The role of trusted location data in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

7 minute read
Ordnance Survey (OS) believe that trusted and authoritative location (geospatial) data is fundamental to the further development of impactful ESG.

Why does ESG matter?

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are increasingly important decision-making criteria for organisations to measure their activities and report progress.

When an organisation chooses a strong ESG profile, it demonstrates strong commitment, both to codes of practice and corporate values, and to current and potential investors and lenders. It is a mark of distinction among competition, and supports an organisation’s attractiveness to employees and customers, presenting a key financial incentive. Whereas, a lower ESG profile or performance will increasingly suggest apathy towards the interests of wider society – whether intentional or not.

Accountability is a powerful element in purchasing decisions, particularly in complicated and lengthy supply chains. Consumers want to know the background of service providers. Both employees and customers expect companies to stand for something with a positive social impact. For example, more than six in ten younger consumers closely consider a company’s ethical values and authenticity before buying their products.

To governments, encouraging reporting against ESG measures builds frameworks for corporate accountability and communication. In the UK, the government has made disclosures of climate related financial information mandatory as part of its commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2050, and further sustainability discloser requirements are expected to come in to effect by 2025.

In a complex and ever-vigilant world, the role of ESG to monitor, manage, and maintain responsibility for tackling climate change is more relevant than ever.

The role of location data in ESG

Ordnance Survey (OS) believe that trusted and authoritative location (geospatial) data is fundamental to the further development of impactful ESG. Such data will help accelerate the journey towards both nationally and internationally consistent ESG.

Location data can be used to monitor changes to a landscape affected by urbanisation or climate change, analyse habitat loss or restoration, track pollution, or model the extent of mobile network coverage. It also has a critical role to play in modelling national physical infrastructure and supporting responses during times of emergency or crisis.

woman looking at data

Location data: measuring cause and effect

The Institute of Directors published ‘ESG Priorities for UK Companies 2022’, establishing some ESG priorities for UK companies and organisations:

  1. Stakeholders and business purpose
  2. Sustainability
  3. Inclusion and Diversity
  4. Governance
  5. Executive remuneration

The paper ‘Geospatial ESG: the emerging application of geospatial data’ (The WWF, Global Canopy and the World Bank Group) sets out how location data could be used “to generate ESG relevant insights into a specific commercial asset, company, portfolio or geographic area…[it begins with the] accurate location and definition of ownership of a commercial asset (e.g. factory, mine, field, retail estate), known as ‘asset data’. Then, using different geospatial data approaches, it is possible to assess the asset against ‘observational data’, to provide insights into initial and ongoing environmental impact and other social and governance variables.”

It is in the combination of datasets around foundational and accurate location data where insight and evidence come into their own.

Therefore, it is essential that organisations know they can rely on the accuracy, persistence, and ongoing maintenance of the quality of the location data, and its provider(s). But what does it mean to have ‘authoritative’ data? How is it proven?

What is ‘authoritative data?’

‘Authoritative’ means something you can trust and respect as true and correct; synonymous with accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Authority needs to have a trustworthy source. Where does the data come from? Who owns, collects, and manages that data, and how do they manage quality? Will it be reliable, i.e. still the same in five years’ time?

A well-respected company, which follows national and international standards appropriately, and is trusted by public and government would be considered an authoritative source; their data would be authoritative.

As the National Mapping Service to Great Britain, Ordnance Survey creates, maintains, and disseminates consistent, definitive, and authoritative geospatial and cartographic data of Great Britain. We have a clear mandate from HM Government through the Geospatial Commission to deliver the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA). The capabilities we deliver under the PSGA directly support the public sector and support the delivery of the UK Geospatial Strategy.

OS benefits from being well-known, is trusted by those who use our data, and we ensure we apply the highest standards to our data and products. In fact, we do more than follow global data standards; we lead in their development, maintaining high quality data which is ‘authoritative.’

Customer use cases

As an evolving aspect of geospatial data science, new solutions based on authoritative location data are unlocking new insights which have application in and significant benefit to ESG considerations.

In the field of sustainability – a central theme of ESG considerations – OS data is being used to demonstrate changes in the natural environment and is invoking insight into how those environments are managed.


Peatlands are the largest natural carbon store on land, making their preservation essential. By using location data with observation data to monitor their ecosystem health, we discover that 86% of the UKs peatlands have been degraded due to human activity, vastly decreasing their capacity for carbon storage, and negatively affecting biodiversity.

Through Geospatial Commission funded research, OS created a peatlands index generated satellite data input to help locate the most degraded peatlands. Using similar techniques, OS can help companies identify and reduce their environmental impact across several metrics.

Integrating authoritative location into environmental use cases supports ESG considerations as it can help identify adverse effects or identify local areas in need of protection and preservation which organisations could support and improve.

Heat maps

Heat maps have long been used by analysts to demonstrate temperature differentials within a given area. Advances in technology, data availability and data science skills, now allow for greater insight at a granular level.

OS collaborated on a project which uses satellite data to monitor and map heat in locations at greatest risk of climate change, and therefore greater risk to human health, such as cities where heat stress is a particular concern.

The project provided valuable insight into the impacts of climate change in hot spots across the UK, with local governmental authorities able to put in place more effective and targeted measures which help to tackle the impacts of climate change.

The heatmap projects were funded by Space4Climate and the UK Space Agency.

Location data ethics

Ordnance Survey is a supporter of the Locus Charter, a set of 10 foundation principles to promote the ethical and responsible use of location data around the world. OS is working with colleagues in the geographic and geospatial community to translate the principles into practices which are relevant for our UK context.

OS thinks ethically managed location data is critical to maintaining public, customer, and government trust. We take responsibility for our data asset management, our commitment to its quality, as fundamental to maintaining its authority. We have systems for reporting errors, omissions, and complaints – all of which help our customers track courses of action and contribute to an ongoing ethical and trustworthy reputation.

Ethical geographers and location data can also be a part of the solution to show organisational accountability through wider, public economic metrics.

Join ESG conversations

Location data is a key driving factor in evidence-based decision-making; from helping local authorities target community level interventions, to entire nations monitoring rapid urbanisation to better plan and model infrastructure roll-out.

ESG considerations can help people, governments, and organisations better understand their places in the world, and help drive better, more informed outcomes. Adding location data into those ESG considerations provides a greater level of understanding and insight, supporting corporate accountability and reporting requirements across a wide range of use cases – from natural capital, biodiversity net gain, to spatial finance or international logistics.

Authoritative location data lends itself to new insights, and new innovations in response.

Learn more about how geospatial data and expertise can help you achieve your sustainability goals.

Advancing sustainability with geospatial

Discover how geospatial can help create an environmentally sustainable future

Headshot of David Henderson
By David Henderson

Chief Geospatial Officer