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Digital and Sustainable Europe

The Digital and Sustainable Europe stream investigates the digital revolution and its important implications in terms of industrial dynamics and company strategies, as well as in terms of enabling sustainability. In this context, it also looks at the recent regulatory changes occurring at the EU level in relation to competition and privacy in the digital markets, and it studies the potential of digital technologies to facilitate the transition towards a low carbon circular economy.

The research unit will target the relationship between the emergence and diffusion of digital technologies and the transition of Europe towards a green, low carbon economy. Digital technologies are important drivers of energy efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, but the process of digitalization also raises important challenges such as data security, privacy, resource efficiency and increased energy consumption.
The ICT industry has transformed the way we interact, communicate and work, uncovering opportunities to reduce human impact on nature. E-commerce and tele/smart-working have reduced the need for traveling and hence the emission of greenhouse gases. Wireless sensors and monitoring technologies have triggered the development of smart grids, smart homes and smart buildings that optimize energy management. Other environmental benefits from ICTs concern improved energy efficiency in the manufacturing, distribution and use of ICT products; reduced carbon emissions from renewable energy for production and use; a more efficient manufacturing and waste disposal or life-cycle management; new ways of managing firm processes throughout the value chain; the development of new business models. However, there is still no consensus about the real impact of these technologies on sustainability. While some scholars highlight the ability of ICTs to improve energy efficiency and reduce renewable energy costs, others focus on the strong connection between the diffusion of ICTs and economic growth, which might even increase energy use and carbon emissions.
The research projects will deal with this complex relationship by developing projects at different levels of analysis: company strategies, sectoral dynamics and regulation.

CURRENT PROJECTS

The complementarity between digitalization and sustainability strategies in European firms

Nicoletta Corrocher, Bocconi University

The relationship between digitalization and sustainability is of great interest not only to scholars, but also to policy makers. In particular, there is a growing interest in understanding whether digitalization helps or hinders the process of sustainable growth at the firm, sector and country level. This project aims to investigate the interplay between digitalization and sustainability strategies in European firms, by looking at the possible complementarities of the two strategies and at their impact on company productivity. The analysis will also examine in depth the reasons behind the adoption of the two strategies.

The Digital Trade Integration project

Laurent Manderieux, Bocconi University

The Digital Trade Integration project aims to launch a network on digital trade which will work toward the creation of (1) a dataset of digital trade restrictions and (2) an index of digital trade integration. Digital trade has risen to the top of the European and international policy agenda given its sharp increase over the past decade and the sensitivity arising from related issues such as privacy, cybersecurity, freedom of expression, censorship, hate speech and disinformation. Countries are still struggling to find the balance between economic and non-economic objectives, and this project aims to shed light on this discussion. The areas covered, in which Europe is a key player, span tariffs and trade defense measures, taxation and subsidies, public procurement, digital infrastructure, and regulatory policies towards foreign investment, as well as IPRs, competition policy, business mobility, domestic and cross-border data flow policies, intermediate liability, content access, quantitative restrictions, technical standards, and online sales. Using the collected data, an index will be developed to allow for comparisons across countries and assessment of changes in policy over time.

"We Are Not Stella McCartney": Non-Maximizing Approaches to Social and Environmental Dimensions in Corporate Sustainability

Nicola Misani, Bocconi University

“Triple-bottom-line" logic implies that sustainable firms should perform on multiple dimensions. However, trade-offs and externalities prevent firms from maximizing the three dimensions at the same time, at least in the short term. This project assumes that most firms prioritize profits and adopt alternative non-maximizing approaches to the environmental and social dimensions. These approaches can take a variety of forms – decision heuristics, constrained optimization, satisficing, and so on. We use corporate text (such as conference calls, letters to shareholders, or financial reports) and natural-language processing to explore the alternative approaches adopted by firms and study the conditions under which they emerge.