Software for sustainable development and innovation

Software for sustainable development and innovation

This EiT village will run as an international village. The aim is to increase understanding about the relation between software and the UN sustainable development goals.


The goal is to establish new knowledge about opportunities and challenges posed by the rapidly accelerating pace of technological advances and how they impact the economic, political, environmental, social and technological aspects of society.

Currently, software pervades all aspects of society, environment, and human life. As such, software science overlaps with a set of disciplines including other subdisciplines of Computing and Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Social Sciences, and Ethics. Studies, theories, practices exist at the intersection between computer science and the single disciplines, but a holistic theory of the intersection between software engineering, technological trends, and sustainability does not exist.

The village will attract and motivate students from several disciplines that are needed to understand the challenges.

Results will be empirical studies, stories, new prototypes focusing on one or several of the 17 UN goals for sustainability from a computer science perspective. Each team will be challenged to come with new ideas and contributions in the intersection between the UN sustainability goals and software technology as a major enabler of our society in a foreseeable future.

Challenge 1 – The current IT theories, models, tools do not address SDG goals for better society

The United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development was unanimously adopted by all its 193 heads of member states or their representatives. The agenda consists of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets. Sustainability puts emphasis on managing and promoting socioeconomic development with full consideration of ecological limits. Fundamentally, sustainability seeks to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental dimensions, creating inclusive societies. While unfortunately not even one of the SDGs is dedicated to software, software has enormous impact on sustainability. The SDGs encompass goals as diverse as no poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), reduced inequalities (SDG 10), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), life below water (SDG 14), life on land (SDG 15), peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16) and partnerships for the goals (SDG 17). Reaching these ambitious goals, requires fundamental changes in the consumption, provision and delivering of goods and services, including e.g. food, water, education, healthcare, work, energy, housing and mobility. A concrete example of how software influence sustainability is Airbnb, a piece of software including resources consumed and jobs created during its development, energy consumed during its deployment, and the room renting and booking services it offers. Other examples are AI-based diagnostic that saves many lives. However, at the same time AI uses considerably more energy. Can we have AI software that uses less energy?

Software engineering has traditionally focused on software performance, maintainability, software cost, and development speed to keep the pace of hardware development for the benefit of the industry and business. The current state of software propels unsustainable energy use and is based on increasing use of non-renewable resources. Software development and software use are strongly inter-related.

There are many examples of software that significantly contribute to achieve SDGs.

A central challenge to sustainable development, in particular SDGs 3, 9, and 17 is the fight against epidemics. Modern ICT devices particularly designed to fight epidemics such as Ebola and to improve the health and wellbeing of patients include wearable patient sensors allowing for remote monitoring and analysing of activities. Software can contribute to the incredibly difficult task of ending poverty by providing and promoting resource management systems. These software-based systems play a critical role in the delivery of food, medicine and disaster relief in particular in less developed countries and during natural hazards such as during the COVID-19 outbreak. Recently, children are spending a lot more time online for school. Being connected helps children and adults to education (SDG 4) reduce the impact of this new (temporary) normal and encourages them to continue with their lives. SDG 5: Gender equality mentions in Target 5.b: “Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.

Challenge 2 – Establishing mechanisms to address current and future technology trends

Many trends are competing for an organisation’s attention – be it a company, a public authority, a non-government organization. Without a pro-active and orchestrated management of these trends, it will be increasingly difficult to adequately address existing challenges to introduce new of ways of working. There is no choice of not adopting new and emerging trends in the software industry. Earlier or later every organisation needs to decide how to address the emerging trends strategically and organisationally. As software is a crucial element to any new technological trend, it is essential that organisations developing software are also prepared to accommodate any trend that comes to the software industry.

The scenario for software development nowadays is very different from early 2000s. The focus in the last 20 years has been on accelerating the software development for building large and complex systems. Now the challenges have shifted. For example, the latest trend to hit the software industry is around integrating artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities based on advances in machine learning. AI broadly includes technologies for reasoning, problem solving, planning, and learning. As companies and public departments seek to make us of vast volumes of data, they are experimenting and prototyping with a range of AI initiatives. Unfortunately, research shows that the transition from prototype to industry-strength, production-quality deployment of machine learning models proves to be challenging for many companies. Problems such as understandability, explainability and ethical considerations during development are increasing.

The advancement of AI risks diminishing progress toward the UN SDGs in several key target areas, and this risk is enhanced in the developing world. The study reported in Vinuesa et al. (2020) provides evidence to the fact that AI can enable the accomplishment of 134 targets across all the goals, but it may also inhibit 59 targets.

Vinuesa, R., Azizpour, H., Leite, I., Balaam, M., Dignum, V., Domisch, S., Felländer, A., Langhans, S. D., Tegmark, M., & Fuso Nerini, F. (2020). The role of artificial intelligence in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Nature Communications, 11(1), 233.

Relevant competency

The goal is to create teams of students with multidisciplinary profiles, who will be able to understand and address societal challenges through collaborative thinking. In particular we look for students with background in the following disciplines and not only:

  • Computer Science including Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering

  • Medicine

  • Health and social studies

  • Social sciences

  • Psychology

  • Teacher Education

  • Architecture and Art

  • Social economics


31 aug 2020

Fakta om landsbyen - TDT4850

Course Code: TDT4850
Village name: Software for sustainable development and innovation
Type: Semester-based
Language: English
Leader: Letizia Jaccheri
Semester: Spring 2021

Important information about EiT:

Important information about EiT:

  • The focus on teamwork skills and group processes is the unique feature of Experts in Teamwork (EiT).
  • EiT's teaching methods depend on the contribution and presence of every participant throughout the semester. For this reason, attendance is compulsory on every village day.
  • In contrast to many courses, the first few days are especially important in EiT. During this period, the team members get to know each other and discuss what each individual can contribute. You will also draw up the compulsory cooperation agreement and start preparing a shared research question.
  • For additional information about Experts in Teamwork, see the page for students.