How can the transformational power of the digital transformation be leveraged for sustainable development? The emerging research field «Information and Communication Technology for Sustainability (ICT4S)» aims to answer this question by combining knowledge and methods from various disciplines.

Lorenz M. Hilty and Bernard Aebischer (2015): ICT for Sustainability: An Emerging Research Field

The ISR group at the University of Zurich focuses on the following four research areas. Each research area forms a project line that evolves over time.  

Research Areas

Klick on the area title to see projects, related publications and media response.

The footprint of digital technologies

Digital technologies have made enormous progress in energy efficiency and miniaturization. Because the ICT sector has been growing even faster than the resource efficiency of its technology, the overall footprint of data centers, network infrastructure and end-user devices is still increasing. How can we measure and reduce the footprint of ICT?

Project Links

LIFESAVING: Extending the lifespan of mobile devices (NRP 73, with ZHAW) ongoing


Sources of Variation in the Life Cycle Assessment of Smartphones and Tablets (with University of Namur)

Contact: Lorenz Hilty​​​​​​​

Main article (2020)

Sustainable Software Design: Developing Criteria for Resource-efficient Software (with Leuphana University of Lüneburg, University of Applied Sciences Trier, German Environment Agency)

Final report 

Contact: Lorenz Hilty​​​​​​​

Main article (2018)
Press release

Critical Metals in Electronic Equipment: A methodology to model end-user stocks and flows (with Empa and TU Clausthal)

Final PhD thesis

Contact: Lorenz Hilty​​​​​​​

Main article (2018)

Green Software: Optimizing software development and deployment for resource conservation (with Empa, IZT Berlin, Borderstep Institute, German Environment Agency)

Final report

Contact: Lorenz Hilty​​​​​​​


Measuring the Energy Consumption of the Internet (with Empa, SWITCH, Cisco)

Contact: Lorenz Hilty

Main article (2013)

Methods article (2014)

Pathways to a sustainable digital society

The digital transformation is changing our patterns of production and consumption. How can we assess these changes with regard to sustainable production and consumption? And how can we support the societal discourse on opportunities and risks of digital technologies?

Project Links

The Digital Sharing Economy and Sustainability ongoing

Contact: Maria J. Pouri

Project page

Latest journal article (2021)

DESRIST conference (2020)

ICT4S conference (2020)

EnviroInfo conference (2018)

Next generation mobile networks – Problem or solution for climate protection? (with Empa, Swisscom, Swisscleantech)

Final report

Contact: Lorenz Hilty

Newspaper article (2020)

Wenn Algorithmen für uns entscheiden: die Herausforderungen der künstlichen Intelligenz (with DSI, Empa, TA-SWISS)

Final report (open access book)

Contact: Clemens Mader

Project page 

Media article

Using a Time Use Approach to Understand the Impact of Digitalization on the Energy Intensity of Lifestyles

Final Phd thesis

Contact: Jan Bieser

Latest article (2021)

Conference paper (2018)

Conference paper (2019)

Opportunities and Risks of Digitalization for Climate Protection in Switzerland (with WWF, Swisscom)

Final report

Contact: Jan Bieser


Removing Barriers to Videoconferencing as a Means of Reducing CO2 Emissions

Background report

Contact: Lorenz Hilty

Series of case studies

Modelling and simulation for sustainability

Computer-based modelling and simulation methods have been used for decades to improve the understanding of complex systems, from early socio-economic "System Dynamics" models to models of social metabolism (Material-Flow Analysis, MFA) and Agent-Based Models (ABM). How can we apply and improve modelling and simulation methods to support education, systems thinking and decision-making for sustainability? 

Project Links

Post-fossil Cities: Developing a simulation game to find pathways to the post-fossil Swiss city (NRP 73, with Empa, NTNU Trondheim, UCS Zurich) ongoing

Contact: João Gonçalves

Project website (SNF)

Project website

EnviroInfo Conference (2020/2021)

SIMULTECH conference (2019)

An Agent-based Model of Wood Markets in Switzerland (with WSL)

Final PhD thesis

Main article (2019)

DPMFA: Dynamic Probabilistic Material Flow Modelling (with Empa)
Final PhD thesis

Main article (2017)

Exploring the Effects of ICT on Environmental Sustainability: From life cycle assessment to complex systems modeling (with KTH Stockholm)

Final PhD thesis

Main article (2016)

Supporting sustainable development with data and tools

Data and software tools supporting discourse and decision-making provide great opportunities for sustainable development. How can we exploit bid data, machine learning and interactive tools for sustainable development?

Project Links

LOTA: Landscape of Opinions for Technology Assessment – A method and a software tool to support participatory Technology Assessment processes (with Empa) ongoing

Contact: Clemens Mader

Initial article (2019, in German)

Conference presentation (in English)

SafeConsume: Change consumer behavior to reduce exposure to hazards and decrease risk through effective and convenient tools and products, information strategies, education, and inclusive food safety policy (EU Horizon 2020, with 32 partners in 14 countries) ongoing

Contact: Joachim Scholderer

Project website

Food Price Volatility: Political Causes, Effects on Hunger and Poverty, Sustainable Solutions (SNIS, with CCRS, ETHZ, Helvetas, University of Berne, UN-FAO, DEZA)

Contact: Matthias Huss

Project website

Journal article (2018)

Media article (2018)

GARUSO: Stakeholder Participation Beyond Organizational Limits (with Empa)
Final PhD thesis

Book chapter (2015)