"When you're planting trees, people want to know where they are, and they want to see them. Not everyone has the privilege of going to Senegal or Nicaragua and touching these trees. Maps are the next best way to create that engagement in connection with our work and our mission. Whether it's a company or an individual, if they can see that work, they can believe more in our mission."
Arbor Day Foundation Uses GIS to Link Corporations to Climate Work
Meaningful corporate action is crucial to the success of the climate action movement, but it can be difficult for stakeholders to determine how best to focus their investments. This moment of uncertainty is where organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation, the largest member-based nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees, can provide clarity.
By connecting corporate sustainability efforts to high-impact projects that address the needs of people and the planet, the Foundation helps to ensure its partners are maximizing their impact where it's needed most. Balancing the needs of a growing list of corporate partners with its strategic focus on global priority regions and commitment to high project standards is critical to the success of the Arbor Day Foundation. To help visualize and enable this work, the Foundation turned to Esri as a strategic technology partner.
By leveraging Esri's mapping, dashboards, and storytelling capabilities, the Foundation has been able to improve its project selection processes, gain efficiencies, measure impact, and provide overall guidance for its work.
Esri's geographic information system (GIS) technology is helping the Arbor Day Foundation inspire more corporate stakeholders to act by building understanding of the vast and overlapping benefits that trees bring to the world. One such example of the power of this approach is the Foundation's work with Williams-Sonoma, Inc.'s (WSI) family of brands.
The partnership began in 2021 with Pottery Barn pledging to fund the planting of 3 million trees in celebration of its long-term commitment to the use of sustainably sourced wood. The success and impact of Pottery Barn's planting efforts prompted several other WSI brands (Pottery Barn Kids, Pottery Barn Teen, West Elm, Rejuvenation, and Williams Sonoma Home) to join the cause.
Working as a team, the brands committed to doubling their planting efforts, resulting in an expanded goal of 6 million trees planted by 2023. The strategic reforestation projects supported through the partnership will see trees planted in critical forest ecosystems where they will sequester carbon, bolster biodiversity capacity, and provide cleaner air and water to surrounding areas.
"We simply can't wait to restore forests," said Ben Wilinsky, the Foundation's director of Partnerships and Innovation. "Our Esri tools help to illustrate where corporates are leading on climate action through trees. Many companies are setting carbon and climate neutrality targets, net-zero targets. Trees have a massive role to play in helping companies achieve those targets outside of their operations and inside."
More organizations than ever are implementing sustainability strategies that consider the environmental and social impacts and new standards of governance (ESG) into their core business practices. Connecting these disparate initiatives to real-world solutions that directly address global needs can prove difficult. The situation becomes even more complex as the impacts of climate change and human activity, including deforestation, shorten the timeline for corporate action.
These circumstances, in tandem with other market forces, are driving leaders across industries to seek partners with the experience, technology, and capacity to help them become a part of the solution.
While this move toward a partnership model has heightened interest in the Foundation's nature-based solutions, organizations want assurances that their investments are creating value and driving meaningful improvement.
To meet this challenge, the Arbor Day Foundation leverages scientific data and Esri technology to help partners visualize, quantify, and communicate the value of their work to stakeholders in a compelling and transparent format.
This simplified approach to projects is increasing trust in the efficacy of nature-based solutions and, in turn, incentivizing more investment from corporate organizations.
"They all have found a way to rally behind forests as a solution to some of the most pressing issues that are facing both our planet and their businesses," Wilinsky said.
The need to concurrently scale its operations and improve quality and efficiency for its partners led the Foundation to explore GIS technology. ArcGIS Pro brought immediate modernization to operations, including locating forests on digital maps and offering tools for maintaining up-to-date information on each location.
ArcGIS Survey123 automates data collection, freeing staff from manually entering information as projects progress. New capabilities for analyzing data and building predictive models make it possible to monitor conditions at each forest, maintain near real-time awareness of threats and opportunities around the world, and set priorities for climate action.
Together, GIS technologies also create a powerful platform for storytelling. The Foundation educates its audience about issues it's working to solve through ArcGIS Hub, ArcGIS Dashboards, ArcGIS StoryMaps, and the Foundation's own communication channels.
The ever-growing number of locations under threat accentuates the urgent risks to populations around the globe. Threats include rising temperatures, droughts, increased flooding, unchecked pollution growth, and diminished health and well-being.
By taking a geographic approach to climate action, the Foundation has extended its reach to 55 countries. It plans to continue building on this momentum, having established a dedicated GIS team that is working to unlock the full potential of these technologies. The team is working toward having a meaningful, measurable impact that addresses climate change and other human and environmental issues around the world.
"The biggest opportunity for geospatial information at the Foundation is to guide investments that we're making globally in forests and communities," Wilinsky said. "We've spent a lot of time and energy thinking about how we're going to use geospatial information systems to focus on what we call forests and communities of greatest need. This technology helps us think globally and act locally."