In the face of a looming recession and climate catastrophe, technology titans, service providers, and consumer giants are taking collaborative action and turning their technology to fight the effects of climate change and fundamentally transform practices that harm both people and the planet through sustainable innovation.
The road to recovery requires neutral environments that provide the ability for joint investment and collaboration, and maximize flexibility, agility, and interoperability to innovate at the speed of technology. In other words an open source strategy is the only path forward, and a handful of technology titans are already hard at work developing new open source foundations to digitally transform essential vertical industries worldwide.
LF Energy Plots a Greener Power Grid
The project is called OpenLEADR, and it is a common implementation of the Open Automated Demand Response (OpenADR), which is an open standard for exchanging demand response information among global utilities, aggregators and energy managers, and control systems to better manage the supply and demand of energy.
Utilities across the globe support their own version of OpenADR and many of them cooperated on the OpenADR standard specification, Shuli Goodman, executive director of LF Energy explained. “All of them have gone off and implemented their own versions of it, and it’s creating a considerable amount of technical debt,” she said.
“What we want to do is begin to organize, coordinate, and direct people to working off of one common implementation that can be collectively supported so that it can get better … and faster,” Goodman said. A common implementation of OpenADR will allow organizations to focus on the more complex aspects of flexibility and demand response, she added.
This is the latest project to come from LF Energy, a vendor-neutral initiative that operates as an arm of The Linux Foundation (LF) to establish open source, interoperable frameworks for accelerating the energy, electricity, and electric mobility sectors’ worldwide decarbonization goals.
Vetting Climate Jargon
Phrases like “carbon negative” and “climate positive” have been in the science community’s lexicon for a while, but these phrases have only recently bled into the mainstream as eye-catching “net-zero” or “carbon neutral” climate commitments from world-leading businesses are now common daily headlines.
Certifications are hardly new. There are dozens, if not hundreds, that correspond to a single, specific aspect of sustainability, which makes it easy to stamp pictures of wind turbines and wind farms on marketing content rather than actually minimizing environmental footprint.
However, things are not always as green as they seem. Austin Whitman, CEO of Climate Neutral, wants to demystify environmental product marketing and make evaluating corporate pledges more accessible for the average person. Climate Neutral is a nonprofit organization that aims to decrease global carbon emissions by getting all consumer brands to measure, offset, and reduce all the carbon emissions.
Climate Neutral Carbon Footprint Calculator
Climate Neutral last year created its own open-source value chain carbon measurement tool called the Brand Emissions Estimator (BEE) with help from MIT and the Life Cycle of Products, Services, and Systems (CIRAIG) research group from the Montreal Polytechnic Institute.
After participating in Fast Forward, an accelerator program for technology nonprofits, Whitman “spent a lot of time kicking around this idea of making the tool open source,” turning to the program’s mentoring community council.
“In the end it felt like the only option for us because it’s totally consistent with the mission that we have: To make carbon neutrality standard for all businesses, break down barriers for companies doing more about their carbon, and get them to stop dwelling on carbon measurement and start dwelling on carbon reduction,” Whitman explained.
BEE follows the Greenhouse Gas Protocol convention and uses greenhouse gas emission data from trusted sources to set a standard for how to achieve net-zero, Whitman said. Through its services organizations, companies can become “Climate Neutral Certified,” meaning that a brand has taken action to protect the planet and, at the same time, holds buying power.
To achieve the label, businesses must commit to two new reduction efforts every year, with priorities decided in partnership with Climate Neutral.
“One of the purposes of the open source initiative is to have more people contribute and make these tools more usable,” Whitman said. “And then similarly, more people contributing to refinement of the back-end calculator so we can get as many lifecycle assessment professionals to apply the best knowledge and discipline to making it better.”
The certification is available to all businesses, globally and domestically. So far, Climate Neutral has certified 146 brands across 10 industries in its first year, with another 67 that are signed up to join.
The Only Way Through Is Together
Collaboration will be central to plotting a path to recovery and decarbonization seeing as the health of the world’s people and of the environment are intertwined – or as the Linux Foundation put it “our future rests on cooperation over competition.”
During a fireside chat as part of the “Cloud Native Virtual Summit featuring Kubernetes” earlier this year, Kelsey Hightower, staff developer advocate at Google, said the key to new technologies and methodologies is a broad group of people collaborating and communicating, fundamentally making openness a pretty good tool when used to build software.
Free-flowing, collaborative, and creative environments, such as that of the open source community, embolden businesses to push beyond perceived limitations. That’s because “open source is the fastest way to iterate and to change, and we need speed right now,” Goodman said. “It is the only way of ensuring investment at the scale needed to transition from fossil-fuels to non-carbon polluting energy sources. There is no doubt it will succeed.”
“When it comes to creating smart solutions, open source is the best and most efficient option, combining brain power from leaders across the globe,” Goodman added. “In addition, once there’s consensus on a solution, it can be deployed much more rapidly, so we can focus on increasing levels of complexity to solve the problems of the future.”
The pandemic unleashed headwinds that threatened to limit the corporate response to the sustainability imperative, but it might well be the wake-up call that was need needed to drive action and innovation before the time for “coulda, woulda, shoulda” has passed.