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Defining the Role of Information Systems in Sustainability Measurement SIGGreen Virtual Workshop November 12, 2010 J Corbett, J Webster, M-C Boudreau,

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Presentation on theme: "Defining the Role of Information Systems in Sustainability Measurement SIGGreen Virtual Workshop November 12, 2010 J Corbett, J Webster, M-C Boudreau,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Defining the Role of Information Systems in Sustainability Measurement SIGGreen Virtual Workshop November 12, 2010 J Corbett, J Webster, M-C Boudreau, R Watson 1

2 Overview Why measurement is a key issue for sustainability What IS can contribute Measurement principles Examples of IS in sustainability measurement Call to action 2

3 Motivations for Paper 1.Articulate a set of measurement principles in relation to environmental sustainability 2.Identify ways in IS can address these measurement principles 3.Encourage researchers to investigate opportunities for IS to deliver deliver appropriate, reliable, and actionable information to the full range of decision makers 3

4 Why Measurement? Effective measurement of environmental impacts provides visibility into the effects of human (individual and organizational) activities Measurement helps to inform, educate and guide transformational changes 4

5 Progress in Other Fields Finance and economics: – Seek to quantify the environmental ‘externality’ and develop market schemes to effect change (Stern 2008) Accounting: – Developing guidelines and standards for environmental reporting (Kolk et al. 2008) Strategic management: – Understanding sustainability strategies and the presentation of environmental metrics (Wheeler and Elkington 2001) 5

6 Incomplete Solutions Approaches have been accused of being ‘light green’ by attempting to address the issue without fundamental changes (Clarke and O'Neill 2005; Mathews 1997) No discipline has full visibility or expertise to handle the challenge IS has been largely uninvolved 6

7 Contributions of IS Complementing the work in other fields, IS brings important strengths to the process: – IS contributes to inputs by focusing on sensors for data collection, data libraries for storage, and organic interfaces for users – Processes are supported by data modeling and mining tools – Systems enable outputs to provide intelligence for decision-making, knowledge-sharing and environmental reporting 7

8 Measurement Principles Initially arose in ‘hard’ sciences focusing on simplicity and consistency Current conceptualization is based on model theory – Views measurement “as the establishment of a correspondence between a set of manifestations of a property of objects and events of the real world and the relations between them, and a set of numbers and the relations between them” (Finkelstein 2005, p. 268). More recent attention to measurement principles as they relate to sustainability (e.g., Fisher 2009) 8

9 Measurement Principles Uniformity – The measure is based on consistent reference standards (Fisher 2009) – To communicate effectively about sustainability, we need to use common standardized measures Transferability – A sample-based measure can be generalized to the population (Finkelstein 2009) – Given the global nature of the environmental problem, transferability is crucial so that pockets of information with limited relevance to other regions do not form and become institutionalized, thereby constricting global action 9

10 Measurement Principles Integrability – The measure is based on input incorporated from multiple stakeholders (Bellini et al. 2008, Fisher 2009) – How does society internalize costs if the environmental damage associated with certain manufacturing processes originates from multiple entities? Accuracy – The measure captures what it is supposed to measure (Fisher 2009, Ghiselli 1981) – For sustainability this allows consumers to think, act and communicate in concert with respect to measurement and can reduce negotiation, contention and loopholes available for shirking 10

11 Measurement Principles Transparency – The measure is based on open standards (Fisher 2009, Mari 2005) and is the extent to which the assumptions and calculations are understood and made explicit – Consumers need open information about the environmental properties of the products they create or purchase Granularity – Measures are divisible and additive (Fisher 2009) and reflect the necessary level of detail relevant to their purpose – Disaggregating the consumption of electricity at lower levels of granularity helps people to better understand their impact on the environment 11

12 Measurement Principles Scope - Range – The measure has clearly defined boundaries and ensures that assumptions related to underlying measures have not been overlooked (Mari 2005) – Comes into play when addressing the thorny issue of the boundaries of the lifecycle calculations of environmental effects Scope – Inclusion – The measure captures all aspects of the phenomenon of concern. – With respect to sustainability, this would mean that all environmental impacts (i.e. air, land, and water) are taken into account 12

13 IS Example: GreenStar Network Low-carbon internet being developed by GreenStar Network consortium ( Project to develop world’s first internet network in which the nodes are powered by wind and solar energy without compromising reliability As part of the process GreenStar is creating a carbon protocol for the IT industry based on the ISO set of standards which will be published and disseminated Supports measurement principals of uniformity and transparency 13

14 IS Example: Digital Meadowlands Digital Meadowlands is a data warehouse developed to support the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission Prototype of an environmental monitoring system that allows users to query land, air, and water quality (Holowczak et al. 2003) Includes data from such sources as automated monitoring stations, satellite maps, and user- inputted information Supports measurement principals of integrability, granularity and inclusion 14

15 IS Example: Earthster & GoodGuide Earthster: open source B2B tool for tracking environmental and social data in supply chains and turning them into life cycle assessments, which can be audited and made available on open data commons for public use GoodGuide: B2C tool aggregates over 1,100 indicators to rate companies and products on environmental, health, and social impacts. More than 65,000 personal care, food, and toy products are now rated on a ten- point scale, allowing consumers to make purchasing decisions that reflect their preferences and values, at the point of purchase Support measurement principals of uniformity and transparency 15

16 IS Example: UPS Telematics Proprietary firmware to collect, record and analyze time-stamped data on the state of its vehicles (e.g., RPMs, oil pressure, seatbelt use, accelerations, idling time) Environmental benefits were multiple: significant reduction in mileage, fuel consumption, replacement parts (Watson et al., 2010) Supports measurement principals of transferability, accuracy and integrability 16

17 Summary of IS Examples 17

18 Call to Action IS academics need to be involved in efforts to improve environmental sustainability measurement We have the knowledge and skills to effectively implement systems that adhere to measurement principles We need to focus our work on practice- oriented theory and solutions 18

19 Discussion Jacqueline Corbett Jane Webster Marie-Claude Boudreau Richard Watson 19

20 References Bellini, C.G.P., Pereira, R.D.C.D.F., Becker, J.L Measurement in software engineering: From the roadmap to the crossroads. International Journal of Software Engineering 18(1) Clarke, K., & O'Neill, S. (2005). Is the Environmental Accountant? Greener Management International, 49, Finkelstein, L Problems of measurement in soft systems. Measurement, 38, Finkelstein, L Widely-defined measurement – An analysis of challenges. Measurement, 42, Fisher, W., Jr Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement Ghiselli, E. E Measurement Theory for the Behavioral Sciences, W. H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, CA. Holowczak, R. D., Adam, N. R., Artigas, F. J., and Bora, I Data warehousing in environmental digital libraries. Commun. ACM 46, 9 (Sep. 2003),

21 References Kolk, A., Levy, D., & Pinske, J. (2008). Corporate Responses in an Emerging Climate Regime: The institutionalization and commensuration of carbon disclosure. European Accounting Review, 17 (4), Mari, L The problem of foundations of measurement. Measurement, 38, Mathews, M. (1997). Twenty-five years of social and environmental accounting research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 10 (4), Stern, N The economics of climate change. American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings. 98(2) Watson, R. T., Boudreau, M.-C., Li, S., Levis, J Telematics at UPS: En route to energy informatics. MISQ Executive 9(1) Wheeler, D. and Elkington, J. "The End of the Corporate Environment Report? Or the Advent of Cybernetic Sustainability Reporting and Communication." Business Strategy and the Environment (10:1), 2001, pp

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