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Open Principles for a Sustainable Technology Transition

Tobias Augspurger __ · __Alejandro Aristi · Tjark Döring · January 29, 2021

A transformation towards a sustainability-driven economy will challenge all of the upcoming generations. Given the complexity of the changes required, a global and open collaboration is essential. Here are 4 reasons why a transition towards sustainability should follow open practices.

Transparency and Trust

A sustainable economy requires a common understanding of how our actions affect the environment. It is the question about which practices and technologies are sustainable in the long term. In practice, many options show a high degree of complexity and it is not always certain whether a solution will be economically, environmentally or socially sustainable. Can recycling of solar cells been done in an economical way? Could carbon capture and storage be an economically and environmentally viable option? Is the land used to produce biofuel crops competing with the production of food?

Open practices can be crucial to ensure transparency and trust in finding answers. Open datasets, models and access can create a global discussion without running the risk of being covertly influenced by individual interests. This approach has already created a global scientific consensus of the human impact on climate change with results that can be reproduced by everyone.

Another challenge is to reach a shared understanding of what steps are needed to address this issue. Tools such as open life cycle assessments play a central role in measuring the environmental footprint of products and services. With the help of public data and open models, it creates transparent metrics to evaluate their sustainability. This practice provides widespread trust, encouraging sustainable behaviors among consumers and businesses.

Knowledge Evolution and Adaptation

Open Data and models are not the only fields building transparency and trust. Opening knowledge and technology will make our economy more sustainable.

The tools we use nowadays to design new technology are the result of centuries worth of collaboration. They emerged in the form of mathematics, algorithms, and programming languages. Today, 70% of the world's codebase is open source and software development has become one of the most innovative industries. The results are revolutionary and cutting-edge developments in robotics, artificial intelligence or blockchain, just to name a few.

With the advancements made in global communication, we can apply the creative methods behind software development to more traditional fields. With knowledge available to everybody, people will be able to maintain and adjust technology by themselves. For example, open agriculture can be used and adapted by farmers to improve their crops' sustainability. Practices like these enable faster global transition that meets local conditions and cultural needs.

Collaborative Innovation

In his 2003 book “Open Innovation”, Chesbrough first coined the term open innovation as a novel innovation strategy. Initially, it meant a straightforward contradiction of the traditional and secretive R&D mindset towards corporate innovation. However, the trend for openness and collaboration between and within companies has rapidly expanded.

Over time, it has become an active innovation-seeking path for the whole ecosystem that further pushes the technological development and knowledge boundaries. Most importantly, this collaborative approach is crucial when considering the ever-increasing product complexity. An aspect that makes it difficult for even the largest companies to carry out the whole development process in-house. In particular, mobility solutions, food and changes in our housing characteristics require the personal and cultural needs to be included in the design process from the beginning. Otherwise, we run the risk of developing sustainable solutions without taking people's lifestyles into account.

Two evident benefits of adopting an open innovation strategy are the setting up a common language between the contributors and standardization of ways to collaborate. This, in turn, translates into substantial competitive advantages from the commercial perspective: better adaptation for new business opportunities, increased flexibility in the developed solutions, as well as a faster and cheaper route to launch a product into the market. Most importantly, by integrating users into the design processes, the idea of partnership towards a larger and shared goal also brings new ways of doing business.

Open Business Models

Free and open practices emerged with the idea of empowering freedom for all users. Also, the advantages of cooperative software development for common standards and a higher code quality became obvious. What seems unimaginable to many is the development of a profitable company based on free and open practices. Nonetheless, over the last decade, companies have shown with great success how sustainable and open business models can look like. Open Core, as one of the most prominent open business models, combines the practices of adaptation, transparency and collaborative innovation.

A new billion-dollar business methodology has emerged and provides the basic infrastructure for our digital world. What initially seemed possible only for software development is now being transferred to new areas as can be seen in the development of semiconductors with the rise of the RISC-V initiative. Hundreds of organization are working together to create an open ecosystem to ensure free and open design of computing architectures and processors in the future. The same mindset can be applied to other sustainable technologies that define our lives.

The advantages of applying an open practices to the development of sustainable technologies are cleared up. The baseline for this development has already been set by many projects and is now visible through the projects listed at It is now up to us whether or not we are able to apply the practices that have brought us the greatest innovation to the problems that challenge us the most.