How location intelligence can help sustainability
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Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword to satisfy investors and customers. Business survival in a world increasingly threatened by extreme heat and weather events affects the livelihoods of consumers, disrupts essential operations and chokes raw materials supply.
It’s a concern shared by most executives, especially those at the helm of thriving companies. In a Deloitte survey of more than 2,000 C-suite executives, 79% said the world was at a “tipping point” in responding to climate change. Just 59% had felt that way a mere eight months earlier. Nonetheless, optimism that immediate action can limit the worst of climate change has grown from 63% to 88%.
That immediate action involves consciously looking at every business decision through a sustainability lens. And location intelligence bolsters this.
Both large businesses and startups alike are using location intelligence to guide sustainability strategies and balance the competitive landscape.
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Tracing routes and supply chains
Carbon emissions from transportation account for 27% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the most of any sector, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But this problem has a geographic solution.
Transportation accounts for a high amount of greenhouse gas emissions and much can be done to augment and shorten routes. Moving a product from beginning to end (and back again) by semitrailer, cargo jet or railroad while traversing the fewest miles possible can seem an unwieldy challenge. But smarter routing fueled by modern location intelligence can save time and money.
The key is having access to the most accurate and up-to-date foundational maps, then sometimes following unconventional routes. One leading company that manages daily delivery of 19 million packages, for instance, discovered that a single mile can make a $50 million difference.
By adding satellite imagery and other key inputs, leaders can better understand the sources of raw materials and determine whether suppliers are operating sustainably. Knowing the chain of custody of any product — including the components that go into it — helps companies bounce back from supply chain disruptions and transparently show their environmental impact.
This knowledge can extend to a product’s path — including how it might be repurposed. Plastics are increasingly being recycled for new uses — including for packaging and products themselves — but many tons of plastics still end up in landfills. Tracking shipments of scrap plastics from location to location, for instance, can indicate where plastics go and what they become.
Take nearly any industry, add “precision,” and chances are it’s utilizing location intelligence to strategically produce more by using less. That’s because, by anchoring operations in a data-driven geographic approach, we can clearly see the impacts of our actions and intervene, sometimes in real time.
Innovators and entrepreneurs are using location intelligence to determine where and how to produce more with less land, labor and fertile environments — such as growing new, popular plant proteins.
Precision forestry, for example, ensures that trees are planted where they’re most likely to grow in a climate-changed world, which is key for timber industries. Precision logistics helps shipping companies ensure that every mile is of use. Precision agriculture helps farmers determine what they can grow and how much with less water or land.
These examples all involve digitizing operations so that every step of the process can be monitored and analyzed, creating a systematic approach. Technology — harnessed by those who need to be in the know at all times — is even making it possible to get a smartphone alert about the state of one’s crops, for example, or provide field-by-field profit data.
Location intelligence: Selecting the best spot
Just as determining the surest shipping route can save time, money and carbon emissions, so can choosing the right locations — such as where to plant trees so that they will flourish; where to place electric charging stations; or where to find the most productive renewable energy sources taking into account factors such as landownership, accessibility and costs.
Currently, large organizations working in collaboration with startups and consultants are using algorithms and data-driven maps that show environmental restrictions, available land, climate and population proximity to give U.S. agencies clear options before they even set foot on-site.
To build a truly sustainable company — one that not only survives but thrives — location analysis must be baked into business strategy. Sustainability needs geographic context, precision and partners who understand the most effective ways to apply location-based technology.
Katie Decker is the senior partner manager of the Esri Startup Program.
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