Global Forest Watch App Helps Businesses Make Green Choices

August 26, 2015

The Global Forest Watch Commodities app includes data on tree cover loss and annual tree cover change.


Companies around the world want to show that they are acting responsibly when sourcing material for their products. Global Forest Watch Commodities, a new tool from World Resources Institute, gives businesses an easy way to identify the risk of deforestation in commodity supply chains.

This public-facing mapping application provides forest-related data and analysis for palm oil, beef, soy, pulp, and paper production. Companies including Unilever, Cargill, and Wilmar use it to make informed decisions that protect the environment.

“It provides visualization and analysis of key indicators so companies can prioritize efforts and monitor suppliers,” said Sarah Lake, research analyst for Global Forest Watch, World Resources Institute. “It helps companies honor their commitments to sustainable practices and supports NGO [nongovernment organization] and government certification processes.”

Though it was challenging to gather current and high-quality data, and it took some time to convince stakeholders to make data publicly available, users can now clearly visualize data from dozens of sources, including annual tree cover change data at 30-meter resolution, Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) satellite data with near real-time tree cover loss, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) active fires, and protected areas. For the first time, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) made its concessions data publicly available. Landsat and Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite data support on-the-fly analysis.

Analysis tools include suitability modeling for palm oil production, review of forest change in various land-cover variables; RSPO land-use change; and, coming soon, risk assessment of palm oil mills. Users can also get alerts for clearance activity.

“We’ve had people from more than 84 countries access the app,” said Lake. “They have reported using it to monitor corporate commitments to no-burning practices in Indonesia, track palm oil expansion into conservation areas in Malaysia, and identify high-risk palm oil production areas in Mexico, among many others.”

Prior to launching this app, businesses spent significant amounts of money obtaining satellite imagery, mapping areas of interest, and sending people into the field to verify data.

“Because we built the analysis tools into the website, you can easily compare areas and download data,” said Susan Minnemeyer, GIS manager, Global Forest Watch, World Resources Institute. “It gets people past the barrier of having to prepare data and create analysis tools of their own.”

This application succeeds in giving businesses an easy, cost-effective way to quickly evaluate vast amounts of forest data to ensure they make decisions that protect forests. Governments have better transparency into deforestation risks, financial institutions have improved tools for evaluating investments, and residents around these commodities have better quality of life with healthier forests.

Blue Raster created the application for the World Resources Institute in partnership with Esri. It was built with Esri’s ArcGIS® platform including ArcGIS for Server and ArcGIS Image Extension for Server. The accompanying open data portal was created with ArcGIS Open Data.

“Maps are a universal way to communicate,” added Lake. “You don’t have to be highly technical to understand this data and analysis, which allows a range of users—from farmers to analysts—to see how human activity impacts forest health.”