Technological Sustainability, a new Emerald journal transcript

Daniel Ridge: Emerald Publishing is proud to announce the launch of our latest journal Technological Sustainability. The journal, which is now accepting submissions, is an official journal (along with the Social Responsibility Journal) of the Social Responsibility Research Network, or SRRNet. It is interdisciplinary in its scope and nature and seeks to encompass the full range of theoretical, methodological and substantive debates in the area of technological or scientific applications addressing sustainability.

Today, I'm speaking with the Editor in Chief of Technological Sustainability, Shahla Seifi. She tells us about the origins of the journal, where the subject is so pertinent now, and where she sees things going forward in the years to come.

Thank you so much for joining me on the show Shahla. I'm really happy to have you here.

Shahla Seifi: Thank you very much. And thank you for having me.

DR: Well, we've been working on this project for some time, and it's exciting to finally see it come to fruition. I think it might be a good idea for our listeners if you could begin by telling us a little bit about the aims and scope, and maybe about what your goals are for Technological Sustainability, what types of papers you'd like to see published here.

SS: Okay, let me start by discussing the background to this. I think everybody agrees that sustainability is an issue which needs to be addressed. And the big question is how to do so. I think many people believe that, you know, technological developments will solve the problem, and they can leave this to the experts, but the reality is not so simple. Yes, technology and new developments can help us but technology is a tool, it matters how we use it. You know, let me give you an example: after all, technology created nuclear weapons, despite all the warnings of people like Einstein. Another example, technology created motor vehicles, of course, they have made life much better for most of us, but also they have caused pollution, climate change, all these things that we are experiencing at the moment. So clearly, how we use technology is important. It is important to realize that it is a tool and nothing more. Something else that I've noticed in my discussions with many people, many different people around the world is that problems have been solved in one location, but you know, they are they are not known about elsewhere. This this this reminds me actually one of the main benefits that I myself have personally observed from attending SRRNet conferences is this exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge, and after that these collaborations which comes after that. But honestly, you know, still scientists and economists and governance experts, they still don't really talk to each other and they don't really speak the same language you know. Also, another thing is that ideas are not disseminated until they have been fully tested. And even then, the long-term effects in other areas, they are not really addressed. So, this is what I want to change you know, unlike other journals, you know, this one really has no preconceived stance and no message to convey. I can say that any well-argued research from anyone in the world or any well-argued idea or theory is totally welcome and will be published. Of course, yeah, they will be published, but they should first go through this normal peer review process and if they have been accepted, then they will be published. So, what I want to say that it doesn't matter whether I agree or even I know much about the topic on the discussion, because you know, the journal is for the readership rather than for the editors. So, so we are completely open in this respect. So, here's something important that I want everybody please to pay attention: that anything relevant to the relationship between technology and sustainability is welcome from anybody. And it is important because sometimes we receive papers which are really wonderful but because of, you know, no attention to this relationship between sustainability and technology, then they should be rejected the papers. So please pay attention to this. And so, you ask me about our goals, our goals is simple, you know: to help facilitate the creation of sustainability through discourse. Of course, I recognize that this is a complex process. But, you know, Chinese have a proverb, they say that ‘the longest journey starts with a single step’.

DR: Well, I know that the Technological Sustainability was born out of an initial collaboration with the Social Responsibility Journal, and it was the special issues that you had originally guest edited there. I was wondering if you could tell us about these special issues and how it led to the creation of Technological Sustainability.

SS: Let's go back to 30 years ago, when the world realized that there was a hole in the ozone layer, and it became a matter of concern everywhere around the world. Then, just like now that scientists created vaccines in a short time by realizing that there is a pandemic, they realize that the gas used in refrigerating appliances is a big contributor. At that time, the sort of gas used in refrigerators was very, you know, (inaudible). So, they developed alternatives in almost a short time, although they also had their own advantages and disadvantages such as being highly inflammable. You know, however, humankind managed to find a solution. At that time, I used to work in the National Standards Body of Iran. And my role was to develop standards on appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers. So, I used to participate in the committees to tackle with the problem. Then there was another case which countries were busy working on, and it was the creation of energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings. Perhaps the biggest motivation for the consumers was the economic efficiency of greener appliances, then. But now, everybody has realized that the environment is important. This was also something that I was working on them. Another interesting and relevant activity that I used to do was to work on standardization of renewable energies. And it is interesting because I used to live in Iran, which is both benefited from generous sunny days, but also large amounts of black gold, or oil. And people used to say that in countries who have oil, people have no motive to think about alternatives or purer energies. But we see that now everybody seems to have a concern about the environment. Those days it wasn't a priority. And I used to work on standardization of renewable sources because I realized this importance. But now, we see that people are all concerned about things such as global warming due to things such as the use of fossil fuels. Something that not so many people are concerned about is that resources are finite. Therefore, there is no chance rather than seeking for alternatives, whether we like it or not. I have written a book titled Resource Depletion, Future Crisis of the World (The World's Future Crisis: Extractive Resources Depletion), and I have discussed this all in my book and it will be published next month. Okay. Another thing that happened later was that I was appointed as a member of the National Mirror Technical Committee working on a document that everybody knows now, it is ISO 26000- Guidance on Social Responsibility. It was supposed to become a standard initially, but basically, because of reluctance of, you know, countries such as China or the USA, then because these countries were reluctant to accept or to do anything about things such as environment, you know, so it only appeared as a guidance instead of a standard. However, we were expected to reach the top people in the world in the field, and I looked up and everywhere the name of a Professor David Crowther, appeared at the top. So, I emailed him, and he generously responded and helped me with my questions. And then due to this, I joined SSRNet, which is also led by him. After that I met the major people in the network and you know, I was always saying that the network needs a technological focus, as well as social focus. And because of that, it was agreed that I would prove my case by editing a special issue of SRJ on scientific and technological developments. And that is so successful that is, you know, that it ran into two special issues, not just one, so it proved the case that there is a need for this area to be dealt with. And then discussing with the senior members of the network, we felt that the best way to do that was through a separate journal, not try to expand the scope of SRJ. And that's the reason I decided to launch the journal.

DR: Yeah, that's exciting! So that the authors and readers are aware of the types of papers you'd like to see in the journal, we put together a selection of six articles from the two special issues that are now freely available on the journal's website. I wonder if you could maybe tell us about a couple of these papers, some of the findings that stuck out to you?

SS: Well, Daniel, yeah, these papers, in fact, they have been selected from the 16 papers, which were published in the SRJ special issues. But honestly, they were not selected, particularly on merit, because I believe that all of them are of the highest standard. They are selected just to show the, you know, wide range of the issues, and also in order to show that contributions are made from all over the world. So, I don't wish to select anything in particular to comment upon because my role as editor is to enable the dissemination of pertinent research, which, of course, is of a sufficiently high standard through the journal. So really, it doesn't matter whether I agree with the conclusions or think I'm particularly significant, because I'm sure that someone else in the world will think that

DR: What types of topics were they discussing in their papers?

SS: Yes, is something very important, as I mentioned before, is that this relationship between sustainability and technology is observed. We received many wonderful papers from people, but they will not be accepted because they don't follow this necessity, that what we want for our journal is about this. And you know, we are very open to ideas and any well-argued, as I mentioned, any research or more ideas or theories, anything is acceptable as long as they are relevant to the aims and scope of the journal: this is what is more important for us. And really, if knowledge and this practice is disseminated, then for me as the editor of the journal, then I think that I have fulfilled my role. This journal will also act as a vehicle for the exposure of new ideas. Because really, I think that this is how we progress- through discourse. And this is really one of the roles of the network SRRNet and the reason why it has been created.

DR: Yeah, well, that's actually what I wanted to talk to you about next was the SRRNet. The Social Responsibility Journal and Technological Sustainability are affiliated with a network and they’re sister journals that are under its umbrella as well. If you can just tell us about SRRNet, what your role is there and how it fits into the mission of the journal. 

SS: Sure, Social Responsibility Research Network or SRRNet: if you look at the website of the network,, you will see that the motto of the network is that it's a network for everybody who is interested in researching social responsibility. So it is a network of anybody interested, although the members primarily include academics from anywhere in the world. Also, membership includes NGOs, business leaders, government officials, etc, plenty of for example PhD students and so on. So I want to say that it's a loose organization, because we just have this this common interest; but in fact, not everybody has the same interest, we have interest in an aspect of it. The network has been around for 20 years, and the best description how it started comes from David, because he will tell you that it started by chance, because he was asked by the dean to organize a conference. And, you know, that is the first professor of CSR in the world, and he also organized the first conference in CSR anywhere, and it became such a successful conference. And the following two conferences were also organized very quickly. Then David decided that the best way to connect everybody together was perhaps through organizing a network, and so he established as SRRNet. And since then, it has grown, and the members are from all over the world. In fact, I can tell you that the main figures who work in this area are members of the network. The network does three things: it organises conferences, so we have annual conferences every year, somewhere different in the world. So far, we have been all over the world in all the continents except Antarctica, of course! And due to the pandemic, and because the main role of the network is to provide such networking among people, which, unfortunately, it is impossible through these online conferences. So, we decided to defer the conference until after the end of the pandemic, and instead, we focused on the other aspects of the network. So, the next conference will be held in the beautiful island of Mauritius, and I really look forward to seeing many people again, and especially that now by the start of TECHS now a new strand will be added to our conferences. Then the next thing that the network does is that it provides communication network through its online news to tell people around the world what is happening, and people are very grateful for that. There has been some recent correspondence saying how active and how alive it is. It is interesting, you know how alive this organization is, compared to most professional organizations. And the third thing that it does is it publishes, it publishes books. So, we publish with main academic publishers, we have a book series with Emerald. It also publishes academic journals. So, one of the first things that came out of the network was the launch of the Social Responsibility Journal, SRJ. I'm sure everybody has heard of it, and it's now around for 18 years, I think, and it's an official journal of the network. TECHS is a new journal, and it is also an official journal of the network, but focusing on a different aspect of sustainability. And that's my role, my role is Undersecretary and conferences Chair of the network, so anybody who wishes to become a member, then they can email me or email [email protected].

DR: That's great. Well, I see how it fits into with the sister journal and then also within the network, but it is unique in its field, the Technological Sustainability, the goal is to be unique in its field. Can you tell our listeners why you think the journal stands apart? And why a journal with this subject matter is so important right now?

SS: (19:10) Let me say like this, you know, at the moment, not many journals look at how to address sustainability, except in all of two ways. You know, one by saying science can solve problems, or businesses can solve problems by behaving differently, or even consumers by behaving differently. This journey is different because we look at how technology helps, how it has changed, but critique it you know, it is not universally beneficial. All developments have advantages and disadvantages, and it's really up to people to decide about themselves. This journal aims to provide evaluations of the use of technology in assisting sustainability. And that's a little bit different focus to talking about business behaviour, or talking about technology, you see. So, it's talking about evaluating how it can be used. One of the problems about technology is that evaluation is not taken far enough into the future. For example, you introduce a new technology and then maybe 30 years later the problems become apparent. I give you examples: hydroelectric power, there is renewable energy, but the dams change the ecology of Delta's etc in in a damaging way. And it takes time for this to appear. Another example, plastic: the benefits are apparent, such as, for example, it is hygienic, cheap, lightweight, it has a lot of application in so many different industries, but nobody ever thought about disposal at the end of his life. So you see that the quantity of plastic is just accumulating. Another example you evaluate motor vehicles: of course, they create enormous economic benefits, don't they? Then then you look far enough into the future- they cause pollution everywhere, or look at asbestos, all the problems that it has caused. So, what I want to say is that true sustainability has to take into account the whole lifecycle from the initiation of a project to its death, which was acquisition of resources, production, use, and then subsequent disposal. Unfortunately, that's not always properly addressed. And something that also I think it is important to talk about is that, let's not forget, when we when we start looking at these things, they can only be addressed at a global level, because really, sustainability has to be global. Nobody can become globally sustainable, countries are related to each other. But the problem is that countries are only interested in self-interest, politics interferes here. But technology has got to develop bearing this in mind. So here, the role of my journal is to disseminate knowledge, evaluate that knowledge, the best practice, all the things that SRRNet does, share the best practice, because, you know, what is done in one part of the world might be very beneficial in other parts of the world, but nobody knows about it.

DR: Well, launching a journal is definitely not an easy feat, and particularly when it's going to be, when it's interdisciplinary in nature like yours. So, what are some of the challenges you face as we look to the first year of publication and how do you see the journal growing as it moves forward?

SS: Yes, it is true, as you say, starting a journal in a way it takes a lot of work, getting the right papers submitted, reviewed, etc. They all take time, you know, don't they? But building momentum and keeping quality high is harder for any editor. And this applies in particular to years, two and three until the journal gets established and well known. So, this will be my main focus for the next couple of years. Also, another thing that will be my focus is to make sure that the journal is appropriately indexing all such organizations such as Scopus, and so on. Also, I have received several requests for special issues for the journal, and some of them are under consideration for some time in the future. Building relationships with people such as those who are conference organizers, it is also important and it is part of my plan. But luckily, I already helped in this regard because and the journal is an official journal of SRRNet and the links that it creates. And of course, we have our own conferences, which will create papers, contacts, opportunities. So, all I can say that I foresee a bright future for checks, you see,

DR: Yeah, it's exciting. Well, is there anything that you would like the readers to take away are the potential authors?

SS: At the moment, what I can say is that we have planned for two issues in the first year and building to four per year after this. Then in the slightly longer term, I foresee the journal expanding to maybe more papers per issue. And in the longer term, my personal ambition is for this journal to become as well known and well respected in its field, of course, as SRJ has become in a slightly different field. So let's see.

DR: Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about the new journal.

SS: Thank you very much.

DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. For more information about submitting to Technological Sustainability, please follow the link on our website. Also, be sure to check out our feature virtual issue: Scientific and Technological Contributions to Social Responsibility. I'd like to thank Emma Ferguson for help with today's episode. And Alex Jungius of This is Distorted.