Building a sustainable supply chain with Earth Observations

Sustainability is an expectation set by consumers and it’s changing the way businesses now operate. 

For many large businesses, this means not only looking at their internal operations - but on a larger scale at their suppliers across the supply chain. According to a report from the McKinsey Institute, more than 90 percent of companies' environmental impact comes from their supply chain. 

Emerging Earth observations (EO) technologies, such as satellite monitoring and artificial intelligence (AI), are helping businesses make data-driven decisions about where they’re supplying materials from, and enabling businesses to operate a transparent supply chain.

In this blog, we look at how EO can be operationalised by companies wanting to tackle critical issues in their supply chains such as climate change, deforestation, ecosystem degradation, and rural poverty. 


Accurate traceability of raw materials

Tracing material consumption back to the exact geographic location of production and understanding its impact on the local environment is crucial to setting up a supply chain sustainably.

Businesses need to find ways to ensure that the farmland used to grow crops such as palm oil and soy isn’t connected to negative environmental impacts, such as deforestation. The good news is that organisations can use satellite imagery to trace the supply journey.

High-resolution satellite imagery providers, like Planet, enable businesses to validate and classify land use change to achieve smarter policy and greater supply chain traceability. 

By combining satellite imagery with data and applying AI, companies can get a much clearer picture of where harvested crops are coming from, even down to the individual field. For example, if a company buys soybeans from Brazil they can see where the fields they are buying from are located, and whether those fields were covered by a rainforest one year ago. 

The below image captured by Planet, traces how a palm oil mill is deforesting to increase their production. 



Increased transparency 

With search engines at consumers' fingertips, they are becoming more conditioned to want evidence of sustainable and ethically sourced materials in the products they are buying. 

Earth Observation data provides companies with the opportunity to increase transparency and build a stronger trust with their stakeholders by accurately identifying where and how their materials are being sourced. This is especially important for consumers who are 85 percent more likely to buy from a company with a reputation for sustainability than from a neutral company if their prices were equal. 

For example, UK retail chain Marks & Spencer provides an interactive mapping of its food and apparel manufacturers, educating consumers about where and how it was produced. 


Industry highlight: Unilever’s goal of a deforestation-free supply chain

As one of the worlds largest buyers of palm oil, Unilever, is focused on playing a role in breaking the link between palm oil and deforestation. The Unilever team joined forces with Google Cloud in 2020 to raise sustainable sourcing standards for suppliers and bring Unilever closer to its goal of a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023. By combining the power of cloud computing with satellite imagery and AI, the two companies have built a more holistic view of the forests, water cycles and biodiversity that intersect Unilever’s supply chain. 

Unilever and Google Cloud have been working with a broad range of technology partners to build a centralised command centre that will create a better mechanism for detecting deforestation. 

Learn more about how Unilever is using this technology to help end deforestation here.


Do you need help building a more sustainable supply chain? 

EO is a viable and cost-effect source capable of providing regular and consistent information regarding agricultural production and their related impacts at a global scale. 

Alongside our Earth Observation brand, EO Data Science, we can help you understand, procure and implement satellite imagery data to improve the traceability and transparency in your supply chain today. Get in touch with our team to learn more!

About the author: Amy Boyes

Amy is the Marketing Assistant at the NGIS Group.

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