Leading analysts are urging all sectors to consider how earth observation (EO) technologies can factor into their environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting.
Hosting a panel discussion at the Australian Space Forum in Adelaide last week, EY Space Tech leader, Anthony Jones, told attendees that “The breadth of ESG requirements mean companies need to better understand everything from emissions to biodiversity, from water use to health and safety – and a whole lot more.”
“Earth observation data is already so detailed and improving all the time — we can see so much more, including detecting chemical fingerprints in microorganisms that the human eye can’t even see,” he said, adding that “We can observe areas that were previously difficult to get to or even completely out of reach, and keep track of them from our eyes in the sky.”
“I know how powerful EO data is going to be in helping our clients achieve their ESG goals because we’re already using it,” he said.
“We’ve used earth observation to help one client discover water leaks without manual inspection, and another to monitor vegetation growth around remote infrastructure which has helped them improve fire management.
Forum panellist and EY Data Science Lead, Dr Jack White, said EO data is playing a critical role for the ‘S’ in ESG.
Dr White’s team creates data and modelling for risk mitigation strategies designed to save lives and limit damage to water quality and vegetation.
“Our team has been working closely with clients on the inherent societal impact of natural disasters,” Dr White told attendees.
“If you think about how multilayered and long the damage from wildfires lasts; there have been human deaths, housing, wildlife and vegetation destruction, and the economic impact lasts years to the agriculture supply chains and the power and utilities networks,” he said.
“Our wildfire detection data product uses earth observation technologies to better understand bushfire conditions, improve future detection, and enable better risk mitigation planning to minimise impacts.
“For instance we can take regular satellite images and provide assessments on moisture content and see if there is high growth and low moisture in vegetation around your infrastructure — and subsequently advise on appropriate maintenance requirements.
Dr White said ESG reporting still has a long way to go to take advantage of technologies that will provide the accurate data assurance that markets and regulators are demanding.
“State-of-the-art ESG reporting is currently mostly done using spreadsheets and manual input,” Dr White said.
“So there is a huge disparity between that mode of reporting and what emerging technologies can provide and companies are now looking whether they have rich enough data that is properly audited in order to meet their ESG legal requirements.
“We are working with satellite providers who have a competitive interest in adding hyperspectral imagery capabilities to allow clients to see greenhouse gas molecules, such as CO2 and methane, and estimate their volume.”
Dr White said capabilities such as these add another data layer providing accuracy for clients needing to comply with ESG legislation globally.
“These tools are quickly becoming intertwined with ESG reporting to ensure there is audited accuracy as mandated by global requirements to report your carbon footprint,” he said.
“It is a literal and visual interpretation of the greenhouse gases being produced by your organisation, so the ESG agenda is becoming so innately tied to what space tech has to offer,” Dr White said.
Jones said he hoped all sectors will begin to embed space tech into ESG principles in a way that supports modern expectations of ESG on Earth, rather than having to fix mistakes later.
“I believe we’ll all be surprised by how quickly space tech will become central to business operations, beyond the already critical role GPS plays in our financial system,” he said.
“Now it’s up to all of us to uplift our values and those of our organisations on Earth and in space.”