During the 9th FSC General Assembly FSC International’s Oliver Mandila shared how FSC has responded to the 2017 General Assembly “call for digitization” by deploying technology that allows us to effectively use satellite imagery, publicly available data, and our own information to increase the efficiency of the auditing process, gain a better understanding of the impact of certification over time, and find ways to improve.  

“Thanks to open data policies across the world, a large volume of geospatial data is now available to any user, including satellite imagery and global-scale datasets” said Joanna Nowakowska, FSC’s System Performance Director. “The combination of these datasets with our certification data (maps, audit info, etc.) enables us to get a holistic, 3-D perspective on what’s happening in the forest, where and when it’s happening.”  

The launch of FSC GIS Portal  

One critical step was the launch of the FSC GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) Portal during the pandemic which not only allowed for continued auditing services it also helped with monitoring and transparency initiatives. We were able to capture critical data including tree cover loss, intact forest landscapes, protected areas, Indigenous and community lands, water courses, boundary data of certified forest areas, voluntarily provided by our certificate holders. 

This data is already available to certification bodies. FSC is also in discussion with Accreditation Services International (ASI) on how to integrate the tool into their assessment workflows and eventually FSC envisions that the use of the portal and its functionalities will be broadened as it develops. 

Revolutionizing forest management audits 

“Our goal was to revolutionize forest management audits by enabling as much verification of compliance with FSC forest management standards as possible through satellite monitoring, helping auditors identify where to focus during audits and help free up time to focus on things, which cannot be monitored from the sky.” Andrés Felipe Ramírez, FSC’s Geospatial Information Officer.  

As an example, an auditor can choose criterion 6.7 (“The Organization shall protect or restore natural water courses, water bodies, riparian zones and their connectivity.”) and any changes happening in riparian zones of the selected area will be highlighted. Analytics can be done fully automated or take place in a more advanced mode, where auditors combine available information with their own data sets. 

Measuring our impact 

Using this data, FSC has already started answering important impact-related questions: How much area has been harvested within a certified forest; How large and stable the conservation areas are; How well protected the buffer areas around watercourses are; and many more. The ability to draw fact-based, data-driven conclusions to understand what impact an FSC-certified forest has had from the land cover standpoint, will be a milestone for our organization

Learn more about this work here.