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A vibrant green forest alongside some water

Working together to protect nature

We’re joining forces with USAID, NASA, FAO, the World Resources Institute and Google to create a shared data ecosystem that will revolutionize how we monitor deforestation and restore nature.

Ending deforestation and speeding up environmental restoration are crucial if we intend to limit climate change and protect global biodiversity. Using data and technological solutions could help us to achieve these goals, especially when it comes to creating traceability and transparency in the first mile of our supply chain.

But despite real progress by many stakeholders, the collection methods and technical standards of these datasets are often being developed and managed in a fragmented way. This is creating competing versions of what’s happening on the ground and delaying action against deforestation. We want to change this.

At COP26, Unilever, together with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Resources Institute (WRI), the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Google, announced the creation of the Forest Data Partnership.

Building a consensus to build a solution

The coalition will create a unified framework, allowing everyone access to consistent, open-source and validated geospatial data. It will offer the world a more uniform way to monitor, verify and disclose progress in reducing deforestation and restoring degraded land.

The new data ecosystem will focus on key regions, including the Amazon Basin, South-East Asia and West Africa. For it to work, it needs to be a truly collaborative project, so we will be actively recruiting committed companies, national and sub-national governments, NGOs and research partners, and, most importantly, communities in tropical landscapes to join the team. The aim is to create a consensus around this data ecosystem as the core knowledge base for all stakeholders, so that we can stop deforestation faster and restore forests quicker.

USAID will provide US$13.7 million in funding for the initiative. FAO and WRI will lead the development of the data ecosystem by bringing together key public and private sector stakeholders. This will be supported by NASA’s SERVIR initiative, which builds capacity to use geospatial data at national and regional levels. As the key technological partner, Google will provide a platform for the work to live on and Unilever will serve as the private sector lead.

Our place in the partnership

As a major purchaser of commodities, we know that the way we buy our resources and the standards we set ourselves can have a positive impact. We have a goal – a completely deforestation-free supply chain by 2023 – and we believe technology will be critical in generating the transparency and traceability needed to make a difference on the ground.

Together with our partners at Google Earth Engine, Descartes Labs, Orbital Insight, NGIS and Earthqualizer, we are already steadily working towards this goal. Our own internal no-deforestation dashboard has recently gone live, and thanks to the datasets we have already been able to gather from our technological partners, we have just published our first forest footprint report, focused on the Aceh Province of Indonesia. Our intention is to continue these deep dives into other portions of our supply chain, so we can build a detailed picture of what’s happening on the ground and act accordingly.

 We are concentrating our sourcing into a core set of supply chain partners, from tier-one suppliers down to palm oil mills, as well as ensuring that our sourcing expands to include more independent mills and smallholders. And beyond our own supply chain, we are working with our partner WWF in landscapes like in Sabah, Malaysia, to drive broader change across deforestation-heavy industries. Together, we have now launched five jurisdictional programs across Indonesia and Malaysia.

All of this has been instrumental in positioning us as the business lead for the Forest Data Partnership, and we are proud to be a part of such a significant new tool in the fight against deforestation.

By working together and creating this ecosystem, we can take meaningful and progressive action to halt deforestation, to reduce emissions and to provide tangible benefits to both people and nature. It has been said that we can only manage what we can measure. Now, with the help of recent technological developments, the boundaries of what we can measure have lifted and there’s no excuse not to act.

Building our framework

The key aims of the coalition’s framework will be to:

  1. Align with key stakeholders to identify the system’s main needs and to build consensus around data gaps (for example, data on forest carbon, peatlands or planted palm)

  2. Innovate to solidify a broad consensus around existing data and to accelerate the development of new datasets

  3. Deploy data in actionable and effective ways

  4. Assess and communicate lessons learned from effective interventions.