On May 15th Greenbuzz Berlin hosted a panel discussion, The Sustainable Side of Technology at the Betahaus Café in Berlin. The discussion took a direction towards digitalization, the relations with broader economy and what are the key trends that are driving the technology industry to become more sustainable and this article aims to consolidate that discussion. The gender balanced panel was composed by Eric Albers, Elena Poughia, Kaja Santro and Prof. Dr. Tilman Santarius.
The discussion kicked off with Erik, from Free Software Foundation Europe explaining how software has a strong underlying effect on the social and environmental impacts across various sectors related to technology. Every aspect of technology is somehow relyant on software, this provides a lot of power for those providing software to concentrate power and upsell products. The alternative of free/open-sourced solutions is that you can have a reliable solution that is less dependent on other applications of hardware from a specific interest group. This enables a more fair and competitive markets where the focus is not profiting but providing the best experience for the users. There was also mention to positive environmental effects associated with open software evolving energy efficiency. Open sourced technology is usually lighter in processing and storage requirements for big servers and to end-users reducing the overall footprint of the system.
Prof. Dr. Tilman Santarius continued the conversation questioning which economic model should drive the technology sector toward a more sustainable path. “Proprietary knowledge is at the core of growth based business models”. Software is a form of materialized knowledge as intellectual property, control over such property has enabled many sectors with with severe environmental problems to concentrate a lot of power, for example in Agriculture with its GMO seeds, machinery or fertilizers, all base of strictly controlled intellectual property businesses. “It is very important that we develop business cases that work with open knowledge” this would be essential to skew away from an economy dependent on growth in the direction of a new economic model based on openness and fair competition.
According to Kaja Santro, from Ruby Girls Berlin, “communities should profit from technology, not individuals”. The economic environment should adapt to this concept. With open knowledge initiatives, communities are build around their shared interest and they are constantly learning from each other’s efforts and can easily pick up where the other stopped and continue to develop or improve a project or start a new one. That is known as “forking” amongst coders.
Elena Poughia, from Dataconomy, contributed by adding that regardless of growth model, to address the societal challenges of nowadays, the private sector is where the most power is concentrated and there are a lot of initiatives looking for ways to address those challenges. A good business design can be very effective at mitigating our societal problems when supported by large amounts of capital. That means startups and even big corporations have an important role to play. However, Prof. Santarius added, how technology is not neutral. It is biased by the business model where it is comprised. Facebook or Google are good examples. You can help connect people and make our lives easier, but the objective of earning advertising money creates a bias that is often derogatory to the enterprise all together.
Concentration of power is a key element around technology. The control of data flows, influence in personal behaviour and even politics are easily accessible resources for important players in the tech industry. Not only new business cases will address these issues, but regulation and public pressure are indispensable to exert change and control what is still to come with further digitalization and trends like Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence.
Finally a question from the audience provided a lot of insight into what our panelists expect sustainability in technology. They were asked about their “technology utopias” from a sustainability perspective. It was agreed by the panelists that all tech infrastructure must run on renewable energy, that technology projects funded by governmental funding should be open sourced and that the end-goal of technology projects should be achieving a low environmental footprint. That utopia can be closer than we think if we all can gather around these causes and bring light of these topics to a wider audience, that is our mission at Greenbuzz.