New tool enables companies to zero in on sustainable supply chain

New tool enables companies to zero in on sustainable supply chain

The rising problem of illegal logging is responsible for much of the world's loss of forests. Now, an important technology platform may help bring that to an end.

Global Forest Watch 2.0 will bring near-real-time mapping and social networking together to quickly spot where deforestation is taking place and alert networks to take action before it's too late.

The system combines satellite data with remote sensing technology to bring high-resolution maps online in near real-time. It will also draw from crowd-sourced data, including from local communities.

To be launched this spring, Forest 2.0 is developed by a partnership convened by the World Resources Institute, which includes the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and businesses and NGOs from around the world.

Until now, the usefulness of satellite images is limited because of the long time lag in getting them online. By the time people see them, the forests are cut, cattles are grazing -- or palm trees are growing -- and criminals are long gone.

It typically takes 3-5 years to produce a national forest cover map.

"Technologies such as Global Forest Watch 2.0 have the potential to democratize management and protection of forests," write Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, and Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute, in The Guardian. "Imagine an analyst from a forest conservation group in Jakarta receives an alert via Facebook showing where deforestation has occurred. He then notifies the authorities who head to the location to take pictures and upload them, starting an effort to save the park and apprehend the illegal loggers."

It will also help corporations that have committed to sourcing products only from sustainable sources.

"Or consider the vice-president of sustainability at a major global corporation tasked with ensuring that the firm purchases palm oil from responsible suppliers," note Steiner and Steer. "She is concerned about a supplier in Ecuador whose plantations are located within critical forest habitat. She accesses the new system online and discovers that primary forest in the critical, off-limits corridor has been cleared. The company can immediately suspend its purchases and use the information to confront the supplier."

Clearcutting forests produces about 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 50 percent more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined. Already, more than 80 percent of the world's forests are already destroyed.

Illegal logging accounts for 50-90 percent of all logging in key areas -- the Amazon and Congo basins and in southeast Asia and is worth $30-100 billion a year in global trade, according to a UNEP report, Green Carbon: Black Trade.

Illustration of log yard for illegal logging provided by The Center for International Forestry Research's Flickr page.

This story is reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business.