Forest products such as paper, wood and composite materials are used in everything from construction to news distribution and energy generation, yet they may represent considerable environmental and social impacts. Today, knowing the origin and life cycle of product constituents is important for both retailers and consumers. Major corporations do not like to be associated with poor forest management: it is bad for business and for customer relations.
Independent certification of raw materials provides manufacturers with confidence about their environmental and social integrity. The international standards developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) provide a globally accepted route to forest product certification. It is a continuous challenge to make sure forestry certification processes remain efficient, effective and transparent.
The TransparentForests feasibility study builds on previous ESA Earth Observation Market Development (EOMD) activities. The team will design and evaluate a GIS based service that will better facilitate the certifier's field inspection process and provide a centralized web-accessible database with controlled access for all stakeholders. It will combine accurately time-tagged optical and radar satellite imagery (at medium to high resolution) with geo-referenced in-situ forest management data to improve transparency and stakeholder engagement.
The overall purpose of the study is to prove the viability and sustainability of an integrated software package and associated services aimed at delivering an independent source of data to support better forest certification.
This will be based on the integration of Earth Observation (EO) and navigation technologies (GNSS) for in-situ sampling within an open source Geographic Information System (GIS) environment.
The viability of TransparentForests will be assessed from technical, operational and financial perspectives.
Umbrella user is the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC. Other users are FSC’s accreditation body Accreditation Standards International, the Certification Bodies and the Certification Bodies’ clients, the Forestry Organisations. FSC stakeholders such as NGOs (e.g. WWF and Greenpeace) and forest communities will also be granted access to the service platform.
FSC forest management certification now certifies over 150 million hectares of temperate, tropical and boreal forests by on-site evaluation the standard of forest management. The recent rapid expansion in area certified has led to concerns about quality.
For large scale and complex forests, current certification methodologies provide no spatial information on the range of forests set within the broader context of land use planning, especially where the landscape concerned is highly heterogeneous.
This is a particular problem in mega forest operations which often cover millions of hectares, where physical access to the more remote and inaccessible operational areas for inspections teams is limited by the level of audit fee. In addition, the availability of temporally and spatially accurate data and records vary from audit to audit. Furthermore, audit teams rely almost exclusively on data and information provided by the forest management and auditors have little opportunity to access data independently.
FSC needs to mitigate the risks associated to conventional certification and has set-out to further raise its standards, increasing transparency, stakeholder confidence and, consequently, brand value.
FSC will adopt technological solutions where applicable and cost-beneficial.
The team will engage the key stakeholder groups within FSC to identify user needs to develop the specification of the content and services of TransparentForests. Other stakeholders such as the key NGOs and forest communities will be consulted on forest data transparency and access.
Having established the operational and cost baseline for conventional certification and the key design features of TransparentForests, the consortium will develop a mock up online server featuring a geospatial database used to centrally store independently generated customised EO products and associated layers of forest management information (e.g. boundaries and protected areas) required in certification.
The mock up will be presented to and discussed with the stakeholders across the certification service chain for feedback. Options for financing TransparentForests and impacts on certification process will be assessed, along with potential impact on the FSC standard.
By the end of 2013, based on the above analysis, FSC will assess the overall benefits of TransparentForests. Assuming the conclusion is that FSC’s strategic goals would be underpinned by TransparentForests, FSC will draw up a roadmap which will include a decision on system design and management as well as a series of full scale pilot certifications in which to demonstrate the integrated service.
FSC has identified the limitations to conventional certification procedures and believes that it should fully investigate any opportunity that is able to mitigate the risks to the quality of certificates issued and that increases transparency and access to the audit process for the broader stakeholder community. Any changes must not reduce the overall cost effectiveness of certification.
A space-enabled solution is therefore being considered, making use of Earth Observation and Satellite Navigation. Incorporating these assets sensibly into an operational programme requires further detailed analysis and assessment. Within the audit process, it is critical that EO maps are generated at times determined by the planned audit, which can take place at any time of the year. As some FSC certified forests are in high latitudes or tropical regions, continuous cloud cover means radar derived maps will have to be an integral EO component. Furthermore, interpretation of mapping products needs to be comparable across different audits and certificate holders. This needs to be reflected in the design of the processing chain and in minimum mapping standards.
A variety of satellite and traditional navigation systems and techniques are in use by forestry managers and auditors to georeference relevant forest management information as polygons and field observations. Error margins are generally unknown and could be significant. Arriving at a more systematic way of dealing with this source of input is needed and could be met by integration of novel and emerging navigation solutions resulting in better overall performance.
Expected Main Benefits:
A series of projects supported by ESA (EOMD) has already demonstrated the potential of a range of land cover mapping products derived from optical and radar satellite sensors and linked to georeferenced in-situ data.
A prototype open-source GIS platform and plugin has been developed to facilitate visualization of these maps and in-situ data for interrogation and data extraction. FSC believes that this technology, customised specifically for the certification process, could improve the reliability and value of certification and lead to further growth in certification. TransparentForests should also increase certifier independence, lead to savings in certification costs and facilitate greater stakeholders engagement in monitor certified forests.
TransparentForests will be a commercial fully integrated service provided via a user-friendly web-interface, suitable for non GIS specialist to use. All GIS software and tools to be constructed in OS to mitigate costs.
The web based service will be supported by specially designed GIS toolkits enabling data review and analysis by Certifier Body audit teams and the integration of the EO maps and other derived data into certification reports, increasing transparency and quality of certification process.
Options around commissioning that will be explored include:
- A full service TransparentForests where the consortium develops the tailored products and maintains the platform as an outsourced service
- FSC In House where FSC develops the skill sets and capability to bring TransparentForests in house as an internally managed service. Capacity building aspects regarding the use of advanced technologies in the forestry environment will also be addressed.
To provide an independent source of temporally and spatially accurate data (e.g. land use and land use changes across the audit period) to support better certification based on both Medium and High Resolution Remote Sensing data sourced from both optical and critically, radar as many forests are located in areas with a high incidence of cloud cover.
Products already validated through earlier EOMD projects on certified forest management units include:
Mapping and monitoring forest areas within the landscape (size, boundaries, type, change)
- Detection of illegal encroachment
- Identification and monitoring of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas
- Monitoring and protection of buffer zones - Mapping and monitoring annual clear-cut areas and their location (identification of retention trees and mapping stand mosaic)
- Mapping and monitoring forest diversity (e.g. species, structure)
- Appearance and changes in settlements within the forest area EO will also be a valuable source of data for the auditor to monitor legal and illegal activities outside the boundary of the forestry organisations being certified.
In-situ geo-referenced data is needed for several reasons:
Relevant landscape information (e.g. protected areas and buffer areas) has to be integrated into EO derived data so as to link current status of the forests and the protected biomes;
- Management information (e.g. forestry management units, boundaries, roads) has to be spatially and temporally accurate when linked to EO derived data.
- georeferenced physical field parameters are required in order to calibrate spatial imagery. Therefore, operational maps, audit tracks, operational polygons, on-site photos and biophysical parameters measured in the field need to be geo-referenced and made available to selected stakeholders in a convenient and standardised manner, driving the requirement for automated, accurate and timely GNSS data within a single processing chain.
It is also planned that new features will be added, such as integration of field audit information. It will be investigated whether current GNSS inaccuracy created by shading and foliage cover could be resolved via the inclusion of current and future GNSS systems including Galileo, GLONASS and COMPASS.
Satcoms may eventually be considered for a limited subset of stakeholders (e.g. NGOs or forest communities) where internet connection is not available or not sufficient to provide real-time access to the TransparentForests platform.
The project kick off date was 22 December 2012. The first phase of the project is to define the user segments and user needs and develop the specification for the TransparentForests system and service architecture. The second phase contains a proof-of-concept and a viability analysis.
A first Project Planning Meeting was held on 8th January 2013, and a key milestone will be the Certification Body workshop on 22nd February 2013 at FSC in Bonn.