Yale University

To generate novel research and advance a multi-disciplinary research network that increases understanding of the energy and environmental impacts of the digital economy

  • Amount $599,903
  • City New Haven, CT
  • Investigator Reid Lifset
  • Year 2021
  • Program Research
  • Sub-program Energy and Environment

Digital technology developments—including new technologies such as blockchain and the Internet of Things, and behavioral shifts like the rise in digital platform use—can have profound implications for energy and the environment. In 2018, the Foundation supported an emerging effort to study these impacts, and this grant supports the continuation and expansion of this network. Led by Reid Lifset at Yale University, Jordan Diamond at the University of California, Berkeley, and Kasantha Moodley and Dave Rejeski at the Environmental Law Institute, this research network is now known as the Network for Digital Economy and Environment (nDEE). Having already explored the direct effects of digital technologies on energy and the environment, they will now conduct research projects to explore the indirect effects of these digital technologies on energy systems. Three specific research projects will be supported at the outset, with a process designed to further source additional research ideas. The first project will study how the rise of short-term rental services like Airbnb is impacting carbon emissions. The direct effects on emissions through, say, increasing tourism, are well documented, but there are also indirect effects to consider, such as increased travel from Airbnb locations that may be located at the outskirt of cities, thereby increasing overall emissions. The second project will look at the energy implications of product returns. Many product life-cycle analysis calculations stop short of assessing what happens when a product is returned to the seller, and this analysis does not continue to follow a returned product’s continuing environmental impact beyond that point. The third project will seek to design improved personal environmental footprint calculators that integrate robust privacy preserving features. While exploring indirect effects is more challenging than exploring direct effects, completing this work will improve our understanding of how the digital economy contributes to global carbon emissions and what steps we might take toward reducing its impact.

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