[Day 2] Open hardware for sustainable science and sustainability science

SUSTAINABLE SCIENCE – organizers Jenny and Francois


The aim of this workshop was to discuss the issue of sustainability in science, and how Open Hardware (OH) could contribute towards enhancing environmental (and economic) sustainability. In particular, sustainability was considered in terms of practices of repair and recycling. It was also recognized that OH could also be instrumental in driving forward research on sustainability, although this topic was not pursued as closely.

The discussion focused around the question: where is openness making a change? Where are pressure points to nudge things along? In order to address this question, the group split into two, one focusing on how to change institutional thinking, and the other focusing on developing community practices that enhance sustainable practices. In relation to the former, it was recognized that a number of different institutions play a key role in thwarting current efforts to enhance sustainability. In particular, these included research institutions, funding bodies, commercial manufacturers and so forth. While it was recognized that these institutions could adapt policy to support sustainable practices, the efficacy of policy changes was also debated. It was suggested that alternative measures – such as engaging market forces – might be more effective alternative.

The community practices group spent time discussing issues such as recycling and waste disposal systems. They suggested that there was a key need for guidelines on green science, and that there were resources in other communities (such as manufacturing) that could be adapted to OH. Together, the group agreed that there was a need for more evidence – both of good practice, but also of the wastage of under-used/non-recycled equipment. A number of actions came out, including a commitment to discussing how to gather evidence about the impact of non-sustainable equipment use.


Aim: Open science hardware and environmental sustainability

  • OH for sustainability science

  • OH and making science more environmentally sustainable

    • Hardware, biological materials and chemicals

    • How to optimize protocols for more sustainability – better documented protocols for better adaptation

  • Example: CERN

    • Colleague does environmental impact at CERN. A lot of scientists when confronted with the issue about their own work (despite being externally environmentally friendly) get nervous.

    • Sustainability hasn’t been built into thought process when ordering equipment

  • Example: Arduino

    • Founder felt badly about people who buy Arduinos and use them once

    • Problem with lifestyle

  • OH needs to be more critical about mass usage – tension between wanting lots of people to use equipment and lowering waste

  • Example: longevity of equipment

    • Older autoclaves are easily repairable because schematics are in manuals

    • Boxer autoclaves keep running and every part is replaceable or repairable

    • Doesn’t generate waste as quickly

  • Example: biological materials

    • 3D printing from recycled materials – still needs to be optimized

    • People are working on it and it is not trivial

  • Example: medical equipment

    • Challenges are greater than in West for Africa

    • Health service in west will buy all one type of equipment, and have one service contract

    • In Africa equipment donated at different times – need many different types of spares

    • US university that has embedded 3D printers and technicians in hospitals to generate spare parts and database of plans that could be adjustable

  • How to make change: not just the price to buy, but also the costs of servicing

  • QUESTION: where is openness making a change? Where are pressure points to nudge things along?

    • Design

    • Purchasing


    • Marina: science is not sustainable and there should be a way of thinking differently

    • Lou: waste disposal systems in Africa poor and can cause impact, repurposing waste into value

    • Leonardo: technological production for impactful environmental research that doesn’t cause damage. Environmental impact of centralizing electronics production in places like Shenzhen

    • reinforcement learning – optimizing processes by taking action and giving reward. Sustainability is an interesting aspect that could be incorporated

    • Julietta: current contradictions between OH and environmental concerns – produce gadgets we don’t need – fostering consumer culture

    • technology is held as a solution to make the world a better place, but if science is not sustainable then we need to be more critical. Want to know how hard labs look at their own sustainability

    • Pierre: commercial 3D printing company – have challenges relating to plastic. Also participate in public health interventions and need to use plastic because of environment.

    • Diego: Self-reflection – consumer and produce a lot of hardware garbage. How to live with the guilt

    • Anna: Involved in local manufacturing – interested in device waste. Equipment needs to be repairable as a means of extending access to it. Also need to recognize the flip of session – environmental sustainability and repairability is a key motivation for using OH

    • Tony: Solving sustainability from supply change perspective

    • Analia: Role for civil society in discussion

    • Violet: what is the incentive for environmental sustainability – cheaper to buy new, and to discard (ie. instead of shipping back)

    • Saad: like reusing mass produced items in new ways

    • Nakka: interested in sustainability issues and SDGs

    • Dorcas: interested in starting a MakerSpace and teaching girls how to use hardware and software – how to make impactful solutions in society

    • Yanick: environmental sustainability must be one of our key defining features

  • Repair hasn’t been much discussed in GOSH – other organizations focus on repair to extend longevity. Run repair cafes. Suggest GOSH gets more involved.

  • Example: Marina – physics lecturers make the students make the equipment for the university


Dorcas stresses the importance of having clear community guidelines. In her lab in Kenya, they realized that kids were developing software just for fun. They then gave them specific SGDs to orient their work and the kids are now developing socially relevant applications. They made the same experience with the use of 3d printers.

François says we should brief users on the implication of the materials and components they use. In fact, we should get people to think about the life-cycle of scientific equipment. Could GOSH propose a list of suggestions concerning the environmental impact of materials?
Anna suggests that rich-countries lab should not export only stuff but also best practices on how to deal with it when it breaks down.
SEEED is trying to improve the sustainability of its production processes. Violet says that she is not the best conversant for the topic since she is not involved in manufacturing.
François observe that the problem of sustainability is stronger in well-funded labs, hence the community could learn from the experiences of labs already working with limited oppourtunities.
Documentation is paramount for setting up a repair culture.
Saad raises a couple of issues. Is the science community really ready to change? Do we want scientist to start fixing things? Or do we want them to bring people in for that? Are we re-using all the arduino piling up in labs?

  1. How to change institutional thinking sub-group
  • Example: university receives computers and then fixes them for reuse in schools etc.

  • Example: engineer approached with project to generate energy with wind. Talked very technically. Recognize that there needs to be a language and topic shift – need to present a business plan to catch the funders and highlight impact

  • Questions: if not programmes and initiatives, who do we need to influence?

    • Funders – if funders are on board and recognize social and market benefits

    • Lack of evidence for funders for equipment reuse – project-focused instead of systems

    • Needing to “spend the budget”

    • Losing cultures of repairing in universities. Need to influence academic structure to get it incorporated into learning processes.

    • MakerSpaces are getting more popular. They get funding but there is no “point” – no community etc. use MakerSpaces to get people to repair. Is this a community thing or a policy thing?

    • Disconnect with university bureaucracy and repairers – misconceptions of object integrity. Scientists actively dissuaded from opening up and reusing equipment parts as it is institutional ownership.

    • Universities concerned about image – don’t want old or strange looking equipment

    • Need to talk with scientists more about law and human rights – to encourage self-reflection

  • Are we kidding ourselves that policy actually works? Need to understand competing systems and stakeholders that support or undermine green activities. What if we move more to the thinking of Adam Smith-- free market mechanism – so that when institutions buy the hardware the purchase department could be geared by the market force to buy the product that was more green. Ie. a green credit or tax break?

  • Top down approaches do not always succeed – need policies to reflect practices and vice versa

  • Concern that policies at institutional and funding levels may not be as effective as desired. Need to create situations in which going green is always the sensible option. How we get there, though, requires more evidence. Need to get economics and environmental auditors involved.

  • Need to think about sustainable economies and what we can learn from these communities

Need to think about spaces such as:

  1. Show institutions why repair is of value to them – monetary and environmental

  2. Engage in donation policies as a means of social good

  3. Funders

    1. Gather evidence of wastage from lack of use

    2. Fund for repair skills and repair projects

  4. Commercial manufacturers – need to support repair more

  5. Community sub-group

    1. Discussion about aspects like recycling and waste disposal systems

    2. Could make it a “must” for students to repair equipment – should be common for labs with lots of equipment

    3. Are there guidelines out there for green science? There might be resources that could be drawn on that could be adapted for science

    4. Need to ship manuals for repair and recycling with OH equipment

  • Need more evidence – especially of policies that have been successful in other spaces

  • Understanding de-valuation of products. Warrantee and guarrantee

  • Excessive purchasing on grants – aiming to hit the higher limit of grant calls


  • Gather evidence about loss due to equipment – space and time. Marina suggest groups. Anna interested in medical equipment in developing countries. Lou has done work in African science. But there are ethical challenges to gathering such evidence.

  • Make stricter rules on purchasing in grants that should reflect more cost efficiency – serviceability, de-valuation, repairability

  • Encourage sustainable lab architecture as well as infrastructures

Additional questions:

Is it a good idea to centralize production in certain areas such as Shenzhen – what is the impact for Open Hardware?

How does the OH community respond to SDGs? Where would it be a game changer?

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