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 project builds on previous ESA Earth Observation Market Development (EOMD) activities with FSC. The team has now completed the Feasibility Study for 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 objective of the project 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 an improved and more cost effective 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.
Benefits identified in the TransparentForests Feasibility Study are:
1. Financial benefits: Increased profits or reduced costs.
2. Quality, transparency and credibility: business ethics with market values.
3. Business opportunities: the potential of TF for growing markets and investments.
The space-enabled solution being developed makes use of Earth Observation and satellite navigation. Incorporating these assets into an operational service required detailed analysis and assessment of stakeholder needs, both within the audit process and as a monitoring tool between audits. It is critical that EO maps are therefore generated at times determined by the planned audit, which can take place at any time of the year. As most FSC certified forests are either in high latitudes or tropical regions, continuous cloud cover and winter darkness means radar derived maps will have to be an integral EO component. Furthermore, the land cover classes need to be comparable across different audits and certificate holders. This has all been reflected in the service design of processing chain and a minimum mapping standard.
FSC has identified the following needs to improve conventional certification procedures:
In addition forest management information (e.g. boundaries and observations of various types) have to be integrated within an open source GIS platform specifically designed to support the certification process at minimal additional cost.
Any solution must not reduce the overall cost effectiveness of certification.
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 diagram above presents a high-level representation of the TF system / service architecture. The TF Online Service lies at the centre of the architecture, acts as a central data store and interacts with three main interfaces with the users as well as the EO Product Provider. Two space assets are used by TF: Earth Observation and Satellite Positioning.
TF provides three interfaces for users: TF Web, TF Desktop and TF Mobile. TF Web is a WebGIS application, accessed through the user’s web browser and allowing (amongst other things) FOs to upload management data, CBs to plan audits and Others to view data and make comments.
Although TF Web provides functionality for users to upload spatial (vector) datasets, some will find this more efficient using their GIS of choice. TF Desktop therefore provides an interface allowing users to provide and retrieve spatial datasets directly from their GIS.
EO products are used heavily by CBs when planning / performing audits. EO Products are requested by the user and generated on-demand by the EO Product Provider. Once available, the generated EO Products will be stored on the TF server.
TF Mobile provides an interface for users (particularly CBs) located in the field. TF Mobile allows users to visualise their position in the context of TF EO & vector datasets, comments, notes and other related data. It also provides a simple interface for capturing and geo-referencing field information (e.g. photos or comments).
The connection between TF Mobile and the central TF Service is shown as a broken line as TF Mobile will not require an internet connection while operating in the field. It will instead cache any required data before leaving for the field (when network connectivity is available) and synchronise any edits / new field data again on returning.
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:
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:
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 standardized 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.
SatCom 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 operational access to the TransparentForests platform.
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 ENGOs (e.g. WWF and Greenpeace) and forest communities will also be granted access to the service platform.
The team has engaged the key stakeholder groups within FSC to identify user needs and develop the specification of the system, content and services of TransparentForests. Other stakeholders such as the key NGOs and forest communities have also been consulted on their needs to improve forest data transparency and access.
Having developed an online proof of concept which integrated independently generated customised EO products and associated forest management information (e.g. boundaries and protected areas) required in certification, this was presented to and discussed with the wide range of stakeholders involved in the certification service chain for their feedback. Options for financing TransparentForests and operational and financial impacts on certification were also assessed, along with potential impact on the FSC certification standard and processes.
At the end of 2013, FSC confirmed that it is satisfied with the analysis and wished to develop and test TransparentForests across a series of full scale pilot certifications. Therefore, in 2014 and 2015, subject to acceptance by ESA, FSC and the consortium plan to undertake an IAP Demonstration Project, in which TransparentForests will be fully developed based on the service definition and system design developed in the Feasibility Study. This will then be progressively and systematically tested for across 4 Forest Certification Pilot studies.
The intention is that this system will be operationally rolled out by FSC from 2016.
The Feasibility Study kick off date was 22 December 2012. The definition of the user segments and user needs, the specification for the TransparentForests system and service architecture was completed in the first half of 2013 and followed by the development of a proof-of-concept which was used in a viability analysis across all stakeholder groups, based on webcasts and interviews.
The project has enabled the TransparentForests team to undertake a detailed assessment of user needs and requirements, which formed the basis of the TransparentForests service and system design. This will enable FSC to mitigate costs of certification, and reduce the potential frequency and severity of errors in the certification process. The potential for certifiers to access independent EO derived products defining land cover and land cover changes, combined with the potential for certifiers to record field inspections and tracks, will fundamentally improve the reliability, transparency and safety of certificates issued. Once operationalised, TransparentForests should result in an expansion of the FSC certified area, especially in high risk domains such as large tropical and boreal forests.
FSC has reviewed the output of these reports and prepared a Roadmap and Roll Out Strategy which has been submitted to ESA. FSC has confirmed its interest in initiating and co-funding the IAP Demonstration Project. The consortium has prepared an Outline Proposal for a Demonstration Project, which has been submitted to ESA. This has been accepted and a Full Proposal will be prepared and submitted for consideration by ESA by the end of March 2014.
The intention is to complete the Development Phase, which will involve the construction of TransparentForests and 5 Operational Pilot Audits, in which TransparentForests will be used by the Certification bodies and forestry organisations as a new tool to support certification and the source of independent spatial information on the certified areas.