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About the Cards

The Sustainability Reflection Cards are designed to be a tool to reflect on what sustainability means in relation to digital technology and technology research and design practice. They help users understand sustainability as both as a holistic concept while also offering specific questions to talk about its aspects. The cards are sorted into 5 domains: Technology, Economic, Ecology, Politics, and Culture. Domains are colour coded. The back of each card also has an illustration of its domain, as a creature from the animal kingdom. Each domain consists of 7 perspectives. Each perspective card consists of a question summarising this particular perspective on sustainability. It also includes four sub-questions, representing different aspects of this perspective.


Depending on the domain, the questions focus on a digital technology (artefact) or on research and design projects and programmes (practices). Reflecting on past research projects and developing new research proposals with sustainability in mind, the cards might help answering questions like these:

  • How can we contribute to ecological, economic, political, cultural, and technological sustainability through our work?

  • How can not only the (intended) outcomes of our research, but also the project and our research organisation more widely be more sustainable?

  • How can the impact of our work be sustained beyond the end of the project?

Theoretical Background

The Sustainability Reflection Cards partly build on a theoretical and methodological framework called the “Circles of Sustainability”. The framework is described in detail in the book Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of Sustainability, by Paul James (2015; see full reference below). The framework attempts to be holistic and specific. It is holistic because it is more encompassing than the commonly used “triple-bottom-line” model of sustainability, which consists of environmental, economic, and social sustainability. The main criticism of this model is that it appears as if economic activity and the environment are somehow separate from or external to social life. In contrast, the Circles of Sustainability model consists of four domains: ecology, economy, politics, and culture. There is no separate “social” domain. Instead, all four domains are social because they are shaped by human action. While being holistic, the model is also specific. Each of the four domains is broken down into seven perspectives, which are again broken down into seven aspects.


The framework was initially developed to evaluate the sustainability of whole cities and regions. It includes a detailed catalogue of methods to assess sustainability. We took this framework and developed it into something different. Rather than a full-scale assessment, the focus of this card deck is reflection. It is intended for researchers in socially engaged technology research fields, such as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to reflect how their own practice can be more sustainable. We rephrased the 7 perspectives into questions and simplified the 7 aspects to 4 sub-questions. To account for the central role of technology in this field, we added a fifth domain, “technology” to prompt researchers and practitioners to reflect critically about the sustainability of the prototypes and systems they build. Based on experiences and recommendations reported in HCI literature, we developed 7 questions and 4 sub-questions to promote sustainable technology development and long-term use.


Prost, S., Taylor, N., Strohmayer, A., Collingham, H., de Castro Leal, D., Krüger, M., Liu, J., Crivellaro, C., & Vines, J. (2023). Bringing Sustainability through, in, and of HCI into Conversation. DIS 2023 Companion - Companion Publication of the 2023 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference, 1–4.

Further Reading

The majority of the cards (ecology, economics, politics, and culture domains) build on the Circles of Sustainability model:

James, P. (2015). Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice: Circles of Sustainability. Routledge.

The card on regenerative businesses (economics domain) is taken from Raworth's doughnut economics model:

Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. Random House.

The questions in the technology domain are sythesised from several Participatory Design and Human-Computer Interaction articles concerned with the longevity of technological interventions:

Cooper, N., Horne, T., Hayes, G. R., Heldreth, C., Lahav, M., Holbrook, J., & Wilcox, L. (2022). A Systematic Review and Thematic Analysis of Community-Collaborative Approaches to Computing Research. CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1–18.

Dindler, C., & Iversen, O. S. (2014). Relational expertise in participatory design. Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference on Research Papers - PDC ’14, 41–50.

Greisz, E., & Garrison, P. (2022). 6 Years Later: Examining Long-term Project Outcomes. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series, Par F18047, 1–11.

Hearn, G., Kimber, M., Lennie, J., & Simpson, L. (2005). A Way Forward: Sustainable ICTs And Regional Sustainability. The Journal of Community Informatics, 1(2), 18–31.

Merkel, C. B., Clitherow, M., Farooq, U., Xiao, L., Ganoe, C. H., Carroll, J. M., & Rosson, M. B. (2005). Sustaining Computer Use and Learning in Community Computing Contexts: Making Technology Part of “Who They are and What They Do.” The Journal of Community Informatics, 1(2), 158–174.

Poderi, G., & Dittrich, Y. (2018). Participatory design and sustainability–a literature review of PDC Proceedings. Proceedings of the 15th Participatory Design Conference: Short Papers, Situated Actions, Workshops and Tutorial - Volume 2, 1–5.

Taylor, N., Cheverst, K., Wright, P., & Olivier, P. (2013). Leaving the wild. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’13, 1549.

Vines, J., Clarke, R., Light, A., & Wright, P. (2015). The beginnings, middles and endings of participatory research in HCI: An introduction to the special issue on ‘perspectives on participation.’ International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 74, 77–80.

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