Google Earth Engine for commercial use, what the new access means for your impact business

Added to
January 4, 2023
July 28, 2022
By Professor Iain H Woodhouse

Wow. Great news everybody. Google Earth Engine is now available for commercial use by governments and businesses worldwide. But what does that mean for you exactly, and how does it help you achieve greater impact at work? Read on…

With some fanfare, Google recently announced at their Sustainability Summit that they are “making Google Earth Engine available to businesses and governments worldwide as an enterprise-grade service through Google Cloud” 1.  

Some of you may be thinking, “But wasn’t Earth Engine always available to governments and businesses?” Well, it was. Except it wasn’t.  

The formal terms of use for Earth Engine have always been limited to research, education, or not-for-profit activities. To use it operationally within an organisation, or to use it for supplying services, was always prohibited. You might have heard of people doing that, but they shouldn’t have been!

But now this has changed. The vast computing power of Google’s Earth Engine is now open for full scale operational, and commercial (for profit) use. Its vast catalogue of geospatial data is available for anyone to build services, support public infrastructure, or for businesses to accelerate their impact.

At Earth Blox we are excited about this because, for a few years already, we have been one of Google Earth Engine’s privileged partners. That is why Earth Blox has been able to offer commercial access to Earth Engine for some time now.

The significance of this move from Google cannot be understated. For more than a decade Google has been building the world’s most powerful geospatial analytics platform for planetary-scale data. This capacity to combine satellite imagery and geospatial data with powerful computing has allowed Earth Engine to help hundreds of thousands of people and organisations to understand how the planet is changing, how human activity contributes to those changes, and what actions they can take in response.

At its core is the incredible Data Catalogue: over 50 Peta bytes of data that offer insights into the past, present and future of our planet. Not just satellite imagery, but climate and weather data, flood risk, forest fires maps, and many other geophysical data such as terrain and landcover.  When coupled with the immense computing power of Google’s infrastructure, it provides a formidable tool for data and geospatial professionals to accelerate their impact within their business.

Examples of businesses using Earth Engine for commercial purposes

Along with Earth Blox, Google has been working with several other companies to demonstrate the commercial business case for Earth Engine to tackle impact at scale and augment ESG reporting. Perhaps the leading example is Unilever. For almost 100 years, this British-Dutch conglomerate has been one of the world’s largest producers of food, household items and cosmetics. They own brands such as Lipton Tea and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and are the largest producers of soap in the world. Back in 2009, Dutchman Paul Polman became CEO and led it to declare a goal of decoupling its environmental impact from its growth. He recognised that their business model was so dependent upon the natural environment as the source of their raw ingredients, that it was imperative that the company moved to becoming more sustainable – not just tackling their own direct impact on the environment and climate change, but insisting that their suppliers did too.  

One of the big initiatives that Polman set in motion before he left in 2019 was to commit Unilever to achieving a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023. Given the company’s global reach, this massive task could only be possible using satellite data. To achieve this they have been working with Earth Engine to leverage its geospatial processing power to do the heavy lifting and massive number-crunching that will enable them to achieve their ambition of creating a truly sustainable supply chain. Climate risk data are now key components of any business intelligence that is looking to ensure sustainable supply chains.

Another important case study has been the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) who have been using Earth Engine to manage their use of Landsat and Sentinel 2 data. Their remit covers 127 million hectares of cropland across the entire USA. It is only through Earth Engine that they have been able to capture, manage and scale the near-real time satellite data required to track the trends in US crop production. Through the use of Earth Engine, their teams now have more time to focus on their core expertise – crop analysis – rather than downloading, correcting and mosaicking hundreds of individual images every week.

It is clear that businesses and governments around the world are interested in Google Earth Engine because it takes satellite remote sensing to another level. It provides an “end-to-end pipeline for insight and monitoring at scale”, helping them to tackle some of our world’s most pressing environmental challenges and to answer questions such as: “How resilient is my business from the effects of climate change?” Or, “What else can I do to add to my ESG reporting?”.

With the likes of Unilever and USDA using Earth Engine operationally, what we are also seeing is an important consequence of the move to a commercial offering. In practical terms, the commercial model now means that Google Cloud is at the forefront of delivering the Earth Engine service. While Earth Engine was a powerful tool for researchers and NGOs, it still had the reputation of being a side project for the main Google business. But thanks to the incredible success of Earth Engine, Google has now made it very much a core part of the Google Cloud business offering.  

Want a commercial licence for Earth Engine? Consider Earth Blox.

I am sure by now you are wondering how you get your hands on a commercial licence for Earth Engine. Your first challenge is that there is one large hurdle you need to get over first – to run Earth Engine requires users to write extensive code (JavaScript or Python) and be proficient in satellite remote sensing. From our experience, and like the USDA staff mentioned above, most people in the ESG and climate change impact sector want to spend time on driving impacts, rather than getting their hands dirty with data. For those rare people who can code, they generally have neither the time nor inclination to spend all day wrangling large datasets and debugging lines of JavaScript.

This is where Earth Blox steps in.

Our visual drag-and-drop environment eliminates the need for writing any code, and our rich Knowledge Hub is there to support you to get the most out of Earth Engine, without needing a degree in remote sensing.

Simply put: Earth Blox allows you to focus your time and resources on what really matters.

Gain rapid access to the power of Earth Engine, code free and commercially with Earth Blox. Book a call to learn more.

[1] Introducing Earth Engine for governments and businesses, Rebecca Moore
Director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Outreach.

Professor Iain Woodhouse

Iain Woodhouse is Knowledge and Outreach Lead at Earth Blox and Professor of Applied Earth Observation at the University of Edinburgh. He specialises in active remote sensing, with over 27 years experience in academia and industry, and more than 100 publications. Iain has advised multiple UK government agencies on EO strategy and is currently Chair of the UK Space Agency’s EO Advisory Committee.

Get your time back with faster data insights from Earth Blox.

Find the plan that's right for you

Get started with Earth Blox today

Book an onboarding call