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Socio-technical Systems Theory and Environmental Sustainability

Catherine Dwyer
Pace University, USA

This paper argues for the relevance and utility of socio-technical systems theory for designing solutions to the challenges we face from climate change and managing the impact of human activity on the environment. Socio-technical systems theory defines systems as a collection of messy, complex, problem-solving components. This paper identifies two elements of socio-technical systems theory most relevant to encouraging environmental sustainability. The first is the concept of a system goal and its impact on the activities of the system. The current goal of our global economy is ever increasing consumption. Therefore we need to redirect the goal towards environmentally sustainable development. The second element identified is the role of the feedback loop, which provides information that compares the actual outcome of the system to the desired system goal. This paper presents an example of effective feedback mechanisms, illustrated by the work of OPOWER, which offers energy efficiency and smart grid technology services. This paper argues that a socio-technical approach to the problem of environmental sustainability will lead to better outcomes. IS professionals therefore have a critical skill set, a fluency with socio-technical concepts as well as systems design, that can be applied to the creation of information systems in support of environmental sustainability.

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Reference:Dwyer, C. (2011). "Socio-technical Systems Theory and Environmental Sustainability," Proceedings > Proceedings of SIGGreen Workshop . Sprouts: Working Papers on Information Systems, 11(3). http://sprouts.aisnet.org/11-3
Keywords:Green IS Frameworks, Green IS Solutions Science
Item Type:Article - Volume 11 Article 3 (2011)
Email: Catherine Dwyer (cdwyer@pace.edu)

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