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You would be forgiven for not thinking of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) when you think of groundbreaking technology. Our concerns tend toward the analog: trees, soil, wildlife, human beings. However, since March of 2022, FSC has convened a group of the world’s most advanced technology companies to find cutting-edge solutions to the challenges FSC faces – problems like how to root out fraud in supply chains, or help smallholders compete in global markets, to name a few.
The group, called the FSC Technology Consortium, meets monthly. Convening virtually to include leaders from around the world, each meeting has an FSC topic expert share an industry problem. The group then considers possible solutions and the role information technology might play in achieving them. These discussions often continue over the following weeks as participants consider options, ideas, and next steps. What these technology companies bring to the table, says Michael Marus, FSC’s Chief Information Officer and Director of IT, is their “technology knowledge, knowhow, and expertise from a variety of domains, industries, and sectors that can spearhead the much-needed transformative impact of using technology to benefit our forests.”
Market-leading mapping and geospatial information systems provider Esri, a recognized partner of FSC, was one of the first to join, among other partners including Tableau (now part of Salesforce), which specializes in visualizing data, and Trimble, an industrial technology company, who were both keen to take part. Soon the roster included Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, DocuSign, Planet, an earth imaging company, and Slalom, a tech consulting company, joined a few months later.
Although the group is still fairly new, the FSC Technology Consortium has already started generating ideas. As a result of a convening about blockchain, DocuSign, which does electronic contract signature, is exploring ways to partner with FSC to see how their technology can help to secure blockchain transactions. As the Consortium evolves, each participant will continue sharing creative ways to use information technology strengths and advancements to accelerate FSC’s work.
A few exciting things have already come about. To help FSC with the power of geospatial technology, Esri recently gave FSC a licensing contract worth US$1.8 million, which will allow FSC to collect critical data and compile a digital map of all FSC-certified forests (read more about this generous gift here), which can support our work in Climate and Ecosystem Services (among others). Planet is donating 50 kilometers’ worth of 50-centimeter satellite imagery, which will let FSC staff study individual trees in Gabon to help understand key aspects of the health of the forests – without having to leave their desks. Slalom provided pro bono support to FSC’s Systems Integrity team to create a technology architecture around integrity risk modeling. A Trimble representative attended FSC’s 2022 General Assembly to participate in a panel, and they also co-sponsored the event. “These are all brand-new relationships that have never been there before,” says Scot McQueen, Senior Technology Officer at FSC, “and that’s all because of the Tech Consortium. I want to underline that it’s not just about potential funding. You can’t undervalue the importance of relationships!”
As for the Consortium members, working with FSC can support them in reaching the targets they have set to use their technologies for the greater good. “Most companies have corporate social responsibility goals,” says Sharon London, Development Director at FSC Investments & Partnerships. “And I think for many of them it’s a really nice way to give back.”
Partnership is integral to FSC’s technology work, even prior to the founding of the Technology Consortium. For instance, a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust partially funds a position in FSC’s technology unit with the goal of accelerating digital innovations at FSC, in part by establishing new partnerships in the technology industry. That grant, in turn, builds upon a 2019 grant of €1 million from the Dutch Postcode Lottery for FSC to democratize technology, focusing on smallholders. “We’re leveraging all these different funding opportunities and relationships to advance FSC’s mission of responsible forest management in new ways, which is what the Tech Consortium does, too. It’s about building upon the work of others by taking new and innovative technologies and working out how to harness them,” says London.
Given the success so far, FSC imagines the Technology Consortium lasting a long time and is already considering which companies to invite in the future; a key factor will be whether a company works on similar challenges to those that FSC faces, and therefore has the potential for a long-term partnership.
According to McQueen, "My ultimate dream is for FSC to have its own FSC Tech Consortium conference, an event where we can all come together and work on these important problems affecting our planet right now. None of us can do it alone, and who better to work with than a group of passionate experts?"