The current proliferation of digital technologies and emergence of interconnected production processes (Industry 4.0) mark the beginning of a phase of fundamental transformation in the manufacturing industry. Much of the debate on this fourth industrial revolution has focussed on technical solutions, productivity gains, and the development of enabling political conditions to support this transformation. The possible environmental impacts of digitalisation have played only a minor role in this debate so far. That industrial manufacturing has a considerable impact on the environment is, however, undeniable. According to the statistical office of the European Union (Eurostat), the industrial sector accounts for nearly one-third (28 per cent) of the overall energy consumed in Germany alone. It also accounts for almost one-fifth (19 per cent) of all jobs and a substantial share of GDP (26 per cent).
The digital transformation of industry harbours opportunities, for example in the area of resource savings, but also poses risks, including job losses. The central research question of this project is how the increasing deployment of digital and interconnected manufacturing technologies can be utilized to improve Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) overall.
Research team to work closely with stakeholders
Corporate social responsibility spans the domains of technology, human resources, and organisational policy. Reflecting this broad scope, an interdisciplinary research team, comprising researchers from the IASS and the University of Potsdam, will adopt an integrated approach and work closely with businesses, trade unions, policymakers, environmental organisations and other actors from civil society.
Research will be conducted across four work packages:
- Potential benefits of Industry 4.0 for Corporate Social Responsibility (IASS, Potsdam): In this work package, researchers will identify and evaluate the potential for a digitized sustainability management across the entire product life cycle in order to develop a broader concept of corporate social responsibility in digitized manufacturing.
- The human factor in digitized manufacturing (University of Potsdam): In this work package, researchers will seek to re-design human-machine interactions and align these with the demands of digitized manufacturing in order, for example, to ensure that workers are not overwhelmed by the growing complexity of manufacturing systems.
- Coupling environmental information systems with digitized manufacturing processes (IASS, Potsdam): This work package is focussed on the development of intelligent data transfer systems to facilitate automated communication between manufacturing systems and the respective environmental information systems.
- Digital sustainability reporting and compliance (IASS, Potsdam): Digitized and interconnected manufacturing processes enable manufacturers to document production process comprehensively, enhancing transparency across both the product life cycle and company borders. This can strengthen corporate social responsibility in various ways, for example by informing the creation of new standards or disseminating best practices for greater sustainability.
A central aim of this project is the development of a concept for enhanced corporate social responsibility within the context of digitized manufacturing. This will provide the basis for deriving recommendations for policymakers and industry. Researchers will draw on the most relevant solutions to develop an easily accessible case study that can be used to communicate their findings to the general public using different media formats (video, presentation and software elements).