On A Changing Planet, You Need Big Environmental Data

Risk and uncertainty are growing daily on Planet Earth.

That's why more and more decision makers — corporate executives, investors, policymakers and municipal officials — now understand that they need pinpoint insight from the staggering amounts of big environmental data being collected across the globe. 

— Leslie Dach, Former Walmart Executive Vice-President of Corporate Affairs

But while raw environmental data is growing, its use for decision making lags significantly. Why? 

Because the state of big environmental data today is like the Internet without search  — so overwhelming in its quantity, complexity and disaggregation that it's rendered virtually useless. 

The biggest problem? Missing translation of data into financial value. 

The effort to harness big environmental data has so far been much more costly than the value it yields. 

Credit: kris krüg

Credit: kris krüg

The Earth Genome: Elevating the Complex to the Simple

The Earth Genome is devoted to flipping the Cost>Value equation — to maximize the value of big environmental data while minimizing the cost of access and insight for any decision, any context, any location. 

Over the last two years, we've consulted with some of the biggest names in industry — from Dow to Bloomberg to Blackrock — about how to make big environmental data relevant to the challenges and decisions they face. 

They've told us they want 1) solutions, not another risk analysis; 2) insights, expressed in financial terms; and 3) simple, easy-to-use tools



So we are launching The Earth Genome as an ecosystem of integrated tech and digital resources that includes 

  • Unparalleled datasets from myriad public and private sources; 
  • Microservices that wrangle that data and provision it into a single "operating system" — rendering it more accessible, findable and standardized;
  • Decision tools/apps that visualize, translate and interpret the datasets for financial value to end users; and 
  • A technology platform (launching in 2016) to enable one-stop shopping & interoperability for the apps and data you need to make decisions. 

The Earth Genome will elevate the complex to the simple — to help decision makers stay atop a rapidly changing planet. 

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Our Advantage: The Expertise to Translate Data to Value

The Earth Genome team is the first to gather the critical range of expertise to translate big environmental data into insight for decision making, particularly to the financial bottom line.

No one else has broken down all the silos — from data science to ecology/environmental disciplines to visualization tools to cloud-based technologies — required to bring big environmental data down to earth for decision makers. And no one else is uniting those silos with a careful eye toward explicitly serving end users and their felt needs.

Our three founders — Steve McCormickGlen Low, and Dan Hammer — are leaders, respectively, in the worlds of environmental conservation, corporate sustainability and big-data science.

Our world-class partners represent an essential range of sectors, stakeholders and experts — global business, academia/science, technology, data science, and geospatial visualization. 

Screenshot of GIST interface.

Screenshot of GIST interface.

GIST: The Initial Earth Genome Tool for Corporate Decisions on Water Use

Water is a key input to nearly everything made on the planet.

So we co-created the initial Earth Genome tool — focused on revealing options for corporate decisions on water use.  We did so in collaboration with Arizona State University and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development — in particular Dow Chemical and six other global corporations.  

We are currently piloting the tool — the Green Infrastructure Support Tool, or GIST — in the Brazos River Basin in Texas, site of Dow's largest facility globally. Texas is plagued by chronic multiyear droughts causing over $10b in lost income annually. 

Dow is considering major investments — in both “grey” infrastructure as well as green solutions such as restored wetlands, which act as natural reservoirs — to ensure water security for the Brazos River Basin.

Dow asked the Earth Genome team:

  • Can you find the most effective green solutions, based on water and cost?
  • Can you develop a visual scenario tool to give key basin stakeholders instant insight on the best options for investment across an entire watershed?

In GIST, the Earth Genome team developed that tool — with a user-friendly interface showing real-time data, insights including financial implications, and PDF outputs that make it easy for non-technical users to quickly understand the insights.

Reactions to GIST have been overwhelmingly positive. GIST will soon cover the entire United States, Mexico and Canada as we roll it out globally. Learn more about GIST.

Credit: luckey_sun  

Credit: luckey_sun


The Goal: Answer Any Question About the Planet Relevant to Decision Making

Out of our ongoing conversations with industry partners, we’re focusing development of The Earth Genome on four initial impact areas — water, site selection, supply chains and food — that business has told us will have immense relevance and value for its decision making.

(See how The Earth Genome now allows you to access changes in surface water area across the globe over time — an example of the unprecedented access to environmental information our work can give you.)

We are also engaging with best-in-breed third-party developers to build their own custom decision-support tools and apps using the earth genome’s data and platform — which will catalyze end-user adoption at scale.

Our long-term goal: The Earth Genome will ultimately answer any question about the planet relevant to decision making.

It will one day improve decisions everywhere, leading to better outcomes for governments, business, society and the planet.