Information Systems Applied to Sustainability Assessment
Sustainable development is a dynamic balance between three types of goals: economic, social, and environmental. The economic dimension is economic growth that is not inhibited, but stimulated by increased efficiency and technological progress. The social dimension is an improvement in the quality of life. The environmental dimension is elimination of harmful effects of human activity. Information systems for computer-based assessment of sustainable development are a collection of components that work together to collect data in a sustainable way (input), change their content and shape (processing), transmit data and information in a sustainable way (output), as well as provide feedback, in order to achieve the intended goal, taking into account social, economic, and environmental aspects (Figure 5.5).
The static approach presented herein defines a multi-level structure that allows the system user to process sustainable input information into the desired output information using appropriate procedures and models w-ith a balance between these components. The dynamic approach, on the other hand, defines the information system based on the structure of the sphere of real processes and the sphere of sustainable management processes.
In the concept of sustainable development, it becomes necessary to know the sources of the information flow between the economy, the society, and the
FIGURE 5.5 Components of a sustainable information system. (Own work.) environment, and, above all, to make the information channels more unobstructed. Omissions and gaps in the flow of information lead to conflicts and errors, the consequence of which is usually the deterioration of the quality of a product or a service.
Sustainable economic growth depends on the profitability of organizations and on maximum use of human resources, raw materials, and financial resources, as well as on proper adaptation of projects to needs, sustainable effective management, and sustainable planning and control. Sustainable social development depends on the perception of the needs of the entire society. Sustainable environmental development, on the other hand, requires safe use of natural resources and avoidance of environmental degradation (Abidin and Pasquire 2007: 277).
An environmental information system must contain data that reflects the phenomena taking place throughout the system and should follow the common scheme used to investigate the problem, referred to as a DPSIR. DPSIR is a model based on the relationship between the drivers (D), the pressure exerted on the environment (P), the state (S), the impact on health and environment (I), and the responses (R). This model contains (Figure 5.6):
- • information about the drivers;
- • information about the pressure exerted on the environment;
- • information about the state of the environment;
- • information about the impact of the environment on health and development; and
- • information about the social responses to the phenomena taking place.
Environmental information systems can be classified into two groups (Sej-Kolaska 2002):
- • traditional systems, which are large databases that contain information on specific topics, without relationship to space;
- • systems based on the GIS technology (geographical information system) - the data collected in the systems is spatial in nature (it refers to space).
FIGURE 5.6 Information in the DPSIR model. (Own work based on Krupanek 2004.)
Standard systems are data banks that contain a variety of data, not only data related to environmental protection. They operate in various government agencies, banks, and institutions.
The best developed information system is currently the business information system. which is the most advanced tool for collecting, processing, and sharing information. This is undoubtedly due to the globalization of the economy, which creates the need for quick and effective decision-making. This system allows users to ask interactive questions, analyze spatial information, and edit data on maps.
Another group of information systems for assessment of sustainable development in the social dimension should be applications that will contribute to the creation of an information society, taking into account the growing importance of information resources among all social goods, greater access to information, changing social preferences, and changes involving unlimited communication. The complexity of the socio-economic system that results from sustainability depends on the individual subsystems that constitute its parts, the inter-relationships between its components, and the pace of change. Since the social system and the economic system are closely interlinked, they are usually analyzed together. Changes in the social system affect the economic system and vice versa, so they can be direct or indirect.
An extremely important feature of information systems is the possibility of their integration, which can take place on tw'o levels: inside the organization and outside, by connecting the internal systems of a given organization with systems located in their surroundings (Kolbusz 2005). The intensive development of information systems makes them applicable in every area of economic activity. However, in order for management to be comprehensive and seamless, they should not only apply to one system. This would create the need for systems that integrate data processing throughout the organization. Functional and physical integration are two types of information system integration. Integration on the functional level allows all functions to be used, thanks to a single, properly selected interface. On the other hand, integration on the physical level takes place during a complex combination of components of integrated IT systems in the software and hardware area (Kolbusz 2005). Full integration is only possible with modular systems that guarantee preservation of elements of sustainable development (Figure 5.7).
Today, as a result of the globalization of business activity and the increasing capacities of advanced information technologies, integration between organizations is becoming increasingly important for sustainable development. Integration of IT systems of many organizations (external integration) is possible through the development of the Internet. In order to introduce selected concepts and instruments of environmental protection for sustainable development in a company in an effective and targeted manner, technical information support systems are used. The best support is provided by systems that provide information on the state of the environment used in a company (BUIS). The BUIS system enables targeted formulation, control, and determination of values, as well as presentation of data relevant for environmental protection in a company (Arndt 2013). Some authors treat BUIS systems and eco- controlling as synonyms. The authors of the book interpret the BUIS system more broadly as any IT solution that is used in a company to compare data on the environmental impact of its activities, thus supporting various and complex tasks related to
FIGURE 5.7 Sustainable development in terms of modular systems use. (Own work based on Kolbusz 2005.)
environmental protection and eco-controlling (Isenmann and Rautenstrauch 2007). BUIS systems are therefore responsible for the exchange of data and information in three areas: company, electronic data processing, and environmental protection. Furthermore, they can contribute to integration of environmental protection in certain areas of a company’s activity, such as sustainable sourcing, sustainable production, etc. (Moller and Schaltegger 2012). However, the choice of a BUIS system is also determined by the selected supporting instrument. In addition to a quantitative depiction of materials and energy flows, individual BUIS systems (e.g. Audit® and Umberto®) offer a graphical presentation in the form of so-called program operation images, as shown in Figure 5.8 and enable identification of complex structures and relationships between processes. Based on the amount of materials and energy, calculations or simulations can be performed. The result often takes the form of environmental balance sheets. In addition to the amount of materials and energy, the associated costs can also be presented graphically. Figure 5.9 shows, using the example of the Umberto® software, the distribution of the costs of materials and energy, as well as other cost components, in the form of a Sankey diagram. The width of the
FIGURE 5.8 Depiction of program operation in the Umberto software. (Own work based on Brzozowska. Bubel and Pabian 2015.)
FIGURE 5.9 An environmental balance sheet in the Umberto® software. (Own work based on Brzozowska. Bubel and Pabian 2015.)
FIGURE 5.10 Benefits of implementation of a BUIS system. (Own work based on Brzozowska. Bubel and Pabian 2015.)
arrow indicates the size of the cost, while the colors of the arrows indicate the type of material or energy. In addition, individual BUIS systems (e.g. Umsys® software) contain geo-information modules that present environmental data in map-based geoinformation systems to provide insight into the most common data volumes. This allows the user to quickly find out where, with what results, and what sampling has been carried out in the company or where the various waste treatment plants store waste (Solsbach, Lipnitskaya and van Vliet 2013). Moreover, implementation of a BUIS system brings the following benefits (Junker 2013) (Figure 5.10).
However, these requirements are contrary to the estimation of the costs of their use, e.g. with regard to completeness of data presentation, which relativizes the firm nature of the requirements.
Companies that care about the environment get better business results (Brzozowska, Kalinichenko and Minkova 2015: 7-29). IT is nowadays an excellent instrument for implementing sustainable development strategies. Sustainable development enables cost reduction, generates new revenue streams, improves the competitive position, and at the same time reduces the ecological footprint, i.e., the use of natural environmental resources.
The Relationship Between Information Systems, Project Management Systems, and Sustainable Development Features
Technical and information systems are an extremely important component of support for environmental management in a company. There are many different options for their implementation that perform multiple functions, which, when considered in relation to the effects of implementation of systems that provide information about the state of the environment in a company, strongly emphasize the typical areas of their application in environmental management, with particular emphasis on the assessment of their practical significance.
Implementation of IT systems used for project management in terms of sustainability is a very important stage in the whole process of creation of effective operation of companies. Knowledge of software packages, the directions of their progress, and the areas in which they can be used is the main decision factor in implementing such systems.
IT systems were initially developed mainly for specific organizations or specific computer hardware makers. They were intended to improve the level of management of the core business. The dynamic development in the field of IT applications for management purposes has contributed to the creation of highly specialized software packages that support more and more management areas. In terms of the management areas they support, the systems are divided into: partial systems (so-called segmented systems), systems that covering one area, and systems that cover many areas, as shown in Figure 5.11.
Project management requires appropriate skills and tools, and consequently: sustainable management of the project plan, sustainable management of project execution, sustainable project risk management, sustainable project quality management, and reporting on project progress. IT is an industry that bases its activity primarily on execution of projects, and the products created in this industry are the result of specific projects (Parsons 2002) (Figure 5.12).
The ever-growing importance of sustainable development contributes to the growing importance of project management issues, especially in the IT sector. The classification of IT projects is shown in Figure 5.13.
FIGURE 5.11 Division of management IT systems. (Own work based on Krupanek 2004.)
The civilizational changes taking place in the society require a continuous increase in the level of computerization in all branches of the economy (Ziemba 2013: 401). Organizations, which operate in an ever-changing environment, are forced to seek new solutions that will increase their competitiveness in the marketplace and create the conditions for greater financial benefits. Priority should be given to use of modern information technologies, which contribute to the generation of specific gains.
FIGURE 5.12 Unique characteristics of IT projects. (Own work based on Parsons 2002.)
FIGURE 5.13 Classification of IT projects. (Own work based on Frqczkowski 2003.)
These technologies should be environmentally friendly and their actions should be aimed at reducing the negative impact of the civilizational evolution on the environment and at rational and sustainable use of resources (Piaczek 2012: 83).
Development in practically every area of life depends on implementation of new information technologies. Computerization provides access to almost all areas of social life and eliminates digital exclusion. The modern civilization is increasingly trying to implement the vision of a sustainable information society and sustainable development aims to create a vision of civilization that is oriented towards achieving specific economic, social, and environmental goals (Hilty and Hercheui 2010: 227-235).
An inseparable component of sustainable development is information technologies that change the way information is transmitted, processed, and collected, and have a significant impact on the economic, social, and environmental balance (Szkudlarek and Milczarek 2014: 232). As mentioned earlier, the concept of sustainable development is based on minimal interference with the resources of the natural environmental and their rational use. Since it is very important for the environment to survive in the best possible condition for future generations, the current population should take care of it, so as not to cause loss and damage (Gechev 2005: 1). The concept of sustainable development in the period of globalization and rapid growth is more and more willingly implemented and becomes a vision of the development of a wealthy society (Adamczak and Nitkiewicz 2007: 14). Human activities contribute to pollution. This applies to air, water, and soil. In order to minimize the effects of such activities, modern IT solutions are used to support sustainable development. Computerization can only have a positive impact on sustainable development if it determines the negative impact and only those projects that are sustainable will bring benefits to the society. Therefore, the most important tasks are those that ensure (Szkudlarek and Milczarek 2014: 235):
- • sustainable but constant monitoring of energy consumption;
- • minimized energy consumption in buildings; and
- • integrated sustainable management of project processes.
Computerization and implementation of IT technologies are the basic assumptions for the development of the economy and the society in the area of innovative forms of management (Abramowicz 2013). The relationship between them is shown in Figure 5.14.
In modern times, distance is not an obstacle to transmitting any information, which is one of the most valuable resources. The society in the era of computerization and development of information technologies is more and more often referred to as information society, where information is the most important element of activity in the economic and social spheres and the changes taking place in them. Nowadays, it is increasingly common for all information (such as image, sound, etc.) to be saved and quickly shared through a computing cloud and this aspect should be used in and implemented for project management, especially in the context of sustainable development. Thanks to computerization, economic and social capital should also be built efficiently.
The idea of sustainable development also involves use of the available resources to achieve efficiency, savings, and effectiveness, while avoiding a harmful impact on the environment. Sustainability plays a major role in almost all areas of life. The contemporary development of technologies involves constantly new and improved forms of information circulation and IT systems. Computerization also plays an important role in sustainable development, including its three main aspects. In social terms, it facilitates communication, in economic terms, it helps minimize costs and save time, and in environmental terms, it saves natural resources.
Flow of information is one of the most important factors that determine the level of socio-economic development. Competent and effective information management
FIGURE 5.14 The relationship between information systems. IT systems, and computer systems. (Own work based on Florek and Klimasara 2003.) in the area of the economy, the society, and the environment is the starting point for efficient, sustainable, and long-term development in a knowledge-based economy.
To sum up the discussion concerning project management in the concept of sustainable development in terms of IT, it should be stated that (Brzozowska, El. Emary and Bubel 2020: 40):
- • advanced technologies are an indispensable tool in the modern world;
- • conscious use of new technologies requires having the relevant skills;
- • when selecting new technologies, their capabilities should be adapted to current needs and the possibility of integration with those already existing in the organization should be checked;
- • the existence of technological areas must be taken into account in order to properly select the technology to be used for projects at a later stage;
- • the existing widely available solutions, which are based on advanced information and communication technologies, enable effective management of the knowledge gained during execution of projects; and
- • the technologies should be properly selected and managed to ensure reaping the benefits of their use.
Organizations that operate based on the concept of sustainable development should take pro-environmental and pro-social aspects into account in their activities. In such organizations, a comprehensive, long-term approach to issues related to the acquisition, collection, and management of resources becomes necessary. The goals and tasks of the organizations should be correlated with the concept of sustainable development. The development of modern organizations depends to a large extent on their ability to use advanced information technologies whose functionality complies with environmental protection laws.