Based on the insights, we propose recommendations for effectively supporting and building capacity for open source in sustainability:
Enhance collaboration between state and non-state actors. State and regional governments can accelerate their digital and sustainability transformations by collaborating more closely with industry, academia and NGOs toward shared objectives. This requires effective transition brokers to guide and facilitate multi-stakeholder alliances from a politically neutral standpoint, and help create the necessary preconditions for change to emerge across scales and system boundaries. Open sustainability principles can be applied here in order to:
Generate advocacy and support
Support cross-sector and cross-agency coordination
Promote and guide innovation funding
Bridge knowledge and information gaps between municipal, regional and state governments
Identify challenges and opportunities for effective action
Build capacity for local community groups to take effective action
Guide stakeholders towards science-based decision-making
Close the knowledge gap on the environmental impact of industry. Our analysis has revealed that only a few companies are willing to engage in open scientific dialogue concerning their environmental impact. Despite many companies having net zero commitments and an increased adoption of science-based targets based on credible emission reduction pathways, a lack of clarity and transparency surrounding the measurement, reporting, and verification remains. While standardised calculation methodologies for emission reporting are emerging,1 companies often rely on estimates which do not fully and transparently reflect their decarbonization efforts. For instance, emissions from industrial facilities are often self-reported or assessed by external parties using unverifiable survey methods, which are prone to error and obfuscation. There is a clear need for an open source measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) framework that provides a standardised mechanism for aligning sustainability efforts with science-based outcomes. Open source approaches can improve transparency and process in terms of methodological development, provide transparency regarding methods and pathways adopted, and enhance reporting data quality and verifiability. Incorporating openness and scientific verifiability into sustainability assessments and product disclosure statements is one way to accelerate collaborative innovation efforts. Projects, networks, and collaborations between independent scientists, regulators and industry that support open science in sustainability can facilitate a deeper understanding of the environmental impacts of entire industries, and provide investors and consumers with verifiable, life cycle assessments of products and services. Initiatives such as the SBTN, WRI, and UNRISD are well positioned to engage the open source community to accelerate these efforts.
Adapt and extend existing OSS to underrepresented countries in the Global South. Communities in emerging economies have limited involvement in developing open knowledge, software, and data related to their natural environment. Therefore, building and empowering local communities to use open source tools for local technological transformation has far-reaching potential. In fast-growing nations, such as India, many developers have the potential to use OSS to understand their local environments better and thus protect essential ecosystems. Scholarships that teach young people how to use open source to understand the natural environment could greatly benefit the climate and the planet. Meanwhile, such investments are resource efficient and easily transferable worldwide. The Learning section on OpenSustain.tech can help build the foundation of the knowledge, projects and people needed. Earthlabs and Pythia already demonstrate what such a format can look like within the field of Earth science.
Establish an open Earth Intelligence Incubator. Despite the high synergy between open source culture and enabling technologies, there are few incubators or support programs specialising in open source project development in environmental sustainability. While a handful of individual programs focus on non-profits and academia, there is a general lack of funding, knowledge, and support for cross-sector collaboration. This trend also explains the low proportion of academic open source projects that are commercialised via open source business models. Such an incubator can fill significant gaps in the ecosystem, such as:
Identifying opportunities for new ventures and non-profits that creatively combine existing ecosystem components to create more public-purpose value.
Incentivising the development of new ventures and projects that combine existing modules and packages into effective open source products.
Providing project support including, marketing, design, funding packages, business model design and community management.
Building networks with potential users such as cities, government agencies, and nature reserves.
Transform financial institutions through transparent and scientific decision-making for sustainable investments. Banks, rating agencies and investors are at the centre of our economy, allocating resources to what is deemed sustainable and viable. However, our analysis has shown OSS and open data is the exception in this sector. The lack of openness means decision-making is often opaque and vulnerable to greenwashing. The financial industry is still far from deploying sustainable investment funds which are based on open scientific methods. However, such an approach has the potential to create greenwashing-free investment opportunities for private and public investors. Financial products funded on open and evidence-based practices will likely gain investors’ trust in creating both sustainable and favourable returns. Banks and rating agencies would thus become critical users and potential contributors to various environmentally relevant open source projects. OS-Climate already represents a significant milestone here.
Apply an “Open Source First” criterion when providing funding for sustainable technologies. Our findings show that open source can have a significant impact on sustainable choices and technology diffusion. However, when it comes to financing sustainable technology projects, open source is often not a decisive investment criterion. A fundamental rethink needs to take place here. Openness must be recognised as a key indicator for sustainable development. In particular, the investment of public funds can help to reverse this trend and ensure that such investments directly benefit the general public in the long term. Government policy that prioritises open source within public research and development is critical to ensuring publicly funded outputs do not end up constrained by the intellectual property of universities or companies, but rather returned to the commons as public goods.