Information Exchanges Dedicated to Business Sustainability

The focus of most, if not all, research efforts in sustainability have been centered on society, the ecology, and to a minimal extent on business profits – be it Green Chemistry, Green Engineering, or Green Environment. These research efforts, as also the practices espoused for adoption by businesses, have been heavily focused on reduction of resource consumption, reuse, recycling, and reduction or elimination of waste products. It is in this context that the research focus has been heavily inclined towards – green information. Green Computing (Green Information) in the research and popular literature has been synonymous with, exclusively, the efficient development of hardware components using ecologically safer materials, reduction in energy usage, avoidance of vampiring, and ecologically safe disposal of old computers, cell phones, wireless devices, and other computer components. In this view the role of the computer in sustainability is limited to how it is manufactured, how much of ecologically sensitive resources it uses, and how the components are disposed of and recycled after its end of life. Little or no attention has been paid to the role of information, per se, in making the activities of businesses more planet friendly, while at the same time promoting the sustainability of a business and its operations – from the product or service conception stage through its production, to its eventual deployment and recycling, in the case of material products. To use information in this fashion, we postulate that firm specific information availability in addition to availability of information that can affect production and deployment practices of the participants in an industry, normally not available to any single firm, would be needed. This suggests the need for an entity or enterprise which is the repository of potentially useful information for businesses. This is a similar concept to the one that has been mandated by the US government for health care, by requiring the establishment of health information exchanges for ensuring the portability of electronic medical records. It is also along the lines of supply chain information sharing efforts in the automotive industry through the launch of Covisint. However, main objective of Covisint is to speed up decision making, eliminate waste and reduce cost throughout supply chain using information exchange. What we are suggesting goes beyond the limited purviews of the health information exchange mandate and the Covisint initiative. We are advocating for the acquisition and maintenance of information related to a business environment that can affect the sustainability and competitiveness of individual business organizations, in that environment, which choose to benefit from that information in reshaping their strategies and practices, with a view to sustainability of the firm while paying attention to the triple bottom line (3BL). Also, the mere presence of the IE, and the availability of information from it, is no guarantee for sustainability of the firms in that business environment. These, participant firms must be appropriately prepared and positioned to be capable of contributing to the IE repository, as also be capable of effectively deploying and using the information from that repository to achieve sustainability while meeting the 3BL goals for their own organizations.

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