Industry 4.0 in the Context of the Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability: A Systematic Literature Review

Industry 4.0 in the Context of the Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability: A Systematic Literature Review

Julian M. Müller (Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1419-1.ch001


Industry 4.0 and sustainability are trending topics in the industry and scientific research. However, there is currently no comparable study, which summarizes the impacts of Industry 4.0 on all three dimensions of the Triple Bottom Line at the same time. This chapter aims to present a comprehensive overview of Industry 4.0 in the context of the Triple Bottom Line of sustainability. For this reason, a systematic literature review is conducted to find out the current state of literature about this topic. The chapter presents a systematic literature review on 64 peer-reviewed journal articles, which have been published between 2014 and 2019. An in-depth analysis of the content as well as an analysis of the empirical methodologies are conducted. To structure the existing knowledge, a framework is developed, and the findings are categorized into ecological and social aspects. On this basis the content is evaluated to discuss key findings and relating interdependencies.
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So far, Industry 4.0-related literature has mainly concerned technical aspects of the phenomenon (Kiel et al., 2017). Whereas further research disciplines, such as business management have begun to examine Industry 4.0 (Piccarozzi et al., 2018), ecological and social aspects of Industry 4.0 have been even less regarded. In particular, integrative investigations of economic, ecological, and social aspects remain rare (Birkel et al., 2019; Kiel et al., 2017). Several authors find that improving ecological and social aspects of industrial value creation whilst maintaining economic profitability is a challenging task. Several potentials and challenges of Industry 4.0 seem contradictory in each of the three dimensions of the Triple Bottom Line. For instance, working conditions shall be improved, whilst job losses are expected through Industry 4.0. Therefore, an interdisciplinary and integrative investigation of Industry 4.0 is necessary, not only balancing, but combining ecological and social potentials with market success (Müller et al., 2018a; Müller & Däschle, 2018; Stock et al., 2018). Further, several authors find that sustainability aspects of Industry 4.0 differ across countries and need to be incorporated in managerial practice and policy, for instance been the German initiative “Industry 4.0” and the “Internet Plus” initiative within the concept “Made in China 2025” (Müller and Voigt, 2018).

Still, sustainability in the context of Industry 4.0 has been addressed by some authors in recent time. According to Scopus, out of 137 articles that have “Industry 4.0” and “Sustainability” in abstract, title or keywords, 103 were published since 2018. This relates to articles in English language in journals or conference proceedings.

In order to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of research regarding Industry 4.0 in the context of the Triple Bottom Line of sustainability, the article performs a systematic literature review. Thereupon, the article discusses and evaluates recent research findings, presenting managerial and theoretical implications, and promising avenues for future research.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainability: Ensuring economic viability while achieving ecological and social welfare.

Circular Economy: Reduction of resource consumption, wastage, and energy consumption through more efficient end-to-end processes along the entire product lifecycle.

Triple Bottom Line: The combination of economic, ecological, and social aspects and their interdependency.

Internet of Things: Extending the internet through internet-ready products and production facilities (“things”) with their own IP-addresses.

Cyber-Physical Systems: Allow a fusion of the real and virtual worlds through sensor, data transmission, and data evaluation technologies.

Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Within the European Union, enterprises with up to 250 employees and 50 million Euros of annual turnover.

Industry 4.0: The term relates to a predicted fourth industrial revolution through horizontal and vertical interconnection in real-time based on digital technologies.

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