Environmental Sustainability of Digitalization in Manufacturing: A Review

The rapid development and implementation of digitalization in manufacturing has enormous impact on the environment. It is still unclear whether digitalization has positive or negative environmental impact from applications in manufacturing. Therefore, this study aims to discuss the overall implications of digitalization on environmental sustainability through a literature study, within the scope of manufacturing (product design, production, transportation, and customer service). The analysis and categorization of selected articles resulted in two main findings: (1) Digitalization in manufacturing contributes positively to environmental sustainability by increasing resource and information efficiency as a result of applying Industry 4.0 technologies throughout the product lifecycle; (2) the negative environmental burden of digitalization is primarily due to increased resource and energy use, as well as waste and emissions from manufacturing, use, and disposal of the hardware (the technology lifecycle). Based on these findings, a lifecycle perspective is proposed, considering the environmental impacts from both the product and technology lifecycles. This study identified key implications of digitalization on environmental sustainability in manufacturing to increase awareness of both the positive and negative impacts of digitalization and thereby support decision making to invest in new digital technologies.

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