Digitalisation and the UN Sustainable development Goals: What role for design

Maja van der Velden
pp. 160 – 174, download


This paper investigates the relation between digitalisation and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Digitalisation is often presented as a transformative power, changing the way we live and work. The SDGs describe digitalisation technologies such as ICTs as enablers of sustainable development. The unsustainability of these technologies themselves may actually undermine the gains made in digitalisation. This becomes clear when we locate the discussion of digitalisation and the SDGs in a discussion of the Planetary Boundaries framework. The example of one of the most emblematic digital technologies of our time, the smartphone, shows the negative impact of its production and consumption on the biosphere, the basis for all life on our planet, and on many of the social aspects of the SDGs, such as poverty, child labour, decent work, and peace. But rather than promoting sustainable digitalisation, this paper proposes the notion of sustainment as a foundational principle for the sustainability of digitalisation. While sustainability has become a mean to an end, sustainment is about sustaining life itself. With sustainment, digitalisation and its design can strengthen our ability to respond to the challenges of living on a finite planet.

Keywords: Digital economy, ICTs, Planetary boundaries, Regeneration, Smartphone, Sustainable design, Sustainability, Sustainment, Transition. 

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