The Precautionary Principle as a Framework for a Sustainable Information Society

  • Claudia Som
  • Lorenz M. Hilty
  • Andreas R. Köhler


The precautionary principle (PP) aims to anticipate and minimize potentially serious or irreversible risks under conditions of scientific uncertainty. Thus it preserves the potential for future developments. It has been incorporated into many international treaties and pieces of national legislation for environmental protection and sustainable development. In this article, we outline an interpretation of the PP as a framework of orientation for a sustainable information society. Since the risks induced by future information and communication technologies (ICT) are social risks for the most part, we propose to extend the PP from mainly environmental to social subjects of protection. From an ethical point of view, the PP and sustainability share the principle of intergenerational justice, which can be used as an argument to preserve free space for the decisions of future generations. Applied to technical innovation and to ICT issues in particular, the extended PP can serve as a framework of orientation to avoid socio-economically irreversible developments. We conclude that the PP is a useful approach for: (i) policy makers to reconcile information society and sustainability policies and (ii) ICT companies to formulate sustainability strategies.

Key words

decisions under uncertainty ethics information society pervasive computing precautionary principle socio-economic irreversibility sustainability technology development 



Association for computing machinery


Corporate social responsibility


European Environmental Agency


European Foundation for Quality Management


Eco-Management and Audit Scheme


Information and communication technology


International Federation for Information Processing


International Standard Organization


Personal computers


Precautionary principle


Social responsibility


Technical Committee


United Nations


United Nations Environment Programme


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


World Commission on Environment and Development


World Summit on the Information Society


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudia Som
    • 1
  • Lorenz M. Hilty
    • 1
  • Andreas R. Köhler
    • 2
  1. 1.Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and ResearchSt. GallenSwitzerland
  2. 2.Delft University of Technology, DfS (Design for sustainability programme)CE, DelftThe Netherlands

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