Open Source Business Models for Circular Economy Video Series (2)

VIDEO 2 – Circularity & Brands, Everything Open?

From a Video Series about ‘Open Source Business Models for Circular Economy’ – produced for the Open Source Circular Economy Days (OSCEdays).  See our original post on Open Source Circular Economy Days  for the complete set of resources: tool downloads, explanations, videos, script, links.

Circularity & Brands, Everything Open?


The first idea I’d like to share is: You may not need to Open Source everything! Maybe it is enough if you open up just the parts that need to be open to enable circularity.

It is true. Not even in the world of open source Software everything is Open Source. People write Open Source Software using “closed source” software languages for example.

Or let’s say you are building a piece of Open Source Furniture maybe a desk. The tools you will use and the materials – the wood and the bolts for example – will much likely not be open source. But everyone can see you are using standard tools and standard materials. And everyone can get those and build the Open Source desk.

And here in our context of the “Open Source Circular Economy Days” the question is always:

What parts of the product or process need to be Open Source to enable circularity?

Think about Superman for a minute. And imagine an action figure – a toy – of Superman.

superman-through-the-agesSuperman through ages, by Helgi Halldórsson, CC-BY-SA

Superman – the character – is owned by Warner/DC. It is closed and copyright protected. But that is not a problem for an action figure of Superman.

Let’s imagine for a minute. That this action figure is circular. It is made from a “magical” material that is fully recyclable.

Then this fact needs to be Open Source. It needs to be Open Source that the material is used here in this action figure. And the material itself also needs to be Open Source. As the whole process for the recycling.

That would enable the recycling and circularity of the action figure! Because it could be recycled everywhere by everyone capable to set up the recycling process.

Everyone would be enabled to reshape the material. But only Warner/DC can make another Superman out of it. And sell it as Superman. Because Superman is a closed brand owned by Warner/DC.


And this is the moment to mention that in Open Source trademarks are still protected! They are important as always! Because when the building plan is open for everyone it still matters who actually turns the bits into atoms. Who makes the physical object? How is the quality? Is it warranted? And who is responsible in court when the toaster sets the house on fire?

Brands are important to communicate trust and responsibility. And to make a difference.


Here is another hypothetical example: Imagine you have a fantastic machine in your factory that is able to draw the Brand on this Toothpaste Tube in less then a second. That process does not necessarily need to be Open Source to enable the circularity of the Tube.

But it should be Open Source how people can wash away the ink win it back and reuse it or biodegrade it. And the ink itself should be Open Source too. So others can reuse it.

The best case scenario is that you have used the ink in the first place because it was Open Source.

But again branding itself and the maybe sophisticated process to paint it on the tube can remain closed and yours – can remain your competitive advantage.

Bottom line: Find out what parts need to be Open Source to enable circularity. And open them.

This was the first key idea I wanted to share.


And here comes the second:

Find a way to structure your company product or project in a way that it is successful BECAUSE it is Open Source not DESPITE of it.

What do I mean with this? If you chose the Open Source road new possibilities pop up. For collaboration and innovation for example. Try to make those work for you.

We will talk about this more in the later videos.

But the key point to take away now is: Open Source is not necessarily a “gift” or “charity” to the world. In Business Open Source is sometimes an even “aggressive” strategy for growth or competition!

Let me give you an example.

Google developed Android as Open Source to be able to catch up with Apples Iphone. Because Android was Open Source it enabled a lot of companies to contribute to it and to use it. Resulting quickly into an ecosystem with even more apps then Apples App Store. And Google placed its Google Play Store right into the middle.

Android is the most spread computer operating system in the world today. By far!

Another example is Tesla Motors – the famous manufacturer of electric cars. A while ago they opened up their patents. Why? Electric Cars need a huge infrastructure around them. They need chargers and pit stops available everywhere. No company in the world can build this alone. So opening up the patents enables an ecosystem of commercial actors to build this infrastructure. And the stronger this infrastructure gets the more people can use electric cars. The potential customer base for Tesla Motors grows.

These were just 2 examples of how companies can be successful BECAUSE they are Open Source! Not DESPITE of it.

Ok. In this video I shared 2 key ideas to keep in mind when designing an “Open Source Business Model for Circular Economy.”

1 – Not everything needs to be Open Source to enable circularity and
2 – Structure your company in a way that Open Source is an ADVANTAGE.

The advantage though often lies in the possibility of growing an ecosystem. An ecosystem you can benefit from. Some ecosystems can be described as Platforms.

And this is what I am going to talk about in the next video. Platforms. I will also introduce you to 2 successful Open Source Companies. And I will use these examples in the later videos again and again. To make things understandable.

See you in the next video.

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