Page 2, Publications

Digital Disruptions for Sustainability (D^2S Agenda) Report – Page 3

May 4, 2020

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* Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

The Digital Disruptions for Sustainability Agenda (D^2S Agenda) was shaped through discussions with and contributions from an Expert Advisory Committee as well as through a series of online and in-person consultations. The views presented in any given section of this report do not necessarily reflect those of all the contributors or their affiliated institutions.

Project team

Amy Luers, Future Earth

Jennifer Garard, Victoria Curl, Martin Deron

Co-leads from the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence:
Robert Laubacher, Moritz Woehl, Annalyn Bachmann, Carlos Botelho
178 Futures CoLab participants from 31 countries – partial list provided in Appendix.

Andréa Ventimiglia, Nilufar Sabet- Kassouf, Patrick Lacombe (Future Earth), Amy Larkin

Paula Monroy (Future Earth), Vill Mak

Dan Hammer, Edward Boyda (Earthrise Alliance), Colin McCormick (Valence Strategic, Georgetown University)

Casey Cronin (ClimateWorks Foundation)

Alisa Ferguson (EC-MAP), Sasha Luccioni (Mila – Université de Montréal), Michel Girard (CIGI)

Expert advisory committee*

  • Valérie Bécaert – Director of Research and Scientific Programs, Element AI
  • Anik Bhaduri – Executive Director, Sustainable Water Future Program; Associate Professor, Griffith University
  • Nick Beglinger – Co-Founder and CEO, Cleantech 21 Foundation Mark De Blois – CEO and Founder, Upande
  • Owen Gaffney – Global Sustainability Writer and Expert, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
  • Dan Hammer – CTO, Earthrise Alliance
  • Tom Hassenboehler – Partner, The Coefficient Group; Executive Director and Founder, EC-MAP
  • Ravi Jain – VP Search Science and AI, Amazon
  • Lucas Joppa – Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft
  • Lyse Langlois – Professor, Université Laval; Director, International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Technologies (OBVIA)
  • Mats Linder – Founder and CEO, MLSH Consulting
  • Kevin Mo – Managing Director, The Paulson Institute
  • Mathilde Mougeot – Professor, École Nationale Supérieure d’Informatique pour l’Industrie et l’Entreprise (ENSIIE) & Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
  • Per Olsson – Researcher, Stockholm Resilience Centre
  • Renata Piazzon – Executive Manager of Climate Change, Arapyaú Institute
  • Valérie Pisano – President and CEO, Mila
  • Asunción Lera St. Clair – Senior Principal Scientist, DNV GL; Senior Advisor, Barcelona Supercomputing Center
  • Gina Ziervogel – Associate Professor, University of Cape Town

Additional contributions from CIFAR workshop participants*

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), supported a workshop organized by Future Earth, the UK Office for AI, the International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Technologies (OBVIA), and CNRS. The workshop, part of CIFAR’s AI & Society series, took place in Montreal, Canada, from September 18 to 20, 2019. The workshop brought together 29 participants from around the world to explore issues related to the D^2S Agenda, with a particular focus on near-term actions. Below is a partial list of workshop participants.

  • Peter Brown (McGill University)
  • Benjamin Combes (PwC)
  • Casey Cronin (ClimateWorks Foundation)
  • John Dryzek (University of Canberra)
  • Rohan D’Souza (Kyoto University)
  • Anne-Laure Fougères (Université Claude Bernard – Lyon)
  • Aarti Gupta (Wageningen University)
  • Alexis Hannart (Ouranos)
  • John C. Havens (IEEE)
  • Keith Jansa (CIO Strategy Council)
  • Sana Khareghani (UK Office for AI)
  • Myanna Lahsen (Wageningen University)
  • Lyse Langlois (OBVIA, Université Laval)
  • James Leape (Stanford Woods Institute)
  • Sasha Luccioni (Mila – Université de Montréal)
  • Marguerite Mendell (Retired, Concordia University)
  • Dirk Messner (German Environment Agency)


  • Mathilde Mougeot (ENSIIE, CNRS)
  • Nebojsa Nakicenovic (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IIASA)
  • Jeremy Pitt (Imperial College London)
  • Andrew Revkin (Earth Institute of Columbia University) Gilles Savard (IVADO)
  • Charlie Smoothy (UK Office for AI)
  • Martin Solan (University of Southampton)
  • Aaron Williamson (The Value Web)
  • Ana Yang (Hoffmann Centre at Chatham House)
  • Aarti Gupta (Professor, Wageningen University)
  • Alon Halevy (Director of AI, Facebook)
  • David Jensen (Head of Policy & Innovation in the Crisis Management, UNEP)
  • Tom Kalil (Chief Innovation Officer, Schmidt Futures)
  • Karen O’Brien (Professor, University of Oslo)
  • Aleem Walji (former CEO, Aga Kahn Foundation)

Suggested citation

Sustainability in the Digital Age (SDA). 2020. Digital Disruptions for Sustainability Agenda (D^2S Agenda): Research, Innovation, Action. Future Earth.



List of terms

  • Algorithm: A process or set of instructions to be followed in calculations, data processing, automated reasoning, or other problem-solving operations performed by a computer.
  • Anticipatory governance: A form of data-driven decision-making that employs predictive algorithms and other prediction and foresight mechanisms to anticipate possible outcomes as a means of decreasing risk in decision-making and governing more efficiently by addressing events early or before they even occur.
  • Artificial intelligence: The simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning (the acquisition of information and rules for using information), reasoning (using rules to reach approximate or definite conclusions), and problem solving.
  • Augmented Engagement: The use of mixed reality tools to develop an interactive experience that enables connection to otherwise remote concepts or experiences.
  • Augmented reality: A technology that superimposes a computer- generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view and an interactive experience of a real-world environment enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information.
  • Blockchain: A digital ledger or database in which transactions are recorded chronologically, creating a permanent record that is transparent to anyone connected to the network.
  • Bot: Automated software applications that run repetitive programs.
  • Business model: A plan or strategy for the way a company seeks to create, capture, and share value.
  • Choice architecture: The design of different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers and the impact that this presentation ultimately has on consumer decision-making, derived from behavioural science.
  • Circular economy: An economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of new, finite resources by employing recycling, reuse, re-manufacturing, and refurbishment to create a closed-loop system.
  • Cognitive systems: Systems connected with the acquisition and processing of information and knowledge, making decisions, and forming judgements.
  • Collaborative governance: Also known as participatory governance. The “processes and structures of public policy decision making and management that engage people constructively across the boundaries of public agencies, levels of government, and/or the public, private, and civic spheres” [198].
  • Collective storytelling: The social and cultural activities of sharing stories and narratives scaled up to larger groups and situating their components (including questions, problems, and overarching themes) in relation to a broader context.
  • Crowdsourcing: The practice of obtaining input or funding for a question or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people (either paid or unpaid), typically over the internet.
  • Digitalization: The process of using digital technologies and digitized data to change how a system functions.
  • Digitization: The process of converting from analogue to digital format.
  • Digital age: Often cited as beginning in the 1970s, the digital age refers to a period during which the use of digital technology became prevalent and common throughout the world. The digital age is characterized by a rapid shift towards an economy based on information technology and has also led to changes in social relationships, science, politics, and many other facets of societies around the world. Also referred to as the information age.
  • Digital disruptors: Capabilities brought about by digital-age technologies and innovations with the potential to drive systems change at a scale and pace unprecedented in human history.
  • Digital MRV (measurement, reporting, and verification): Tools for generating data (such as energy attributes) that quantify, communicate, and authenticate outcomes. Digital MRV can improve the speed and accuracy of regulatory reporting, lower reporting and verification costs, and increase the scalability and security of transactions.
  • Digital nudge: A set of carefully developed rules, hints, tips, and suggestions that encourage people to change behaviour in small but meaningful ways, where “nudges” are designed based on desired outcomes in terms of behavioural change.
  • Governance of Flows: Governance of the embedded flows of goods, services, capital, and information, including both material and virtual flows.
  • Informational governance: A new form of governance in which information is the crucial resource used to govern and which has been characterized by transformative changes across governance institutions due to new information flows [163].
  • Intelligent systems: Machines with embedded, internet-connected computers with the capacity to gather and analyse data, perform complex activities, perceive and respond to the world around them, learn from experience and adapt, and communicate with other systems.
  • Internet of Things: A network of appliances, electronics, mobile devices, and sensors that can communicate and exchange data without requiring human intervention.
  • Machine learning: Sometimes referred to as a subset of AI, machine learning is the study of algorithms and statistical models that computer systems use to perform specific tasks without receiving instructions, relying on patterns and inference derived from “training data” instead.
  • Microtargeting: Transmitting a tailored message to a subgroup of a broader population on the basis of unique information about the subgroup. This technique is most commonly associated with election campaigns and includes direct marketing, data mining, and predictive market segmentation techniques.
  • Mixed reality: The merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects coexist and interact in real time, enabling users to view and manipulate these objects. Sometimes referred to as a combination of augmented and virtual reality.
  • Neoliberalism: An economic paradigm often associated with “laissez- faire” economic liberalism and free-market capitalism.
  • Platforms: Online frameworks for facilitating transactions, innovation, and collaborations, which have enabled new strategies for how businesses create, deliver, and capture value.
  • Precision services: Scalable customized knowledge-intensive services.
  • Prosumer: A customer that both produces and consumes a product or service, such as electricity or energy storage.
  • Resilience: Most famously, resilience is “a measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables” [232]. Resilience has also been referred to as the ability of a system to adapt to change, to recognize or anticipate risks and defend against them before adverse consequences occur, or as a paradigm for safety management [311].
  • Sharing economy: An economic model where peer-to-peer online platforms enable community-based acquisition, sales, and/or sharing of goods and services.
  • Societal systems: The many anthropogenic systems that together compose and underpin global human society, including, notably, our economic, governance, and cognitive systems.
  • Societal transformation: Fundamental changes in structural, functional, relational, and cognitive aspects of societal systems that lead to new patterns of interactions and outcomes.
  • Surveillance capitalism: A term popularized by Shoshana Zuboff and based on the premise that capitalism has become focused on collecting and processing data relating to a significantly expanded portion of society’s activities and people’s behaviour. Surveillance capitalism refers to the act of accruing a profit from free digital services by tracking and monitoring behaviour and selling this information (often without the explicit consent of users).
  • Systems approach: A change that influences the interactions and interlinkages between different components of one or multiple systems.
  • Transparent Supply Chains: Disclosure about social and environmental conditions of the supply chain and open information about buyers’ purchasing practices allow traceability.
  • Unprecedented transparency: A phrase used to describe actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational processes and data, making information publicly available and accessible.
  • Virtual reality: A simulated experience that enables users to view and move around in an artificial world (though this can mirror the real world) and interact with virtual features.

Futures CoLab exercise

To kick off the development of the D^2S Agenda, the team sought inputs from a broad diversity of experts on the systems keeping us on an unsustainable and inequitable development path and potential levers to disrupt these systems. This was done through a virtual deliberation exercise. Futures CoLab is a network of diverse international experts, a platform for online collaboration, and a process for asynchronous and facilitated dialogue. The goal of Futures CoLab is to enable experts from around the world to collectively explore solutions to global systemic challenges. Futures CoLab is a collaboration between Future Earth and the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

Process and participants

The Disrupting Systems for Global Sustainability exercise took place from March 4 to 24, 2019. 178 participants from 31 countries and a diversity of backgrounds were involved (see Figure A1). The two primary goals of the exercise were: (1) to characterize key systems that are sustaining our unsustainability; and (2) to identify disruptions to these systems and mechanisms through which new technologies and associated practices of the digital age could be leveraged to foster these disruptions.

In the first week, participants were asked to broadly identify systems that are preventing society from shifting to a more sustainable and equitable path. After these submissions were received, the Futures CoLab team used a natural language processing tool to suggest ways of grouping the identified systems. In the second week, participants shared ideas about potential disruptions that could lead to the unraveling of today’s unsustainable systems and enable the transformations necessary to steer the world toward sustainability. In the third and final week, participants voted on the disruptions they believed could have the most significant impact on enabling transformations towards sustainability. Throughout the exercise, participants were encouraged to engage in discussions by commenting on each others’ submissions. This deliberative process helpeds both to clarify and expand upon individual contributions while also contextualizing participants’ inputs.

Figure A1. Futures CoLab participants. Regional balance of participants in Futures CoLab: Disrupting systems for global sustainability.


Many of the issues highlighted in the Futures CoLab dialogues were linked broadly to systems of production and consumption, including emissions in urban and food systems, land use changes and trade, as well as issues with consumer behaviour. These were relatively unsurprising and align closely with the findings of the IPCC – for example, with the categories used in the IPCC Working Group III contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report to explain dominant sources of emissions [312].

A main message of the online dialogues was that underlying these systems of production and consumption, and maintaining unsustainable behaviour, were key social systems which need to be disrupted. Three systems emerged as responsible for reinforcing the rules, power structures, and mindsets that are keeping society on a carbon-intensive, biosphere-degrading, and vulnerable path: economic, governance, and cognitive systems. It became clear over the course of the exercise that finding levers to disrupt these three systems – not those physically contributing to GHG emissions but those underlying societal structures that drive emissions and reinforce unsustainability – will be critical in order to steer society onto a more equitable and sustainable path. This message formed a starting point for the development of the D^2S Agenda.

While the online dialogues did not delve into the technological aspects deeply, there were still indications of different types of digitally enabled capabilities with the potential to unleash transformative systems change. These discussions led to the development of the four digital disruptors identified in the D^2S Agenda.

More information can be found in the synthesis report Disrupting Systems for Global Sustainability, available online at

Partial list of Futures CoLab participants

Disrupting systems for global sustainability exercise
  • Dr. Noel M. Bakhtian, Center for Advanced Energy Studies
  • Brian Bauer, Algramo
  • Dr. Valérie Bécaert, Element AI
  • Petra Berg, University of Vaasa
  • Pernilla Bergmark, Ericsson
  • Prof. Anik Bhaduri, Griffith University
  • Dr. Austin Brown, U. of California, Davis
  • Prof. Michael Canva, Université de Sherbrooke
  • Mark Capron, OceanForesters, Inc.
  • Ann Cleaveland, Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity
  • Dr. Ferdouz V. Cochran, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Dr. Roger Cremades, Hemholz-Zentrum Geesthacht
  • Casey Cronin, ClimateWorks Foundation
  • Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, International Environment Forum
  • Prof. Maxime Darnon, Université de Sherbrooke
  • Dr. Peter Denton,
  • Dr. Peter Elias, University of Lagos
  • Alisa Ferguson, Energy Consumer Market Alignment Project
  • Anna Ferretto, University of Aberdeen
  • Owen Gaffney, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • Dr. Ajay Gambhir, Imperial College London
  • Prof. Bruce Goldstein, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Dr. Dan Hammer, Earthrise Alliance
  • Dr. Adam Hejnowicz, York University
  • Lauren Hermanus, Adapt
  • Prof. Cecilia Hidalgo, Universidad de Buenos Aires
  • Dr. Colin Hill, WeatherForce
  • Prof. Matthew Hoffman, University of Toronto
  • Prof. Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald, Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica
  • Prof. Carol Hunsberger, University of Western Ontario
  • Jimmy Jia, The Jia Group
  • Dr. Joni Jupesta, PT SMART Tbk
  • James King, Oxford University
  • Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh
  • Prof. Teresa Kramarz, University of Toronto
  • David Lam, Leuphana University Lüneburg
  • Amy Larkin, Nature Means Business Dr. Mats Linder, MLSH Consulting
  • Dr. Sasha Luccioni, Mila
  • Dr. Christopher Lyon, University of Leeds
  • Lesedi Madi, Knowledge Pele
  • Eirini Malliaraki, The Alan Turing Institute
  • Gavin McCormick, WattTime
  • Dr. Heather McShane, McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative
  • Colin McQuistan, Practical Action
  • Dr. Nezha Mejjad, Université Hassan II de Casablanca
  • Douglas Miller, Energy Web
  • Dr. Susanne Moser, Susanne Moser Research & Consulting
  • Kathryn Myronuk, Singularity University Dr. Kapil Narula, University of Geneva
  • Prof. Carlos Nobre, National Institute for Space Research; WRI Brazil
  • Dr. Deborah O’Connell, CSIRO
  • Dr. Vincent Ogutu, Strathmore University
  • Dr. Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre
  • Dr. Richard Pagett, FutureStates Alexandre Gellert Paris, UNFCCC
  • Dr. Laura Pereira, City University London
  • Kelsey Perlman, Fern
  • Elizabeth Renieris, Harvard University
  • Prof. Chris Riedy, University of Technology Sydney
  • Louis Roy, Optel Group
  • Aditi Sahay, European Climate Foundation
  • Alicia Seiger, Stanford Law School
  • Dr. Viktoria Spaiser, University of Leeds
  • Dr. Laurent Spreutels, National Research Council Canada
  • Prof. Robin Teigland, Chalmers University of Technology
  • Dr. Dave Thau, WWF
  • Guillaume Thfoin, Majid Al Futtaim Holding
  • Brad Townsend, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
  • Prof. Aradhna E. Tripati, UCLA
  • Shafqat Ullah, Sourcevo Innovations
  • Natalia Vasquez, IDEO
  • Anique Vered, anique vered consultation and research practice
  • Dr. Steve Waddell, SDG Transformations Forum
  • Ambreen Waheed, Responsible Business Initiative
  • Prof. Gina Ziervogel, University of Cape Town


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