Information Systems in Environmental Sustainability: Of Cannibals and Forks

  • Dirk S. Hovorka
  • Elaine Labajo
  • Nancy Auerbach


That individuals, communities, and organizations need to change patterns of behavior and interactions to create a sustainable future for the biosphere has become a widely accepted concept in both organizational practice and sustainability research from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Information systems and the organizational, community and individual actions they support have the potential to alter the current trajectory of resource consumption, negative environmental impacts, and ecosystem degradation. Although the Information Systems discipline has begun to address the problem of environmental sustainability, current models adhere to a technologic-managerial mindset which supports the organizational status quo. By critiquing the assumptions of the established Triple Bottom Line framework, this research proposes that Information Systems research can be expanded in three directions: addressing collective rather than individual actions, creating, measuring and monitoring a broad range of environmental impact measures, and designing organizational learning systems that enable adaptive management practices in the face of unpredictable and nonlinear environmental changes. Recognition of these additional research avenues will emphasize the difficulty of the problem domain and support transformational research thinking.


Ecosystem Service Information System Environmental Sustainability Ecological Footprint Triple Bottom Line 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Armstrong, D., Castro, I., & Griffiths, R. (2007). Using adaptive management to determine requirements of re-introduced populations: The case of the New Zealand hihi. Journal of Applied Ecology, 44, 953–962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartlett, A. A. (1994). Reflections on sustainability, population growth, and the environment. Population and Environment, 16(1), 5–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brundtland, G. H. (1987). Our common future: World commission on environment and development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Butchart, S. H. M., Walpole, M., Collen, B., Van Strien, A., Scharlemann, J. P. W., Almond, R. E. A., & Watson, R. (2010). Global biodiversity: Indicators of recent declines. Science, 328, 1164–1168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Daily, G. (1997). Nature’s services: Societal dependence on natural ecosystems. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  6. DeSimone, L. D., & Popoff, F. (1997). Eco-efficiency: The business link to sustainable development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. DiSalvo, C., Sengers, P., & Brynjarsdottir, H. (2010). Mapping the landscape of sustainable HCI. Paper presented at the CHI, Atlanta.Google Scholar
  8. Dourish, P. (2010). HCI and environmental sustainability: The politics of design and the design of politics. Paper presented at the DIS 2010, Aarhus, Denmark.Google Scholar
  9. Driscoll, C., & Starik, M. (2004). The primordial stakeholder: Advancing the consideration of stakeholder status for the natural environment. Journal of Business Ethics, 49, 55–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Elkington, J. (1997). Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Oxford: Capstone.Google Scholar
  11. Elliot, S. (2011). Transdisciplinary perspective on environmental sustainability: A resource base and framework of IT-enabled business transformation. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 197–236.Google Scholar
  12. Ellis, E. C., & Ramankutty, N. (2008). Putting people in the map: Anthropogenic biomes of the world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 6(8), 439–447. 6(8), 439–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Figge, F., & Hahn, T. (2004). Sustainable value added. Measuring corporate contributions to sustainability beyond eco-efficiency. Ecological Economics, 48(2), 173–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gibson, K. (2006). Business ethics: People, profits, and the planet. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  15. Gliessman, S. R. (1990). Agroecology: Researching the ecological basis for sustainable agriculture. London: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. Gould, K. A., Pellow, D. N., & Schnaiberg, A. (2004). Interrogating the treadmill of production: Everything you wanted to know about the treadmill but were afraid to ask. Organization & Environment, 17, 296–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gray, R. H., & Bebbington, K. J. (2000). Environmental accounting, managerialism and sustainability: Is the planet safe in the hands of business and accounting? Advances in Environmental Accounting and Management, 1(1), 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gray, R., & Milne, M. J. (2002). Sustainability reporting: Who’s kidding whom? Chartered Accountants Journal of New Zealand, 81(6), 66–70.Google Scholar
  19. Hanley, N., Shogren, J., & White, B. (2007). Environmental economics in theory and practice. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  20. Hannigan, J. (2006). Environmental sociology: A social constructionist perspective. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Hart, S. L. (1997). Beyond greening: Strategies for a sustainable world. Harvard Business Review, 75, 66–77.Google Scholar
  22. Hart, S. L., & Milstein, M. B. (2003). Creating sustainable value. Academy of Management Executive, 17(2), 56–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hevner, A. R., March, S. T., Park, J., & Ram, S. (2004). Design science in IS research. MIS Quarterly, 28(1), 75–106.Google Scholar
  24. Jackson, T. (2009). Prosperity without growth: Economics for a finite planet. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  25. Kondoh, K. (2009). The challenge of climate change and energy policies for building a sustainable society in Japan. Organization & Environment, 22(1), 52–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kuhn, T. S. (1977). Second thoughts on paradigms. In The essential tension (pp. 293–319). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  27. Malhotra, A., Melville, N., & Watson, R. (2011). CfP information systems and environmental sustainability. MIS Quarterly, Special Issue Call for Papers. Google Scholar
  28. McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to cradle. New York: North Point Press.Google Scholar
  29. Meadows, D. (1998). Indicators and information systems for sustainable development. Hartland: Sustainability Institute.Google Scholar
  30. Melville, N. P. (2010). Information systems innovation for environmental sustainability. MIS Quarterly, 34(1), 1–21.Google Scholar
  31. Milne, M. J., Ball, A., & Gray, R. (2008). Wither ecology? The triple bottom line, the global reporting initiative, and the institutionalization of corporate sustainability reporting. American Accounting Association Annual Meeting, Anaheim.Google Scholar
  32. Mol, A., & Janicke, M. (2009). The origins and theoretical foundations of ecological modernisation theory. In A. Mol, D. Sonnenfled, & G. Spaargaren (Eds.), The ecological modernisation reader: Environmental reform in theory and practice (pp. 1–27). London: Routledge, London, New York.Google Scholar
  33. Norton, B. (2005). Sustainability: A philosophy of adaptive ecosystem management. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  34. Pearce, D. (1993). Blueprint 3: Measuring sustainable development. London: Earthscan Publications.Google Scholar
  35. Peterson, G., Allen, C. R., & Holling, C. S. (1998). Ecological resilience, biodiversity, and scale. Ecosystems, 1, 6–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rumpff, L., Duncan, D. H., Vesk, P. A., Keith, D. A., & Wintle, B. A. (2011). State-and-transition modelling for adaptive management of native woodlands. Biological Conservation, 144, 1224–1236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Salafsky, N., Margoluis, R., Redford, K. H., & Robinson, J. G. (2001). Improving the practice of conservation: A conceptual framework and research agenda for conservation science. Conservation Biology, 16(6), 1469–1479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Savitz, A., & Weber, K. (2006). The triple bottom line: How today’s best run companies are achieving economic, social, and environmental success. San Francisco: Wiley.Google Scholar
  39. Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Crown Business, London.Google Scholar
  40. Senge, P., Smith, B., Schley, S., Laur, J., & Kruschwitz, N. (2008). The necessary revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  41. Suggett, D., & Goodsir, B. (2002). Triple bottom line measurement and reporting in Australia: Making it tangible. Melbourne: Allen Consulting Group.Google Scholar
  42. United Nations. (2011). World population to reach 10 billion by 2100 if fertility in all countries converges to replacement level, New York.Google Scholar
  43. Vanclay, F. 2004 “Impact assessment and the Triple Bottom Line: Competing pathways to sustainability?”, in Cheney, H., Katz, E. & Solomon, F. (eds) Sustainability and Social Science Round Table Proceedings (conference held Dec 2003), Sydney: The Institute for Sustainable Futures (University of Technology, Sydney) together with CSIRO Minerals, 27–39.Google Scholar
  44. Vitousek, P. M., Mooney, H. A., Lubchenco, J., & Melillo, J. (1997). Human domination of earth’s ecosystems. Science, 277(5325), 494–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wackernagel, M., & Rees, W. (1996). Our ecological footprint: Reducing human impact on the earth. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers.Google Scholar
  46. Walker, B., Carpenter, S., Anderies, J., Abel, N., Cumming, G., Janssen, M., et al. (2002). Resilience management in social-ecological systems: A working hypothesis for a participatory approach. Conservation Ecology, 6(1). Retrieved from
  47. Watson, R. T., Boudreau, M., & Chen, A. (2010). Information systems and environmentally sustainable development: Energy informatics and new directions for the IS community. MIS Quarterly, 34(1), 23–38.Google Scholar
  48. Wilson, E. O. (1994). Biodiversity: Challenge, science, opportunity. American Zoologist, 34, 5–11.Google Scholar
  49. Winsor, D. (2001). Corporate citizenship: Evolution and interpretation. In J. Androif & M. McIntosh (Eds.), Perspectives on corporate citizenship. Greenleaf: Sheffield.Google Scholar
  50. Woodgate, G., & Redclift, M. (1998). From a ‘sociology of nature’ to environmental sociology: Beyond social construction. Environmental Values, 7, 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. York, R., Rosa, E. A., & Dietz, T. (2003). Footprints on the earth: The environmental consequences of modernity. American Sociological Review, 68(2), 279–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk S. Hovorka
    • 1
  • Elaine Labajo
    • 2
  • Nancy Auerbach
    • 3
  1. 1.Information SystemsBond UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  2. 2.Bond UniversityGold CoastAustralia
  3. 3.School of Sustainable DevelopmentBond UniversityGold CoastAustralia

Personalised recommendations