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The Shared Values of Sustainability and Open Source

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Open source projects are built on transparency and openness, they also aspire to be inherently sustainable, and can be used to create positive technologies that do not harm the environment. There are many parallels between the two concepts, as transparency is at the core of open-source, while at the same time imperative for measuring the environmental impact across all industries.

Open source and sustainability are complementary in that the wider public can use and benefit from both in the long run. Aside from the commercial aspects, which are presenting both movements, open source and environmental sustainability rely heavily on motives beyond financial purposes such as shared knowledge and continual improvement, as well as individuals who are working for the good of society.

Additionally, there are also many open source projects directly combating climate change and making efforts towards a more sustainable future.

Effects of open source and environmental sustainability on IT businesses

The open source movement is based on the idea of open access to data and transparency in development. The whole point of open-source projects is that they are free to use and contribute to, which means they have a lower environmental impact than proprietary software.

As a collaborative effort that relies on contributions from developers around the world, open source also encourages more people to share their knowledge, time, and skills with the greater public good in mind.

Particularly in the IT industry, open source also supports the notion that the more people working on a project, the better it will eventually become – making this way of working perfect for collaboration, transparency, and inclusivity.

Today, our environment is a major issue, impacting every living thing on earth. Environmental sustainability aims to reduce or mitigate the damage to the environment, with the ultimate goal of achieving a sustainable environment for future generations, promoting stewardship and wise use of natural resources.

At the same time, as data growth continues IT organizations are also being propelled by their customers, employees, and stakeholders to not only adopt, but demonstrate more focus on these issues – putting sustainability and open source higher up on the agenda. A Red Hat report highlights that 89% of IT leaders see enterprise open-source as more secure, or as secure as proprietary software. In addition, 70% work for organizations that use Kubernetes, with almost a third planning to increase their use of containers over the next 12 months.

Therefore, the digital industry needs to help companies align their businesses with open source and sustainability values, considering how these two aspects will affect them in the long run throughout the entire digital infrastructure supply chain, and ensure they are not compromising on either one.

As SDIA’s founder Max Schulze says, it is impossible to improve what you cannot measure. Hardware, just like software, needs to be aware of its own environmental footprint. The sourcing of data center hardware should be environmentally and socially responsible. Commoditizing hardware and making it open source – take as an example the Open Compute Project – empowers anyone to not only make improvements but also to freely disseminate them.

Open source software as a facilitator of sustainable development

Open source practices are not only about software – they are about sharing knowledge, collaborating with others, and contributing to the community.

The open source movement has been successful in providing software and programming languages to the public, in addition, it can also become successful in bringing sustainable development and improvement practices to the public, governments, and businesses at a faster pace. The SDIA Roadmap to a sustainable digital infrastructure by 2030 doesn’t allow room for complacency, each milestone phase comes with its own urgency not least is the Open Data Hub (ODH) which numerous cross-industry members contribute to.

In order for open source practices to be successful in sustainable development, first we need to simplify and make sustainability more accessible to everyone.

The SDIA’s SoftAWERE project aims to do just that, setting the direction in regard to the development of tools and labels for energy-efficient software applications.

The SoftAWERE steering group aligns different industry actors from the software sector to engage in meaningful discussions which empower them to shape expected outcomes, ensuring the practical implementation of all solutions that will be generated within the project.

For instance, as SDIA’s Schulze points out, a large part of developing software is built by assembling open source libraries and software components – therefore, SoftAWARE will aim to make all of the information about how much electrical power is used within the process fully transparent so developers and architects can estimate how much electricity the final application will consume. Thus, presenting a powerful example of how open source can work towards achieving sustainability.

Open source as a path towards sustainable development

The open source methodology has been proven to be one of the best paths toward sustainable development. It is based on a transparent and collaborative approach where anyone can access, contribute, and modify the source code – leading to an increased rate of innovation, creativity, and more opportunities for collaboration.

Environmental sustainability is based on the idea that we should not take more from the earth than what it can give us – and the same goes for technology as well – we should not only see it as a way to generate more and more profits.

Like using natural resources responsibly, the same can be achieved with technology by being mindful of our impact on the environment. Both values are important to ensure that humankind continues to live in a world where there is a balance between nature and technology.

Amanda Brock, CEO OpenUK, and a member of SDIA’s Advisory Board sums it up the best when she says it’s β€œabout looking at an open first approach because it allows us to reuse and recycle code, to share and collaborate around those projects, as this helps develop the best products, as well as enabling skills development.”

Whether that’s open source software, hardware or open data, according to Brock all of this brings the benefit of reduced emissions.

Therefore, the very nature of open source which is openness and transparency, is also the bedrock for achieving true sustainability within digital infrastructure. In fact, we would go further to say these are essential core values for those who lead our digital future as well.