Monitor environmental sustainability through open Earth observation and open source data processing. The ever-increasing spatial and spectral resolution of open satellite data will make it possible to identify not only large-scale environmental impacts but also their drivers. This will allow governments, investors and citizens to better understand and predict changes in biodiversity, deforestation, water stress, pollution and many other features related to the health of the environment based on scientifically robust evidence. Satellite missions like TRUTHS will bring the traceability and precision of satellite data to a level which becomes legally robust. Key actors can thus more easily assess asset-level risks, and measure upstream and downstream environmental impacts at a planetary scale. Public-private partnerships are emerging to validate and further develop previous estimates of models using global measurement data. Projects such as Spatial Finance Initiative and WWF have already recognized this potential for informing robust ESG metrics for companies. The development of an open source reporting framework and toolchain for determining the environmental, social, and corporate governance implications of a company’s value chain, based on satellite data and spatially explicit supply chain information, has immense potential for companies, governments and investors.
Create better technical interfaces and middleware between platforms and tools. Most open source projects within environmental sustainability are used in isolation and are rarely integrated. This leads to increased fragmentation and design waste (“reinventing of the wheel”), ultimately inhibiting the innovation process. There is much that can be learnt here from other open source ecosystems, such as the Robotic Operating System, where a high degree of modularity has led to increased collaboration between different open source communities from various subject areas. This has been made possible through common interfaces, workshops, community meetings, applications and standard architectures. The same mindset can be applied to different areas within sustainability. Many monolithic projects and platforms do not offer the necessary flexibility for different types of applications. However, a digital Earth twin combining different existing open source projects offers the advantage of leveraging existing knowledge and communities. Cities and communities play a special role here, as a multitude of environmentally-relevant spheres come together to form concrete applications with immediate policy implications. Great potential exists in urban applications where a modular, cross-domain operating system for environmental sustainability enables multi-scale interoperability between processes and services. For subfields such as energy system modelling, earth observation and geosciences, developments such as PyPSA, Julia Climate, Radiant.Earth, WhiteBox, and Pangeo are already pointing in the right direction.
Apply open sustainability principles to hardware and design blueprints. Our findings show that only a few open source hardware projects have a strong connection to sustainability. Although strong communities behind open hardware exist, such as Open Source Ecology, Open Hardware Observatory or Appropedia, the technical requirements for developing and maintaining hardware products are often beyond the capabilities of individual actors, presenting significant challenges. This makes sector-wide approaches and collaborative development and operating models essential to ensuring circular design principles are embodied within each phase of a product’s lifecycle. Using this approach, open source hardware has the potential to revolutionise the way we think about the design, production, distribution, maintenance, and end-of-life of physical goods – improving performance, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. One way to ease the distribution and scalability of sustainable hardware solutions is to develop open source design blueprints, digital twins and embedded software. Biosphere Solar is one such organisation recognizing this potential in an attempt to produce the world’s first circular solar panel, combining an open source solar photovoltaic (PV) design and collaborative business model. With the advent of RISC-V, a fully open-source processor architecture and ecosystem, this approach is already transforming the computing industry. Projects exploring similar potential in sustainability include Libre Solar, OpenEnergyMonitor, OpenEVSE and FarmBot. However, only the IEA-15-240-RWT open source wind turbine demonstrates the strategy and scale required to transform an entire sector. This highlights the vast potential for businesses, governments, researchers, and industry to embrace cross-sector opportunities to accelerate the open hardware and software ecosystem towards sustainable outcomes.
Develop Open Data Commons in conjunction with open source code. All interviewed developers and contributors have an intimate understanding of the data landscape, as well as the quality, provenance and accessibility or lack of open data in their respective fields. While open data platforms, such as Zenodo, are central to big data management within the open science movement, links within topics are often sparse and lack an ontology to allow for easy discovery. Organisations such as Subak can serve as a critical link, investing in and stewarding missing data across various topics, and enabling technologies within environmental sustainability. Establishing connections between open source code and datasets can help create horizontal applications and thus make them more applicable worldwide. Likewise, a systematic analysis of the datasets associated with the identified open source projects can help close the gap between project outputs, usage and open source development.
Standardise environmental data and models using open source across different levels of government. The standardisation of data structures and APIs using open source approaches can contribute significantly to ensuring that data about our natural and built environment are interoperable and delivers valuable insights. The province of British Columbia is a pioneer in this regard, delivering a variety of open source and open data developments on water supply, wetlands, and air quality. Such standardised environmental data is vital not only for scientific analysis but also for intelligent monitoring and optimisation of public utilities and services. However, the potential for such data can only be realised if the collection and provision conform to common standards. The Smart Data Models project, supported by the FIWARE Foundation, is one example of such an open standard. Such open data models play a vital role in the technical foundation required for standards-based innovation and procurement, while ensuring trusted exchange and data sovereignty within and across sectors, places and organisations. Consolidation and dissemination of environmental insights across different provinces, cities, and municipalities can break down information siloing, and contribute significantly to a shared knowledge base for decision-makers, researchers, businesses and citizens alike.
Understand resources moving through supply chains using open source approaches. Digitisation enables visibility into supply chains, allowing stakeholders to track and trace the flow of materials and goods, understand their movement from point to point, and measure their impact. For instance, product passports linked to QR codes and RFID systems allow companies and consumers to track a product throughout its lifespan, improving transparency for a wide range of resources – from consumables to construction materials. These tools can provide information on the state of a product at any given point in its lifecycle, such as when a plastic container arrives at a recycling facility, or information about a building component currently in-use. More detailed traceability can be achieved by generating a “digital twin” of a product, including information about its material composition, disassembly instructions, and labour practices. In order to create circular and efficient supply chains, such visibility is essential. Open standards such as the circularity.ID are pointing in the right direction. However, there is a lack of open infrastructure optimised for the digital age. The convergence of accounting frameworks, such as the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA), Resource-Event-Agent (REA), and other industrial ecology approaches, together with decentralised messaging protocols, show promise in linking actors and system layers in a secure way. We encourage the adoption of open principles and technologies in providing the level of traceability and visibility required to ensure supply chains are efficient, fair and sustainable.