Open-source sustainability: How sharing inventions can save the environment.In the 20th century,
the titans of global business were better known for their acumen than for their generosity. Indeed, the phrases we've associated with business-"cutthroat," "dog-eat-dog"-simply don't mesh with, say, a Creative Commons approach to sharing. But if the past decade has taught us anything about the business of technology, it's that the open-source movement keeps delivering-Linux, Wikipedia, Mozilla; the list goes on. And if we're going to do anything about the environmental problems of the 21st century, we're going to have to work together.That's why, in January of 2008, IBM, Nokia, Sony, and Pitney Bowes teamed up with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to create the Eco-Patent Commons, an organized effort to make freely available patents that "reduce waste, pollution, global warming, and energy demands." The Commons allows global businesses to share environmental innovations, turning the patent-long the emblem of all that is the opposite of sharing-into a vehicle for collective innovation.The logic behind it is simple: The benefits of allowing everyone in world to use cleaner, more-efficient products far outweighs whatever individual profits that product's creator might give up.In the time that's passed since the launch, hundreds of products have been pledged by a number of major businesses (including such corporate luminaries as DuPont and Xerox). So while the individual inventor behind a less toxic form of printing or more efficient air-conditioning system might not see the traditional profits associated with his product being used over and over again, its benefits will likely reach a lot more people, and the world will be better for it.