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The project

Digital, artifical intelligence and data-driven technologies (DAID) have the potential to make a profound impact on human health, not only by providing tools for healthcare delivery, clinical support and biomedical research, but also by making systems more efficient and environmentally sustainable. At the same time, the pace of artificial intelligence (AI) development is staggering and the databases supporting such technologies have important environmental impacts: their heavy energy requirements contribute to high carbon dioxide emissions, and the reliance on minerals to develop their technological components often implies unsustainable and/or toxic mineral extraction and e-waste disposal. While improvements in energy efficiency and the move to renewable energy are underway, the pace of innovation could lead to a situation in which renewable energy sources are over-burdened, bringing to increases in non-renewable energy consumption. With concerns about climate change at their highest, it is timely and urgent to consider the environmental footprint of these technologies through responsible innovation processes.

This research strand aims at exploring the ethical aspects and implications in relation to the environmental sustainability of digital, AI and data driven technologies.

This area is inherently interdisciplinary. These are some of the questions we are dealing with:

  • How to balance the trade-offs between DAID technologies benefits and environmental drawbacks?
  • How does our knowledge and available data on environmental impacts of DAID technologies affect our ethical framing of the issue?
  • Given that mineral extraction and e-waste practices often affect most disadvantaged populations, how to tackle issues of environmental justice in relation to issues of data justice?
  • What are legitimate policy tools to govern this area in a democratic way?
  • How has the policy narrative around digital sustainability changed over time and what have been the implications of this change?
  • What is the public perception and understanding of the environmental sustainability of DAID technologies?
  • How can the principles of Responsible Innovation be brought into industry to foster greater commitment to sustainability?



To address these questions (and generate new ones) we engage in several activities:

  • we are conducting empirically grounded research;
  • we are establishing a network of academics that are interested in these issues from different disciplinary perspectives;
  • we are in the process of setting up a seminar series ‘Ethics, Data, AI and Sustainability’. Please watch our events page for any updates on this.

Past activities:

  • Digital pollution: environmental sustainability of the digital revolution. One-day workshop, bringing together academics across many disciplines to discuss issues, form collaborations for further research. 13 May 2020. Access the workshop output online.
    Participants: Federica Lucivero, Gabrielle Samuel, Gordon Blair, Sarah Darby, Tina Fawcett, Mike Hazas, Marina Jirotka, Mike Parker, Carolyn Ten Holter, Helena Webb, Hang Yuan


Contact us

For more information about this research cluster and relevant activities please contact Federica Lucivero at

Follow the project on Twitter: @DigitalSustain3



Photo by NASA on Unsplash.

Research Team

Federica Lucivero

Senior Researcher in Data and Ethics, Ethox Centre and Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford

Federica Lucivero - Associate Professor

Gabrielle Samuel

Senior Research Fellow, Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford


Gabrielle Samuel_KCL SSPP Headshots 2018 0393_square.jpg

Advisory Board

Alexander Taylor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Beth Whitehead, Operational Intelligence

Caitlin McElroy, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford

Gordon Blair, School of Computing and Communications, Lancaster University

Marina Jirotka, Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford

Michael Parker, Ethox Centre and Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford


Lucivero F and Samuel G. Digital Pollution: Exploring epistemic material and normative challenges of knowledge production and circulation, in 4S/EASTT. 2020: Prague.

Lucivero F. Data (un)Sustainability: Exploring challenges and opportunities for a sustainable digital revolution in healthcare, Hot Topics Seminar Series, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, Oxford.


Lucivero F (PI), Samuel G (CI). Digital Sustainability: Exploring ethical challenges and opportunities for a sustainable digital revolution. British Academy small research grants scheme. UK. £9,566.14.

Related research themes