International Institute for Sustainable Development

Institut international du développement durable

Changing our Understanding of Sustainability: The impact of ICTs and the Internet

David Souter, Don MacLean
This expansive IISD project is composed of 17 discrete articles collected in a single PDF (7.1 MB), or available individually in ZIP (6.2 MB) format. It explores the relationship between information and communication technologies (ICTs), the Internet and sustainability. Written and published around the time of the second Earth Summit, Rio+20, in 2012, the project asks one central question:
  • How far and in what ways do we need to change our understanding of sustainability in the light of the information and communication revolution?

The report includes:

  • An introductory discussion paper by David Souter exploring the ways in which ICTs and sustainability have interacted since the Brundtland Commission in 1987 and the first Earth Summit in 1992.

  • Two keynote interviews with influential thinkers on ICTs and on sustainability, Vint Cerf and Jim MacNeill, who have played leading roles in those fields throughout the past 25 years.

  • Three commentaries on ICTs and sustainability at the Rio+20 Summit: one (by Don MacLean, David Souter and Heather Creech) raising issues that should be considered in anticipation of the meeting, one (by Shawna Finnegan and Lisa Cyr) describing what actually happened at the event, and an overall assessment of the scope and outcomes of the Summit by IISD's European Representative, Mark Halle.

  • Three short papers on critical themes by leading experts in different aspects of the relationship between ICTs and sustainability—Robin Mansell, Bill St. Arnaud and Graham Vickery.

  • Seven further interviews with prominent experts in different areas of ICTs and sustainability—Angela Cropper, Anriette Esterhuysen and Alan Finlay from the Association for Progressive Communications, Caroline Figueres, Ashok Khosla, Jay Naidoo, Luis Neves and Nii Quaynor.

  • A concluding report by David Souter and Don MacLean that is divided into three sections: The first summarizing the responses to the project's central question; the second looking at the Rio+20 Summit and its outcome document, The Future We Want, noting and seeking to explain the very limited extent to which the Summit recognized the impact and implications of ICTs and the Internet on sustainability; and the third asking what needs to be done now to address the themes explored in the project, concluding with suggestions to governments, businesses and other stakeholders in both ICT and sustainability communities.

The papers in this report build on an earlier study for IISD—ICTs, the Internet and Sustainable Development: Towards a New Paradigm (2010)—by David Souter, Don MacLean, Ben Akoh and Heather Creech.



  • Publication type: Paper
  • Publication date: October 24, 2012
  • Publisher: IISD
  • © Copyright 2012 IISD