Reading today through my Google Reader I came across Matt Asay’s posts on open source. It struck me that there is a great deal of commonality between open source business models and sustainability business models.
Open Source started out as an ideal, a concept of creating software which is free to share and free to modify. Over the years many companies have tried to build a business around open source. RedHat comes to mind as a successful company. IBM redefined their business around opensource. Sun is going opensource. Cisco has a lot of opensource software in their hardware. SugarCRM is another success story. Ubuntu is coming up but still not a viable business.
Sustainability has been a concept and ideal for a long time and in the past few years it has taken a bigger stage. Climate change has increased the focus but sustainability is more than only CO2 emissions.
So, what does it take to make a business out of opensource or sustainability? In one simple word, Value!
Both need to provide value to customers or end users to make sense. Ideals and concepts by itself will not sell a product. Customers do not buy products/services for their ideals but for the value they provide to their business.
Open Source provides a cost effective alternative to properietary software. It brings in more flexibility for a organization to modify the software to reach their business goals. And, you can have multiple vendors supporting the software solution. For example, Oracle provides cheaper support for RedHat Linux than RedHat itself, go figure!
Sustainability provides a new strategic lens for companies to cut costs, create new revenue options and improve their image. It provides a way for companies to create new products, manage their processes better and reach new target markets for their products.
In the current financial crisis facing the world, both open source and sustainability will make a great combination as strategic tools to create a better organization.