Satellites Support Businesses Working For Sustainable Development

By | February 13, 2006 | Feature, Government, Telecom

The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun working with several large multinational businesses to integrate satellite data into the companies’ corporate sustainable development (CSD) efforts, ESA announced.

The practice of CSD, also known as corporate social responsibility, is when corporations manage their business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society. Companies regularly issue environmental audits of their CSD activities and report on the so-called "triple bottom line" of economic, social and environmental impacts. CSD assessment methods are becoming standardized, and ESA is working with companies to integrate satellite data such as earth observation into these efforts across a wide variety of industrial sectors.

ESA’s Earth Observation Market Development (EOMD) program – set up to build remote sensing business capacity – is designed to develop services that apply wide-area and regularly updated environmental information from satellites to measure the impact of CSD. Currently, ESA is working on six contracts under the program, partnering with a number of value-added companies and the large corporate players.

"CSD is not just our business but our mission," Tony Moens de Hase of Tractebel Engineering, said in a statement. Tractebel is the prime contractor for a project to apply satellite data to CSD reporting for Suez Engineering hydropower plants in locations such as Laos, Brazil and France. Belgium-based earth observation value-added providers Keyobs and Nadar, as well as environmental consultancy firm CAP Conseil, also are involved in the Suez project.

"Suez recognizes it is working with some of the most important aspects of CSD including water, waste and energy," Moens de Hase, said. "The company has been a pioneer in this area and has issued CSD reports for the last five years. So the objective of this study is to see how satellite data might be able to help us. I think that there are some aspects of the subject that we have to analyze with new tools, because the existing tools most companies are using are not always the most suitable ones."

Another effort under the EOMD program involves Canada-based Viasat Geo-Technologie, which is applying satellite measurements of sustainability to the field of mineral resource extraction.

Viasat is working with Canadian aluminum mining company Alcan and French concrete company Groupe Lafarge, both of which develop and operate mines and quarries around the globe. Satellite imagery is being used to measure and regularly monitor the biodiversity at four active sites in Brazil, Guinea, Kenya and the United States.

"We think there is a lot of potential for remote sensing in this area," Pierre Vincent of Viasat, said. "We will focus a lot on the vegetation aspect. Typically such operations remove part of the natural cover, so the local environment has to be restored during or after industrial activities to its previous state. Such activities take place across quite large areas, so with satellites we will better be able to monitor them as they take place.

"We would like to go further if possible, and combine remote sensing with other data sources to estimate the carbon captured through reforestation and related activities. There are not a lot of tools developed to measure that kind of stuff as yet, but it represents a new market – in the future there will be that need."

Forestry is another area where EMOD has active programs.

Work with Aon, a U.K.-based re-insurance company, is helping to monitor concerns about deforestation and the impacts of unsustainable forest harvesting. As the prime contractor, Aon is working with companies exploiting forest products including leading U.K.-based home improvement chain B&Q, South African forest product firm Global Forest Products and household cleaning manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser. Earth observation value-added companies Sarmap and Ambiental Technical Solutions are applying both optical and radar satellite imagery to sustainable management and forest protection, with certification being provided by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organization.

"We’ll be assessing if the current sources of data are accurate, whether data frequency is sufficient and the transparency of data collection – and one of the key issues is cost," Charles Eyre of Aon said.

Value-added providers Definiens AG of Germany is examining CSD reporting in forestry for pulp and paper manufacture. Under the project, UPM Forest CE and Bayerische Staatsforsten will look at test sites in Bavaria as well as the Czech Republic to use satellite imagery data to improve sustainability in exploitation and logistics of timber.

Regularly updated information on large forest areas will be provided, so forest managers know how much wood will be available at any one time on a sustainable basis. Up-to-date maps of forests and conserved areas will also be compared with information from wood suppliers.

Other efforts underway include water studies led by AMEC Engineering of Germany that use multispectral satellite sensors such as Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer to observe the color of surface water as a means of deriving their environmental quality and an effort led by the Hatfield Group to monitor Shell Canada‘s efforts to exploit oil sands located in the Alberta province.

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