A transformation to a sustainability-oriented economy will confront all subsequent generations with enormous challenges over many decades. Given the complexity of the changes required, global and open collaboration is essential.

Here are four reasons why a transition to sustainable technology should follow open practices:

1. Transparency and trust

A sustainable economy requires a shared understanding of how our actions affect the environment. It is about what practices and technologies are sustainable to conserve our natural resources in the long term. In practice, many solution paths have a high degree of complexity, and it is not always certain whether a solution will be economically, environmentally, or socially sustainable. Can solar cell recycling be done in an economical way? Can carbon capture and storage be an economically and environmentally viable alternative to avoiding carbon dioxide altogether? Is the land used to produce biofuel crops competing with food production?

Open practices can be critical to ensuring transparency and trust in the search for answers to these questions. Open datasets, models, and access can create a global discussion without running the risk of being influenced by single interests. This open mindset has already created a global scientific consensus on the human impact on climate change with replicable outcomes.

Another challenge is to create a common understanding of what steps are needed to address this problem. Tools such as open life-cycle assessments play a central role in measuring the environmental footprint of products and services. Using public data and open models create transparent metrics to have a more comprehensive sustainability impact assessment. This practice builds widespread trust and encourages consumers and businesses to adopt sustainable behaviors.

2. Knowledge evolution and adaptation

The digital tools we use today to develop new technologies are the result of centuries 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 groundbreaking developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, and blockchain, to name a few. What today is called open source in software development has been practiced by scientists for centuries through the methods of “Standing on the shoulders of giants“.

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