“greening through IT,” that is, the application of computing to promote sustainability broadly.
The aim of this report is twofold: to shine a spotlight on areas where IT innovation and computer science (CS)2 research can help, and to urge the computing research community to bring its approaches and methodologies to bear on these pressing global challenges. The focus is on addressing medium- and long-term challenges in a way that would have significant, measurable impact.
The findings and recommended principles of the Committee on Computing Research for Environmental and Societal Sustainability concern four areas: (1) the relevance of IT and CS to sustainability; (2) the value of the CS approach to problem solving, particularly as it pertains to sustainability challenges; (3) key CS research areas; and (4) strategy and pragmatic approaches for CS research on sustainability.
An often-cited definition of “sustainability” comes from Our Common Future, the report of the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations (UN): “[S]ustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”3 The UN expanded this definition at the 2005 World Summit to incorporate three pillars of sustainability: its social, environmental, and economic aspects.4 This report takes a similarly broad view of the term. Although much of the focus in sustainability has been on mitigating climate change, with efforts aimed at managing the carbon dioxide cycle and increasing sustainable energy sources, there are other important sustainability challenges (such as water management, improved urban planning, supporting biodiversity, and food production) that can also be transformed by advances in computing research and are thus considered in this report.
It is natural when viewing sustainability through the lens of computer science to take a systems view. An elaboration on the broad definition of
2“Computer science” is defined broadly here to include computer and information science and engineering.
3United Nations General Assembly, March 20, 1987, Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future; transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427—Development and International Co-operation: Environment; Our Common Future, Chapter 2: Towards Sustainable Development; Paragraph 1, United Nations General Assembly. Available at http://www.un-documents.net/ocf-02.htm.
4United Nations General Assembly, 2005 World Summit Outcome, Resolution A/60/1, adopted by the General Assembly on September 15, 2005.