Application of big data methods in sustainability science discussed in a workshop

Big data and increasing computing power can contribute to more sophisticated monitoring and modeling to address sustainability challenges and enable more informed decision-making. For instance, ecological monitoring towards resource optimisation, environmental risk assessment, and real-time reporting and assessment of environmental quality indicators are domains where big data is increasingly used. At the same time, environmental social scientists are discovering the potential of text data mining to gain insights in framing and narrative aspects of sustainability transitions.

Much of the work is still at an experimental stage, however, and there are no detailed guidelines for applying these methods and understanding their limitations. As part of the spring 2019 Sustainability Science Days, Daria Gritsenko, Polina Rozenshtein, Dalia D’Amato and Karoliina Isoaho organised a workshop titled Big data methods: what is the contribution to Sustainability Science? The idea was to invite scholars and practitioners to inquire and discuss the validity, meaning, policy relevance and governance consequences of big data methods in sustainability science.

The invited guest speaker in the event was Dr. Sanja Šćepanović from the Social Dynamics team of Nokia Bell Labs in Cambridge. She talked about two lines of her past and current research that tackle sustainability challenges from different angles. On the one hand, she is interested in individual behavioural change and involved in a project where teams from several EU universities are investigating how to involve and encourage citizens for more efficient energy consumption. On the other hand, increasingly available satellite imagery facilitates understanding of larger scale phenomena and can support sustainable urban development.

The thematic focus of the Sustainability Science Days 2019 was on sustainable production and consumption. During two days this challenge was approached via scientific debate and popular discussion events. The conference was organised jointly by Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) and Aalto Sustainability Hub (ASH).