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A new data platform launched by the World Resources Institute and over 40 cross-sector partners aims to tackle deforestation and illegal logging around the world. The platform, called Global Forest Watch, provides near real time, high resolution satellite data of forest loss and gain, prompting businesses to keep check on their supply chain.
Up to now, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has certified businesses that could demonstrate a chain of custody for products from sustainably managed forests, but they did not have the possibility to track forests in real time. This left a dangerous margin for error, recently illustrated by IKEA’s wholly owned subsidiary Swedwood.
In 2012, Swedwood was found to be logging and clear-cutting old growth forests in Russian Karelia while IKEA was promoting its sustainable wood sourcing policies; wood is a primary material for 60% of its products. In February, as a result, Swedwood lost its FSC certificate.
Global Forest Watch could reduce the potential for companies to claim ignorance, prompting them to pay closer to attention to their sourcing policy and its implementation. As the service is open to everyone, companies can easily track where their raw materials come from and follow up with their suppliers if materials are unaccounted for. Moreover, consumers can use the platform, which uses algorithms developed by Google, to track where their goods come from.
Businesses and indigenous peoples living and working with forests can upload real time data from mobile phones and GPS when encroachment on their lands occurs. An alert service will then notify campaign groups and governments. It is still unclear how quickly they can respond.
This is the first time companies have access to universal public forest cover data, which can facilitate their efforts in sourcing material sustainably. Global Forest Watch draws its information from satellite data and crowdsourcing but also from business archives and efforts.
Simon Counsell, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK, sees strong synergies between Global Forest Watch’s satellite image-based maps and on the ground efforts. Rainforest Foundation is supporting this through the MappingForRights programme, which aims to map important data such as local community ownership and rights to the forest. “This data is not normally visible but is essential in planning how to counter threats to the forest”, says Counsell. – Janika Collatz