systematically comparing different methods and their potential benefits. It is particularly important for researchers to estimate outcomes and for the community to develop ways to assess impact, as these steps may have a dramatic impact on whether or not an approach can be appropriated and applied in other contexts.
Meeting the challenges of sustainability, as noted in Chapter 1, will require more than information technology, applications of clever technology, and computer science research. Indeed, at the heart of many global sustainability challenges are questions of resource consumption and standards of living. (See Box 3.3.) Nevertheless, the committee believes that
Toward an Information-Rich, Sustainable Future
Numerous analyses make clear that resource consumption is at the heart of many global sustainability challenges. At the same time, populations around the world are striving to improve their standard of living—and despite the efficiency improvements that also accompany development, that has inevitably meant increased resource consumption.
Efforts to improve efficiencies and substitute more sustainable for less sustainable materials and methods are what underlie much of the discussion in this report. However, there may be a broader sense in which information technologies and computational approaches can alleviate or mitigate the problem. Efforts to shift standard-of-living metrics from resource-intensive to information-intensive have the potential to be a significant lever in addressing global sustainability, although such shifts will increase the need for ever-“greener” information technology solutions themselves. In an increasingly information-rich and carbon-restricted world, finding ways to use information so that it both enhances perceptions and realities of standard of living and reduces resource consumption will be critical.
Examples of shifting to information-rich, less resource-intensive lifestyles include adjustments to transportation practices such as: information infrastructures that transform the convenience and trust of shared and alternative transportation modalities instead of private automobiles; improved technology in vehicles; transportation displacement such as telecommuting, social media, and e-commerce; and so on.
Although such examples emphasize opportunities to shift what counts as improvements in the standard of living for individuals, ultimately it is the policy choices and decisions, at local, regional, and federal levels, that will determine how many, if any, of these shifts are possible. Thus, organizational and governmental actions and decisions will have significant impact on whether a shift to information-intensive choices can happen in order to produce a shift in the way that society operates, to engender more sustainable outcomes.