Responsible Open Science: Moving towards an Ethics of Environmental Sustainability

Posted: 7 Oct 2020

Date Written: August 19, 2020


Databases and data infrastructures at the basis of open science have important environmental impacts. These include heavy carbon dioxide emissions linked to the energy required to generate and process large amounts of data; the impact on the material environment (e.g., where data centres are constructed); and the use of unsustainable practices for both extracting minerals for technological components, as well as e-waste disposal. These are important concerns: carbon emissions from information and communication technologies (ICT) need to drop significantly to limit earth temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, unsustainable mineral extraction and e-waste practices can have detrimental health impacts - impacts that especially affect individuals in low-and-middle-income countries where mining and waste storage occurs. While likely improvements in energy efficiency and the move to renewable energy will no doubt relieve at least some of these concerns, the pace of data-driven innovation in the ICT sector raises concerns that it could potentially dominate the world’s renewable energy sources leading to increases in carbon emissions when other sectors are decreasing their energy use. Intersecting these issues are questions around open science practices. The underlying premise of open science relies on the storage of, and access to large amounts of data, often held in huge data repositories. As we increasingly move to open science practices, we need to ask questions about how we can develop infrastructures, guidelines, responsibilities and practices to support environmentally responsible and sustainable open science. We draw on the concept of an ‘Ethics Ecosystem’ (Samuel, Derrick, and Van Leeuwen 2019) to explore how researchers and research institutions can begin to address this.

Keywords: open science, databases, data infrastructure, environmental sustainability, reponsibility, ethics ecosystem

Suggested Citation

Samuel, Gabrielle and Lucivero, Federica, Responsible Open Science: Moving towards an Ethics of Environmental Sustainability (August 19, 2020). Available at SSRN:

Gabrielle Samuel

King’s College London ( email )

London, England WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

Federica Lucivero (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

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