Andrew Zolli is Chief Impact Officer at Planet.

Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals


At Planet Labs, our “Mission 1” is to image the whole Earth, every day and make global change visible, accessible, and actionable. To do that, we’re developing a breakthrough technology platform: a large constellation of small, Earth-observing satellites, ground stations and related software and services that will, in the years to come, produce a complete image of the surface of our world, every day, at 3-5 meters/pixel.

In addition to its many commercial applications, this kind of global, daily imagery can have a transformational impact on many of humanity’s most significant challenges — helping us better monitor and protect fragile ecosystems, ensure resilient infrastructure, manage climate risks, enhance food security, build more resilient cities, reduce poverty, and improve governance, among others.

These are many of the same objectives as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
— seventeen global goals which will be ratified by the member states of United Nations this month in New York, and which will then guide the world’s sustainable development efforts until 2030.

Planet Labs is working closely with UN bodies, member states and partner organizations to help advance the SDG process, and to help ensure that the best available technologies and approaches inform our global progress. As part of this, we are profoundly honored that Planet Labs’ CEO, Will Marshall, has been invited to address the formal United Nations Summit on the SDGs on September 27th, as an advocate and representative of new technology’s crucial role in addressing global challenges, particularly climate change.

Each of the seventeen SDGs guiding the international community until 2030. Image courtesy of United Nations

It’s worth pausing to reflect that, when the previous set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals (or “MDGs”) were ratified in 2000, there were no such thing as an iPhone or Facebook. Yet today, smartphones and social media have become indispensable tools for inclusive sustainable development – it’s hard to imagine many kinds of solutions without them.

Similarly, we’re now in the early stages of a new technology revolution — a global sensing revolution, in which ground-based, aerial and space-based sensors, and new forms of data analytics, will enable entirely new approaches to planetary stewardship.

Together, these new technologies can transform the accuracy, frequency, speed and transparency of our global progress on many of the the global goals, and at far lower cost. Planet Labs’ own, conservative analysis suggests that our data can directly or indirectly inform fifteen of the SDGs, and more than seventy of their related targets.

But in an age of global challenges, no single company, or dataset, will alone be sufficient – it will take many partners, from many sectors of society, working together with many different tools to make genuine and lasting progress.

That’s why Planet Labs has also become an anchor partner of the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. The Partnership is comprised of governmental, nongovernmental, public and private organizations who have come together to advance the use of data tools and principles, build the data capacity of sustainable development community, and foster cross-sector collaboration. The Global Partnership will be launched on September 28th, at a special event from 2-4pm at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. At that event, Planet Labs will be making a very significant announcement. Stay tuned!