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Research Internship Grand Challenge: Do digital technologies help or harm the planet? Decarbonising and decolonising our digital society

Join a team of academics working together to explore the environmental and social impacts of digital technologies.

Do digital technologies help or harm the planet? What are the relations between digitisation and injustice? How can a digital society support environmental and racial justice? How can digital business and the digital industry operate in a more sustainable way? Can we change the way we use digital technologies, to better protect human and non-human life? 

Join us in this grand challenge to explore these questions. You will be working alongside lead researchers from across different faculties and departments. You will first take part in research, doing a survey of awareness and attitudes towards digital technologies, the environment, and social justice. You will then help organise a “hackathon” that will develop creative solutions for a more sustainable digital living. Participating in this project will earn you up to 300 Rise points.

Why this challenge?

Digital technologies are everywhere around us: smartphones, computers, big data, communication networks, digital documents, video calls, artificial intelligence. We use them without asking: what do they cost the planet? And we often assume, that doing things “digitally” is more environmentally friendly. Indeed, keeping an electronic document instead of printing it on paper saves trees. And doing a business call via zoom instead of flying reduces carbon emissions. This does not mean that digital technologies do not have an environmental footprint. Our digital lives really cost the earth and impact both human and non-human life. Making smartphones require extensive mining for rare metals. Their production is done by underpaid works, and often in extremely poor conditions. Phones, computers, and other electronics create a huge amount of toxic e-waste. And all the information created by computers, the internet, and artificial intelligence, use a tremendous amount of electricity. Photos, emails, and other data, do not live on a “cloud”, but is stored in data centres, that contribute massively to carbon and heat emissions. What’s worse, these environmental harms are affecting people differently. While most consumption of digital technologies and communication is taking place in the “Global North”, mining and toxic e-waste are located in the “Global South”. And those working on assemblage, service and disposal of digital technologies, in both locations, are strongly affected by poverty, racism and other forms of injustice.

In the video below, host academic Dr Adi Kuntsman introduces the topic further:

Themes and Teams

We are working across politics, sociology, fashion, SODA, natural sciences, business school, engineering, computing, and operations and events management. 

Each team will examine perceptions of, and attitudes towards environmental harms of digital technologies among one of the following groups:

  • students and young people
  • policy makers
  • industry and supply chain
  • textiles and fashion
  • SMEs including business managers and technologists

In your expression of interest you should let us know which group you would like to study.

Key Dates

  • March – April : registration and completing  the preparatory research intensives (see below)
  • May – June: meeting the team and carrying out research 
  • June 10th: presenting initial findings at the Digital society and the Environment workshop
  • June 13-17: preparing project report, getting ready for “Imagining Alternatives –A Hackathon about Sustainable and Just Digital Futures”
  • June 21st : Hackathon
  • June 30th Grand Challenge ends. 

If you have any questions about this Grand Challenge, please contact Dr Adi Kuntsman.

You can apply on the listing page here…

…and access the supporting self-study packs here.

Coming soon…