Founded in 2020, Sust Global delivers geospatial analytics for climate adaptation for various sectors, including insurance, real estate, finance, and the voluntary carbon market. Previously, Gopal led the analytics engineering team at Planet Labs (NYSE:PL), an integrated aerospace and data analytics company that operates history’s largest commercial fleet of earth observation satellites. Here, Gopal explains the significance of Sust Global’s essential climate data infrastructure to industry—insights he’s sharing through a series of events at CANOPY.
Your LinkedIn profile lists you as a “(geo)Data Scientist”. Tell me about your specialty.
My expertise is at the intersection of satellite data, machine learning techniques, and climate science. At Sust Global, we bring all that together with a view to making it easy for businesses to understand how the changing climate is affecting them at the physical climate level. For example, if you’re in the Bay Area or the Pacific Northwest, you might be concerned about wildfires or flooding; in Florida or other parts of the world, your main concern might be cyclones.
We founded Sust Global to enable global at-scale analytics on climate-related impacts. Our goal is to enable every business to be climate informed over the next 10 years, and we’re building the foundational climate data infrastructure to serve that particular mission.
Climate change has been a hot button topic for a while. How have extreme weather events over the past couple of years impacted your business?
Last year was Sust Global’s best to date, and we’ve just released several exciting climate adaptation measures to our customers, noting the highest usage in the last quarter of 2022, which was also very good in terms of revenue growth for us. In January, we introduced a high resolution flood modeling product. The flood potential indicator incorporates flood simulations from multiple leading flood modeling products, as well as high resolution flood zone data from national agencies at a local level, with indicators that can represent flooding at any asset location.
The flooding happening in San Francisco, where we’re located and can see first-hand, is particularly interesting for me, although we are providing the flood potential indicator at a global scale, with a spatial resolution of one kilometer.
Why did you decide to found Sust Global?
I’m someone at the forefront of emerging, highly relevant data capabilities in climate modeling and in remote sensing that allow us to understand climate change. As data scientists, we’re able to understand what has happened previously and utilize frontier climate modeling to understand what could be possible in the near future and in the long term at a particular location.
For instance, five years ago, we modeled the wildfires and flooding that different parts of the world are experiencing right now. I felt that this data needed to be brought together in a new form that was very easy to use, so you don’t need to be a climatologist or remote sensing scientist to use it, and to incorporate spatial data. This is why we founded Sust Global: to bridge the worlds of remote sensing climatology and financial services as a starting point.
Can you share some examples of how this technology has benefited your clients, both in the short and long term, from a business perspective?
Sust Global provides data and analytics to create climate indices for investment and capital allocation purposes. I have three specific use cases. The first is around private equity due diligence, which has been under increasing scrutiny in terms of how firms are deploying capital, and how consciously. A private equity firm looking at investing in a group of farms or industrial sites can use our technology to determine the best use of capital by understanding what the risk of natural hazards are to those particular properties. The second use case is for large, sustainable index providers. Major index providers like the Blackrock, S&P, FTSE Russell and others are creating climate aware sustainable financial instruments that take climate data into account, and they need validated climate percentages that are incorporated into the modeling of the index. The third use case is for nature based carbon solutions where live and new forest carbon and blue carbon projects for nature based carbon sequestration need to account for near term and long term climate impacts to their regeneration and carbon sequestration potential. Currently, we’re providing data and analytics to multiple teams within the top 10 market intelligence and financial data providers in the world.
Tell me about your recent product launches.
We recently introduced a new climate modeling approach that brings together innovations in generative AI (like what powers ChatGPT) with physics based climate variables to provide climate predictions with high spatial resolution and high temporal cadence. More on this research in our paper at the Association for Advancement of AI Conference here.
We’ve been working on an innovative flood modeling product, bringing together data from multiple hydrodynamic models, as well as flood maps from leading national institutions like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the US and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in the EU. This analytic capability allows you to understand the risk from flooding at a global scale across a group of assets in your portfolio.
Another product capability that we recently launched is projecting near term and long term cyclone impacts in places like the Gulf of Mexico, the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan. We’ve also introduced an understanding of financial risk from potential exposure. While your company might have exposure, it may not lead to any financial loss; for other companies, the financial loss might be tremendous. This new feature allows our customers to translate risk exposure probabilities to dollar values.
Looking ahead, what do you have planned for Sust Global?
We have an exciting roadmap. In the space of carbon offsets and carbon credits, credits are commonly realized by planting trees. CANOPY has become carbon positive by purchasing credits through SeaTrees, making donations to Sugi to plant 30 trees in Beirut and by supporting the Jacundá Forest Reserve project through Cool Effect, improving the conservation of the rainforest in Brazil while creating jobs and housing. Often, carbon offset activities are in areas that are remote and have significant natural hazard exposure.
By thinking of the climatic system as a living, breathing model, we enable the quantification of that risk and can connect that to projected regeneration and real estate crises of the future. We’re excited to take our knowledge and learnings from the last few years into these new spaces, enabling sustainable capital allocation and climate decision making.
How does the CANOPY’s coworking space facilitate your work?
We have three people in the Bay Area, and we occasionally like to meet in person–typically every couple of weeks. We have two hybrid desks and one permanent desk at CANOPY Jackson Square. CANOPY provides a space to meet, as well as lounge access where we can socialize and have space for events.
We have a series in the works in partnership with a collection of venture capital firms and will host a talk at CANOPY soon with the goal of enabling a broader understanding across the ecosystem of the climate capital stack, and how people are looking at the distribution of capital within climate and climate-based technologies. By co-hosting at CANOPY, we can bring together thought leaders in venture capital and private capital deployment, enable a broader awareness of new ventures in the space, and show how to access those companies.
How do you define success, both in your role as a data scientist and founder of this company?
The changing climate affects so many aspects of human life. As a data scientist, I look forward to uncovering new factors that provide new insights in the context of the daily data signals that we can see, and bringing that to a broader audience’s attention. Enabling predictive capabilities based on our understanding of the past is what excites me in the context of a venture–the ability to leverage SaaS to inform businesses with a global footprint to deploy capital in a climate-aware way. In the past, when funding a community, a product, or a housing project, only localized information was available, but now we’re enabling capability at scale so deployment for these types of projects can happen consciously, and for the community at large. At Sust Global, we’re very excited about how we can apply AI to simplify data and drive a broader understanding of how climate impacts us and what that can look like across various scenarios.
If you could choose anyone as a mentor, who would you choose and why?
Seth Godin. He has the ability to communicate effectively with simplicity.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter the climate ecosystem?
Dive straight in and see where you can make an impact. Find a mentor. There’s a ton of opportunity to make a difference.
The greatest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Output > input. Focus on creation over ingestion.
What are the best books you’ve ever read?
“Zero to One”, by entrepreneur and investor Peter Theil. “Lynchpin” by Seth Godin. “The Climate Casino” by William Nodhaus, which talks about risk, uncertainty, and economics for a warming world. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. “The Way of the Champion” by Jerry Lynch
What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco?
I love visiting the city’s fine art museums, especially the De Young and Legion of Honor, taking walks through Golden Gate Park, and hiking the Presidio.
To learn more about Sust Global, check out the company’s 2022 Round Up Report, which covers product usage, customer updates, and product development highlights.