Responsible Business in Space

Photo by Sefa Kart on iStock

October 11, 2023
  • Paul Holdredge portrait

    Paul Holdredge

    Director, Energy, Extractives, Transport, and Industrials, BSR

  • Julia Hunter portrait

    Julia Hunter

    Consultant for Space and Sustainability, BSR

Key Points

  • BSR’s latest report: Responsible Business in Space highlights strategic sustainability priorities for the space industry following conversations with 16 aerospace leaders.
  • The issues and opportunities highlighted were based around a broad and forward- thinking definition of sustainability: what issues are crucial for the space industry to address for its long-term viability?
  • Collaborative safety practices, transparent disclosure standards, and climate mitigation strategies similar to other sectors can all be adapted to reduce risks and promote responsible practices.

In the present day, the space industry is at the cusp of unprecedented growth and transformation. What was once a realm of scientific inquiry and exploration has now evolved into a multitude of commercial activities, spanning technology, communication, manufacturing, resource extraction, habitat development, and leisure.

The allure of investment in this industry is undeniable. However, it has become increasingly important for businesses to anticipate sustainability issues and accountability within the space sector. This notion extends beyond the standard confines of business risk; it encompasses potential threats to the industry itself and, by extension, our planet.

In a concerted effort to discern the path forward, BSR engaged in dialogues with 16 distinguished leaders in the aerospace domain to produce BSR’s latest Report: Responsible Business in Space. Leaders interviewed included executive levels from VP through to CEO and board members, and covered companies in sectors ranging from launch providers, engineering services and space tourism. The report highlights strategic sustainability priorities for the industry. Key issues and opportunities were based around a forward-thinking definition of sustainability: what issues are crucial for the space industry to address for its long-term viability? The consultations also explored key barriers that inhibit the space industry's pace of action.

The findings are summarized in the report that we hope will serve as a starting place for companies. Key considerations include:

  • Orbital Debris: The accumulation of defunct satellites and space debris poses significant risks to operational spacecraft and missions, demanding international cooperation and innovative debris removal solutions.
  • Safety: As more players enter the space arena, the safety of astronauts, crew members, and the public is paramount. This requires consistency and rigor in safety protocols, regulatory compliance, and risk assessment across the industry.
  • Climate: Space activities contribute to climate change through carbon emissions from launches and manufacturing. To mitigate these impacts, the industry must embrace cleaner technologies and sustainable practices.
  • Talent & Talent Equity: Business would be well advised to promote diversity and equal opportunities in a traditionally male-dominated space industry. The opportunity for improved racial equity is also significant. Initiatives like scholarships, mentorship programs, and inclusive workplaces can break down barriers. 
  • Sustainable Supply Chains: Sustainability should be integrated throughout the space industry's supply chain, with an emphasis on responsible sourcing, good governance, ethical labor practices, and waste reduction.

However, within these challenges lie key opportunities for business leaders. For example, the massive troves of satellite data present an immense potential for addressing global challenges, from climate change to disaster management. The innovative technologies developed for space habitation can also revolutionize life on Earth, promoting sustainability and efficiency. The power of storytelling remains a compelling and under-utilized inspiration for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) development.

Industry leaders acknowledged the hurdles impeding progress, including high development costs, guarded technology secrets, and the challenges for profitability. To tackle these challenges, the space industry can draw inspiration from other sectors. Collaborative safety practices, transparent disclosure standards unique to the industry, and climate mitigation strategies similar to those in other sectors can all be adapted to reduce risks and promote responsible practices.

The future of the commercial space industry holds immense promise, but it is not without significant challenges. By actively addressing these challenges, seizing opportunities, and fostering a culture of collaboration, business leaders can steer a course toward a more just and sustainable industry.

For further information, including how BSR can support you with navigating sustainable priorities in the Space industry, please contact the team.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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