2015 Data+ Editors' Choice Awards

World Resources Institute

Data streams from dozens of sources help companies measure the risk of deforestation in their supply chains

World Resources Institute / Global Forest Watch - fires
Credit: World Resources Institute / Global Forest Watch

2015 Data+ Editors' Choice Awards

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Companies around the world are taking steps to act responsibly when it comes to sourcing material for their products. The World Resources Institute (WRI) aims to make that proc­ess easier by offering a tool that helps businesses analyze their supply chains and identify commodities whose production could contribute to deforestation.

The WRI's free app, Global Forest Watch Commodities, is a mapping tool that provides forest-related data and analysis for palm oil, beef, soy, pulp and paper products. It was created for the WRI by Blue Raster LLC in partnership with Esri.

The app pulls information from dozens of sources and analyzes disparate types of data, including figures on annual changes in tree cover, views of protected areas, NASA data on active fires and satellite data with near real-time updates on tree cover loss from an advocacy group called Forest Monitoring for Action.

"Businesses use the tool to help them quantify and get detailed information on exactly what their impact on the forest looks like, and to credibly communicate what they're doing to address that or where they've improved over time," says Sarah Lake, commodities research analyst at WRI in Washington. The biggest challenges were gathering current, high-quality data and, sometimes, persuading stakeholders to make data publicly available, she says.

Today, about a dozen of the largest commodity traders and buyers in the world use the app.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) uses the tool for its alert and fire monitoring system to track fires and deforestation activity.

"Companies who are certified by RSPO had far fewer fire alerts" on their land, says Sanath Kumaran, head of impacts for RSPO in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "During the last six months, only 10 fire hotspots occurred in RSPO-certified [land] compared to over 2,000 total fire hotspots in all other oil palm [land]."

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