Digital Transformation and Environmental Sustainability in Emerging Markets: Challenges and Opportunities – a wake-up call to the ‘Global North’?


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Emerging markets face urgent sustainability challenges including rising resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and social inequality as they pursue rapid economic growth (Gladys and Thierry, 2023; Garri, 2022; Qian, Li and Rugman, 2013). Profit expectations, strategic behaviour/orientation, and strategic leadership are important antecedents driving MNEs and SMEs to pursue sustainability in emerging and developing markets, not just institutional pressures (Aguinis and Glavas, 2012). Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, internet of things, and advanced robotics provide promising opportunities to enable more sustainable practices across sectors like manufacturing, transportation, energy, and agriculture (Tsolakis et al., 2022; Spanaki et al., 2022). However, if not managed responsibly, the proliferation of data-driven technologies could also have unintended consequences that contradict sustainability aims, such as increased emissions, threats to worker livelihoods, and breach of privacy (Schaltegger et al., 2022).  

Social entrepreneurship combines the principles of business and social impact to address these sustainability challenges in an effective and community-driven manner (Hassan, 2020; Rivera-Santos, 2015). By creating innovative, economically viable and community-driven solutions, social entrepreneurs contribute to a more sustainable and equitable future (Roslan, et al., 2022; Gupta et al., 2020).

Sustainable development has previously been explored using agency theory (Kudla and Thorsten, 2012), stakeholder theory (Hörisch, Freeman and Schaltegger, 2014), resource-based theory (Evangeline, 2017), and institutional theory (Ebrahimi and Koh, 2021), as corporate citizenship (Lee, 2021; Albareda, 2008), as a strategic activity (Zanten and Tulder, 2021; Christ, Burritt and Varsei, 2017) and as a response social performance of companies in the supply chains (Amann et al., 2014). In addition to these perspectives, social entrepreneurship has emerged as another approach pursued by organisations to integrate business principles with social and environmental objectives. The complex interplay between digitalisation, sustainability, and society in emerging economies remains underexplored in current literature. To advance understanding, this special issue brings together critical perspectives examining how to best leverage digital transformation as an enabler – rather than a barrier – to building environmentally sustainable and socially equitable emerging markets aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Contributors for this special issue will critically examine the opportunities and challenges involved in leveraging digital innovations - such as big data, AI, and smart cities - to address environmental issues from climate change to waste management. New theoretical perspectives and interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged to study this multidimensional relationship. Aligning with several SDGs, the issue ultimately aims to generate thoughtful and pragmatic analysis on harnessing the digital revolution for building environmentally sustainable emerging economies.

This issue welcomes rigorous theoretical and empirical research on the intersection of digital transformation and sustainability in emerging market contexts from diverse disciplines. It aims to further understanding of how organisations can effectively utilise AI, big data, blockchain and other digital innovations to address environmental issues while considering ethical implications. We encourage critical examination of the tensions between digital innovation and sustainability, including topics such as e-waste generation, energy consumption of data centres, and responsible innovation principles.

List of Topic Areas

  • Opportunities and risks of digital technologies for advancing sustainability 
  • Greenwashing and selective sustainability disclosures
  • Theories e.g. institutional theory, stakeholder theory, critical perspectives
  • Responsible technology innovation and use policies
  • Role of stakeholders - government, civil society, private sector
  • Digital divides and access to sustainable technology
  • Environmental footprint and responsible management of digital infrastructure
  • Circular economy and sharing economy enabled by digital platforms
  • Comparative research on sustainability strategies between emerging markets and mature economies

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available here.

Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see here.

Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to ““Please select the issue you are submitting to”. 

Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.

Key Deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 01/11/2023
Closing date for manuscripts submission: 31/12/2024


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