Exploring sustainability in digital tech

Can Doughnut Economics be used as a holistic way of exploring the digital tech sector’s impact on global sustainability?

When sustainability is discussed within the digital tech industry, the conversation often revolves around electricity use. Typically “how can we reduce electrical consumption in data centers or on end-user devices, and how can we decarbonise it?”.

This is great progress, but the industry is in danger of overlooking the big, more difficult questions.

Questions like: what exactly are those paradigms, systems and root causes that have got us into a rapidly warming climate? And how has this industry been culpable? And how does it continue to be culpable? What do we need to change?

DoingtheDoughnut.tech was conceived to support people within the digital tech industry to:

  • explore a broad definition of sustainability;
  • look deeper into the root causes of what is going wrong;
  • imagine a better future for the industry.

Using the excellent Doughnut Economics framework as a vehicle to generate these discussions and understanding with the digital tech sector, we ran three pilot workshops to explore how we move beyond fixating on carbon emissions.

The Creating City Portraits guide provided a whole ton of inspiration on how to start this. But instead of regarding a place, we wanted to think about an industry: the digital tech industry.

Workshop design

We began designing the workshop and came up with three core questions that seemed valuable to explore.

  • LOCAL/SOCIAL: What would it mean for the digital tech workforce to thrive?
  • GLOBAL/SOCIAL: What would it mean for the digital tech industry to respect the wellbeing of people worldwide?
  • GLOBAL/ECOLOGICAL: What would it mean for the digital tech industry to respect the health of the whole planet?

29 people working within the digital tech sector joined three pilot workshops to explore these questions. The workshops were 2.5 hours each and were designed for between 6 and 10 participants, with 2 facilitators.

It started with a round of introductions between the attendees which provided a good chance for people to get to know each other. The main part of the workshop split attendees into two groups and asked them to explore the lenses using a Miro board to facilitate the session. Each of the lenses encouraged attendees to explore the pains they see in each of the dimensions, and ideas or vision for changing that in the future.

LOCAL/SOCIAL: What would it mean for the digital technology workforce to thrive?

GLOBAL/SOCIAL: What would it mean for the digital technology workforce to thrive?

GLOBAL/ECOLOGICAL: What would it mean for the digital tech industry to respect the health of the whole planet?

Our key findings

Did the approach work?

YES! After hosting these workshops, we felt that the Doughnut provides a friendly, accessible – and non-ideological – way of encouraging people to address fundamental and possibly radical concepts of sustainability, for example challenging economic growth, consumption and waste.

Taking action to shift the status-quo

Our workshop attendees were prompted to discuss a vision for the future for each of the 21 dimensions. In this regard, the discussions between the attendees questioned many of the fundamentals of tech industry business models.

These are the four common tech strategies that our attendees highlighted as needing to shift if the digital tech industry is to become more sustainable:

  • Stop the relentless consumption/depletion of resources – attention based revenue is driving the wrong behaviours.
  • Pointless – and endless – growth is getting us nowhere – the exponential growth bubble needs to burst.
  • Build things that last and can be reused – the strategy of planned obsolescence only serves shareholders and not society.
  • Detoxify tech culture – replace with fairness, inclusion and better ways of working.

The doughnut flower

The digital tech industry doughnut flower diagram is a visual representation of the conversation amongst our attendees from the pilot workshops. It draws inspiration from the well-known Doughnut Economics approach of quantifying the doughnut.

The outer petals represent the ecological boundaries. The darker the shade of green the more this came up as a pain point during the discussion. The inner stamens represent the social foundations and the longer and darker the stamen the more this issue featured in the workshop discussions.

For more info and insights

We wrote all of our findings and a more detailed methodology onto a website called: DoingTheDoughnut.tech. We hope our work may inspire others!




    Daniela Borodak

    Clermont-Ferrand, France

    The doughnut economy is a source of inspiration for my teaching! I hope this community helps me to answer the questions I'm consta

    Diego Ibanez

    Geneva, Switzerland

    Ms Raworth's doughnut economics is a brilliant idea as we are reaching the boundaries of our planet.

    cristina sarris

    Athènes, Αττική, Grèce

    I wish to promote the Doughnut Economics framework in Greece to explore its applicability at the public and business sectors.

    Samuel Plumppu

    Stockholm, Sweden

    Lead Developer and Founding member of https://greenheart.coop

    Karn Bianco

    Scotland, United Kingdom

    I'm DEAL's Digital Platform Lead; working to make this the finest Community Platform you've ever visited. 🌞


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