Sharing Technology to Save the Planet

By Mary Tripsas in the International Herald Tribune, November 2 2009

''We all want to save the planet, and the problems are bigger than any one firm, sector or country,'' says Sarah Slaughter, coordinator of the Sloan Sustainability Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In that spirit, several major corporations have taken inspiration from the open-source software movement and are experimenting with forums for sharing environmentally friendly innovations and building communities around them. The first such effort, the Eco-Patent Commons, was started in January 2008 by International Business Machines, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

The concept is straightforward: Companies pledge environmental patents to the commons, and anyone can use them - free.

Many patented environmental technologies are not strategic, so sharing maximizes the social benefit without sacrificing competitive advantage, says Wayne Balta, vice president for corporate environmental affairs and product safety at I.B.M. For instance, I.B.M. contributed a recyclable cardboard packaging insert that required less fossil fuel to create and transport than the foam inserts commonly used.

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