Note: OpenSustain is the working name for a major collaborative sustainability project.


Accelerating societal transformation and sustainability through mass collaboration[edit | edit source]

By Jim Harris, Ryan Legg, Terry Foote, Lonny Grafman, Chris Watkins, Curt Beckmann & Rod Ruoff

The size of the environmental challenge we face seems overwhelming – and many people in many different disciplines, organizations, and companies are all working on projects to halt and reverse the trajectory. But what percentage of collective energy is going into unknowingly reinventing the wheel or duplicating efforts? How much effort could be directed to higher value activities if there were a system to organize searchable material across disciplines? A site that linked to all other sites of individuals, programs, courses, projects, NGOs, reports, all aimed at sustainability? We need to accelerate the rate of change in society, our institutions and our personal lives. One enabler would be the largest repository knowledge on sustainability. The encyclopedia of sustainability: OpenSustain.

Wikipedia uses wiki software – which allows for massively parallel communication, knowledge documentation, sharing and dissemination.

OpenSustain's Unique Positioning[edit | edit source]

OpenSustain will be more than just a wiki – it will also be a social networking tool – think of it as the intersection of My Space, Facebook and Wikipedia. By encouraging each new member of the community to post their personal profile and share the catalyst for their own actions about sustainability, OpenSustain will create immediate commitment from new community members. Every founding organization will encourage members to post their own personal page – highlighting which organizations they belong to, which books have had the most profound impact on their thinking, which reports are most critical to read, and what actions they are currently taking toward sustainability – and of course then there will be links to detailed pages that provide information on the specific content and initiatives that have affected their life. To encourage members who have not yet posted, OpenSustain will develop online video- based tutorials on how to post your personal profile.

Publishing Vehicle for Original Research[edit | edit source]

Publishing original research on sustainability issues is often difficult because narrowly focused journals only admit core disciplinary research findings, and interdisciplinary work - like sustainability- is often regarded as a less rigorous, extracurricular, "soft" science by editorial review boards. Additionally, when material is published it is rarely read by more than a small selection of individuals, which limits the impact of the publication itself. OpenSustain aims to tackle both problems by creating a venue for original research to be both peer reviewed and read by thousands and eventually millions of individuals around the globe.

In order to achieve this, OpenSustain will employ a peer-identification and review system for original research. Once an article of original research is posted to OpenSustain, the article will be able to be viewed, read, referenced, and discussed by anyone who visits the site – a shared publication, but only the author's selected peers will be able to edit the publication itself – a peer review process. Once edits are approved and added by the author the article will be certified "peer reviewed", and a community of debate will be able to coalesce around the article, with the original research remaining intact as a uniform final publication.

This innovation within wiki will require a slight shift in the mentality of individuals in the wiki community – but it will have significant advantage in that OpenSustain will help accelerate the uptake of sustainable research and curriculum within institutions of higher education.

Content Shaping[edit | edit source]

One of the problems with the any social movement in is the huge amount of redundancy representing a huge waste of precious resources. For instance, the first thing that any organization does is assign staff to research potential funding sources for future initiatives. Imagine a, searchable resource at OpenSustain listing all global funding sources – users could search these by region, grant amount, funding type, etc. The savings of human resource time and effort within the sustainability movement would be incredible! Similar stories exist for project, technology and course information.

Given these are such a high value resources – and having this content in turn will attract more unique visitors to the site – establishing these high value content areas will be the first priority. Focusing the OpenSustain community on high priority content is something that the management team will pursue – in order to build the community as fast as possible. And add maximum value in the space.

As an example, IBM committed $1 billion to the open source software because it eliminates the need for different organizations to all have to invest separately in developing, maintaining, updating, and disseminating different and competing operating systems. By working collaboratively IBM knows open source software will develop faster, with greater responsiveness to the needs of the user community, with greater reliability and robustness, than proprietary closed systems will. In essence, our mission is to catalyze the sustainability space – to provide and publish information, strategies, and resources that will accelerate the societal transformation we so desperately need.

We will promote content development in several ways: by recognizing by day, week, month, year and all time the following categories highest number of posts, highest quality of posts (as recognized by peers) and most frequently visited pages. We may even look at offering extrinsic rewards, and several ideas are currently under consideration.

Advisory Board[edit | edit source]

With the rise of the web, the open source movement and a number of pioneering thought leaders have emerged who have put this new technology to use in new and innovative ways. OpenSustain will invite a number of these individuals to sit on the Advisory Board. Following each individual's name (in parentheses) is the founder who will invite him or her:

  • Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia (Terry)
  • Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's Campaign Manager; (Jim)
  • Linus Torvalds, Creator of Linux (Jim)
  • Bob Young, Red Hat Co-Founder, President Lulu (Jim)
  • Don Tapscott, Author, Wikinomics (Jim)
  • Zephyr Teachout (Jim or Joe Trippi)
  • Joan Blades and/or Wes Boyd, Founders
  • Hunter and/or Amory Lovins, Authors, Natural Capitalism
  • John Seely Brown, Former Director, PARC
  • John Hagel III, Former Principle, McKinsey & Co.

Initial Infrastructure[edit | edit source]

The OpenSustain team has enlisted the support of the team behind Appropedia, the largest and most active wiki already aimed at sustainability. The site has thousands of articles, and as of early March 2007 Appropedia had 400,000 page views, with traffic growing exponentially between 50% and 100% per month. We will accelerate this growth and enhance the features of the site in order to attract users, content and traffic in parallel. We will double or triple the pace of exponential growth and positive impact. The Appropedia team is already partnering with several organizations, and again, as part of the OpenSustain project, the number of engaged organizations will be accelerated dramatically.

Funding[edit | edit source]

Cleantech Venture Network® has agreed to put forward two annual prizes – one for the greatest number of posts in a year, and one for the highest quality of posts (as ranked by peers – as with's review of reviewers). Wikia has agreed to fund all the server and bandwidth requirements.

Should the project apply for and receive funding for core administrative work – marketing efforts to scale contributions quickly, policy work, etc – the opportunity for funding in the first year will go to organizations in the order that the became founding members, and based on their contributions to the collective project.

Goals[edit | edit source]

To reach 100,000 entries within 12 months; 250,000 in 24 months; and one million entries within 36 months of formal launch.

Founding Individuals[edit | edit source]

The project will be accepting founding members until launch. Each founding individual agrees to contribute two hours a week to OpenSustain for the first year. Founding individuals are expected to contribute in whatever ways possible including networking, creating content, and publicizing OpenSustain within their networks. The list of founding individuals will be maintained in the order with which they sign onto the project.

  • Jim Harris, Cleantech Venture Network®
  • Terry Foote, Wikia
  • Ryan Legg, The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson School, Cornell University
  • Lonny Grafman, Chris Watkins and Curt Beckmann, Appropedia
  • Andrea Larson, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
  • Regina Clewlow, Founding Executive Director, Engineers for a Sustainable World
  • Rod Ruoff, Cockrell Family Endowed Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, UT-Austin

Founding Member Organizations[edit | edit source]

Opportunity comes to pass not to pause.

The project will be accepting founding organizations until we have the initial 12 founders. Each founding organization agrees to send out one email per month for the first three months after the launch of OpenSustain to all members in its sphere of influence, or database. Thereafter the organization agrees to send out one email per quarter. Each messaging will be designed with for a different market, and will inform people about the project and encourage them to contribute. These emails will encourage members to simply make one single entry at OpenSustain - and point them to a URL that will provide a quick visual lesson in how to create or edit such an entry.

So for instance, Net Impact has 7,000 members – all MBA students and grads who are committed to changing their lives, their institutions and the organizations they work for. Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) has 3,500 individuals in its network on 30 campus chapters in the United States.

Confirmed Founding Member Organizations[edit | edit source]

  • Cleantech Venture Network®
  • Wikia
  • The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson School, Cornell University
  • Appropedia
  • Net Impact
  • Village Earth
  • Center for Business and the Environment at Yale
  • Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Engineers Without Borders - Australia

Organizations with Positive Indication but Requiring Formal Confirmation[edit | edit source]

  • World Resources Institute (WRI)
  • Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW)
  • IC2 –UT Austin

Additional Potential Partner Organizations[edit | edit source]

  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Maryland
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA)
  • AIChE – American Institute of Chemical Engineers
    • AIChE Institute for Sustainability
  • Engineers without Borders
  • Medcin San Frontiers (MSF)
  • AASHE American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education
  • Association of University Technology Managers
  • AEESP – Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors
  • ASME – American Society of Mechanical Engineers
  • ASCE – American Society of Civil Engineers
  • IEEE – Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
  • MIT
  • Advanced Technology Development Centre
  • Aspen Institute
  • Ashoka

OpenSustain Content[edit | edit source]

OpenSustain will differentiate from Wikipedia's encyclopedic entries and add value by focusing on:

  • Original research
  • Project and technology implementation write-ups and reports
  • Original coursework and teaching materials
  • Case studies
  • How-to's, action plans and best practices
  • Links and information on other organizations
  • Collaboration pages for co-creating solutions
  • Discussion pages for commenting on completed work and work in progress
  • Working pages for relevant research, proposals, events, etc.
  • Personal and organizational pages for active social networking

OpenSustain Topic Categories[edit | edit source]

The following list of pages and topical material is far from extensive – it merely reflects a starting point – that was brainstormed during the Business, Engineering and Sustainability workshop in February 2007. The categories and topics on will evolve quickly.

1) References & Encyclopedic Content[edit | edit source]

a) Listing and Description of Books
i) Suggested reading lists (like Amazon list-mania)
(1) Engineers
(2) Business
(3) Psychologists
(4) Ecologists
b) Public Reports – single repository and multiple categorization
i) WRI
ii) Stern Report
iii) Millennium ecosystem
iv) IPCC
v) Club of Rome
c) Grant Making Bodies
i) Listing
ii) Deadlines
iii) Categorized by target(s)
d) List to all Sustainability Awards/Honors
i) Right Livelihood Award
ii) Nobel Prize
e) Links/Resources – each with a précis
i) Bookbuilders
ii) Connexions
iv) ESW:
v) Earth portal
viii) – 3/13/07 report
f) Events:
i) Competitions
(1) List of all sustainability competitions
(2) Business plans
(3) Most # of posts per year
(4) Best posts per year
ii) Conference Listing
(1) Academic
(2) Business
(3) Engineering

2) Technology Information[edit | edit source]

a) Technology Category (e.g. Water, Sanitation, Infrastructure, ICT, Agriculture, Energy, Health)
b) Sub-Category:
i) Water: purification, distribution
ii) Sanitation: toilets, industrial waste, recycling
iii) Infrastructure: roads, homes, schools
iv) ICT: phones, internet, computers
v) Agriculture: food production, harvesting, storage, processing
vi) Energy: generation: feedstocks, wind, bio-fuel, solar, distribution and storage: hydrogen
vii) Health: vaccines, devices/equipment, treatments
c) Technology Background
d) Technology description
i) Drawings, methods, protocols, calculations
e) Operations and maintenance manuals
f) References: References to other applications (internal links to other technology)
g) Needs: What is the next step?
h) Next Steps: Who is taking the next steps? (Link to discussions)

3) Project Information[edit | edit source]

a) Community Information
i) Partner Organization
b) Project Information
i) The Background
ii) The Need: Implementation scope
iii) The Solution: The technology (Link to Technology Page)
iv) The Implementation: The community engagement
v) The Report: Project Reporting
vi) The Follow Up: Identified Next Steps
c) Moving Forward: Who is taking action and what are they doing
d) Technical/Knowledge transfer tools
e) Assessment tools
f) Community agreement models
g) Case studies – successes and failures

4) Location Specific Materials[edit | edit source]

a) Location Information
i) City
ii) State
iii) Country
iv) GPS Coordinates
b) Location Background
i) Cultural norms
ii) Languages
iii) Currency
iv) Social, economic and educational information
c) Maps and Pictures

5) Course Materials[edit | edit source]

a) Course Number
b) Course Title
c) Course term (year and semester/quarter)
d) Course Credits and how they fit with graduation requirements
e) Course Syllabus
f) Materials: Presentations, readings, exercises, problem sets and teaching cases
g) Projects (Link to Project pages)
h) Technologies (Link to Technology)

6) Commercialization and Scaling Materials[edit | edit source]

a) Technology Commercialization
i) How to
ii) Business plans
iii) Resources
b) List of incubators
i) North America
ii) Europe
iii) Clean Energy Alliance – National Renewable Energy Lab
c) Venture Capital
d) Public Policy
i) Current
ii) How to change
iii) Global versus local
e) Market mechanisms
i) Cap & trade
ii) Taxes
iii) Incentives

7) Educational Materials[edit | edit source]

a) Universities/Colleges with sustainable courses
i) Beyond Great Pinstripes rankings
b) Implementation issues
i) Resistors – IP within universities
ii) Enablers – Capstone and project based coursework
iii) Models for implementation
(1) What are best models
c) Course Content & Learning
i) Design principles
(1) Courses/cases
(2) Knowledge
(3) Design of products
(4) Design tools
(5) Aboriginal Perspective
ii) Accounting and Measurements
(1) Real cost accounting
(2) Triple bottom line
(3) GDP vs. GPI
(4) Bhutan – happiness index
(5) Constanza's work – nature GDP contribution = $30T/year
(6) Perverse incentives
(7) Mother nature = ultimate accountant
(8) Life Cycle Analysis
(9) Total Embodied Energy
iii) Systems Thinking
(1) Why is this important?
(2) Peter Senge's work
(3) Edwards Deming
(4) Perverse incentives

8) Community Learning/Sharing[edit | edit source]

a) Best Practices
i) Open Cases
(1) Business
(2) Engineering
b) Strategies for rapid change in:
i) Companies
ii) Curriculum
iii) Society
iv) Developing nations

9) Personal Pages[edit | edit source]

a) Name
b) Location
c) Professional Status
d) Employer/School
e) Title
f) Interest Areas
g) Organizational Affiliations

10) Other Functionality and Site Administration[edit | edit source]

a) Meta Knowledge Searching
b) Scalability – what will change our situation the fastest?

Wikipedia Backgrounder[edit | edit source]

The following is a précis of the Wikipedia entry on the topic of Wikipedia. For full version go to:

Wikipedia, launched in January 2001, now has over six million articles in 250 languages – including 1.6 million entries in the English edition – making it the largest encyclopedia ever assembled. Wikipedia is one of the 12 most-visited websites worldwide, receiving up to 30,000 page requests per second which require more than 100 servers to handle the traffic.

Scholarly studies have concluded that Wikipedia is roughly as accurate as other online encyclopedias. Wikipedia's philosophy is that unmoderated collaboration among well-meaning, informed editors will gradually improve the encyclopedia in its breadth, depth and accuracy, and that, given enough time, the truth will win out and even subtle errors will be caught and corrected. One of Wikipedia greatest strengths is its timeliness. The article on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was cited frequently by the press in the days following the event. Wikipedia is funded through the Wikimedia Foundation, which relies primarily on private donations. The January 2007 fundraiser raised more than $1 million.

The top 12 language editions have over 100,000 articles and the top 128 have over 1,000 articles. The English subdomain ( receives approximately 55% of Wikipedia's cumulative traffic, with the remaining 45% split among the other languages. Wikipedia has won a number of awards and recognition.

Founding Organizations[edit | edit source]

Cleantech[edit | edit source]

The Cleantech Venture Network® – brings together venture capitalists, investors, with clean technology entrepreneurs. In North America more than $2.9 billion was invested in Cleantech deals in 2006, making it the third largest venture investment category. The Cleantech Venture Network® introduced the "cleantech" concept in 2002 and has since popularized it. Cleantech Venture Network serves more than 1,000 affiliate investor members worldwide and has tracked more than $13.2 billion invested in cleantech ventures since 1999, of which over $600 million has been raised by companies presenting their business plans at Cleantech Forums™.

Wikia[edit | edit source]

Wikia was launched in 2004 by Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales, along with Wikimedia Foundation board member Angela Beesley, as an ambitious continuation of the work and success of Wikipedia. Looking at the Internet as an electronic library, if Wikipedia is the encyclopedia, then Wikia is the rest of the library. To date Wikia has over 400,000 articles on topics as disparate as world travel, political campaigns, among thousands of others. Wikia uses the GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License), making all its content freely available to read, modify, copy and distribute.

Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise[edit | edit source]

Established in 2003 through a generous gift from the late Samuel C. Johnson, the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University is dedicated to advancing the knowledge and skills of managers to ensure that the private sector plays a leading role in solving today's most pressing social and environmental issues through new business strategy and innovation. Our experienced faculty and staff work closely with students, alumni, managers, researchers and others to generate and disseminate leading edge knowledge and research around entrepreneurship, international business, and technology commercialization that is practical for today's business leaders focused on sustainability as a corporate goal.

Net Impact[edit | edit source]

Net Impact is a thriving organization of MBA's and business leaders whose mission is to make a positive impact on society by growing and strengthening a community of new leaders who use business to improve the world. The "Net" implies both our powerful network, and the bottom line (as in net income or net profit). The "Impact" refers to the impact our members have on their schools, companies, social sector organizations, and communities. Together, the words denote the positive change that we can all create through the power of our network. With more than 130 student and professional chapters on 4 continents in 75 cities and 80 graduate schools, a central office in San Francisco, and partnerships with leading for and nonprofit organizations, Net Impact enables members to use business for social good in their graduate education, careers, and communities.

Appropedia[edit | edit source]

Appropedia is a 12 month old wiki supported by a dedicated team of administrators all of whom had independently established their own wikis with similar aims. Appropedia is an open library, focused on success in two core initiatives: Reduce poverty through international development, and increase sustainability through the use of Appropriate Technology. Appropedia has requested and received permission to republish, under GFDL, thousands of documents from partner organizations, with an ongoing project to automate content transfer. Appropedia has also incorporated the content of several other wikis, the largest being the former WikiGreen, and is currently in the process of integrating the content of another wiki, the ATwiki from Village Earth.

Yale Center for Business and the Environment[edit | edit source]

The Center for Business and the Environment at Yale provides a focal point for research, education, and outreach to advance business solutions to global environmental problems.

The Center joins the strengths of two world-renowned graduate schools - the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies - together with a network of internal and external thought leaders at the business-environment interface. Our work connects students, executives, academics, and policy-makers, and spans issues from environmental finance to corporate social responsibility. We provide visibility to experts and catalyze the innovative, pragmatic ideas that will shape the future of both business and the environment.

The Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Georgia Tech[edit | edit source]

The Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ILE) is an interdisciplinary unit of Georgia Tech that enhances leadership and entrepreneurship for socially responsible and sustainable value creation. ILE supports global citizenship and responsible leadership among students, faculty and members of the business community. ILE encourages individuals and organizations to create added value by focusing on a triple bottom-line. Through increased class offerings and coordinated activities, ILE empowers students and others from every industry and discipline to take the economical, social and environmental impacts of their actions into consideration when making everyday business decisions.

Engineers Without Borders – Australia[edit | edit source]

EWB-Australia's vision is of a world where every individual and community has adequate access to the resources, knowledge and technology necessary to meet their self identified human needs. To that end, EWB adopts a rights based approach to sustainable development and supports the Millennium Development Goals using them as part of the framework through which we operate. EWB always seeks to work in partnership with other organizations to achieve its outcomes and believes that collaboration is vital in finding socially, economically and environmentally sustainable solutions to today's problems. EWB is working towards achieving its vision by engaging with engineering students, professionals and industry as well as the broader community in three key areas: Programs, Education and Awareness. Currently, with over 2700 active members, 19 chapters, 6 staff, and over 30 projects, EWB has created an active community dedicated to education and action.

See also[edit | edit source]

Discussion[View | Edit]

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