics of industrial geography, innovation oriented regional development and sustainable economies. Besides numerous other positions, Martina Fromhold-Eisebith is currently an appointed member of the renowned German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) and is therefore also actively involved in policy consulting. Her regional focus is on European as well as developing countries, mostly in South and Southeast Asia.

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Prof. Dr. Martina Fromhold-Eisebith

Geographer, University of Aachen (RWTH)

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