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Robotics, blockchain, and mobile applications are digital technologies developed to boost tree-planting activities and tackle environmental degradation. These digital practices also often offer carbon-offset services to individuals, companies, and investors, while structuring new green markets that promise to transform restoration agreements into local actions.

At the same time, these technologies raise questions about how the restoration of ecosystems can create meaningful local livelihood opportunities and the distribution of benefits. For an extended analysis of these dilemmas, see the related story, "How Digital Platforms Transform Global Forest Restoration Actions," and our Smart Forests publication, “Digitalizing Forest Landscape Restoration: A Social and Political Analysis of Emerging Technological Practices.” Environmental Politics. DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2022.2091417.

Granada, España

Precision Forest Restoration (PFR)

Castro_PrecisionForestRestoration
Diagram suggesting uses for remote sensing, modelling, and artificial intelligence in a precision forest restoration approach. Image source: Castro et al. (2021) [figure]. Retrieved 28 July 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1111/rec.13421

In the context of widespread restoration movements advocating for tree planting, scientists are developing precision forest restoration approaches (Castro et al. 2021) that combine emerging technologies with existing knowledges to increase the success rate of planted seedlings becoming adult trees. Drawing on techniques from smart agriculture, PFR approaches include the use of sensors, remote sensing, drones, and AI (machine and deep learning) combined with local knowledges in processes of species selection, site preparation, planting or direct seeding, promoting ecological interactions, and monitoring.

Uffing, Deutschland

Plant-for-the-Planet and TreeMapper

PlantForThePlanet
Screenshot of the Plant-for-the-Planet platform, showing a mangrove restoration project in Iran. Image source: Plant-for-the-Planet [screenshot]. Retrieved 20 July 2022, from https://www1.plant-for-the-planet.org/

Plant-for-the-Planet is a platform for non-profit restoration projects to share their activities, set prices for tree planting, and receive donations and financial support. In order to be included on the platform, projects have to be verified against certain biological and socio-economic criteria, and are required to report on progress using standardised tools such as Plant-for-the-Planet's TreeMapper app. The app, which is open source and customisable, allows users to map tree planting and restoration activities and monitor them over time.

Manchester, United Kingdom

(more:trees)

(more:trees) is the tree planting arm of a UK-based consumer brands group. The organisation allows individuals and businesses to purchase tree planting and carbon credits, and to monitor their activities and estimated tonnage of potential future carbon sequestration through an online platform. Most notably, the platform also includes an application programming interface (API) and integration tools that enable users to connect their (more:trees) account to other apps in order to automate tree planting purchases. For example, the system could be set up so that a tree planting credit is automatically purchased every time a user makes a sale at work, meets a goal on a motivation app, or turns the central heating on using smart home technology. Trees are then planted by project partners in locations primarily in the Global South.

MoreTrees_Platform
Screenshot of the (more:trees) platform dashboard, showing credits purchased and trees planted. Image source: THG(more:trees) [image]. Retrieved 20 July 2022, from https://moretrees.eco/individuals/

The (more:trees) website focuses more on the consumer experience of participating in automated systems of organising tree planting than on the less automated on-the-ground processes of tree planting and the specificities of location, project partners, and local communities. In doing so, it presents responses to climate change in largely individualised terms, with an emphasis on Global North actors offsetting personal or business carbon footprints, rather than attending to the socio-ecological and political dynamics of particular planting locations.

Boa Vista, Roraima, Brasil

iPlantForest

iPlantForest proposes to use blockchain operations to track and report where and how restoration actions occur. Users around the world will be able to purchase tree-planting services through a cryptocurrency token named ReforestCoin. The platform promises to develop a transparent system through databases that monitor and report how restoration projects progress at the local level. iPlantForest is made up of several companies, including Mahogany Roraima which is developing the forest bot.

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Screenshot of the iPlantforest's code of conduct. Image source: iPlantforest. Retrieved 24 June 2022, from https://iplantforest.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Code-of-Conduct-iPlantForest-2020.pdf
Boa Vista, Roraima, Brasil

Forest Bot

MahoganyRoraima_ForestBot
Graphic rendering of the Real Carbon Capture Machine (RCCM), an automated tree planting machine. Image source: Mahogany Roraima [image]. Retrieved 27 July 2022, from https://mahoganyroraima.com.br/real-carbon-capture-machine/

The Forest Bots are autonomous robotic machines designed by the Brazilian company Mahogany Roraima that undertake forest management practices without human interference. The Real Carbon Capture Machine (RCCM) currently in development aims towards a self-driving system with GPS guidance, automated processes of planting, watering, fertilising, and monitoring, AI and 3D-imaging for forest inventory and analysis and recording of all actions in a cloud-based database accessible to partners and investors. Since 2016, the company has been investing in prototypes that aim to plant 100 hectares of forest in only 4 hours. The current prototype forest planting machine is tractor-operated and has the theoretical capacity to plant approximately 3,600 seedlings or 12 hectares per hour.

London, United Kingdom

Treeapp

This mobile application offers tree-planting services to users who are often remote from forest locations. Treeapp encourages users to engage with advertisements to generate credits for tree planting across diverse restoration projects in the Global South. This tech start-up is connected through multi-sector collaborations among environmental campaigns, international brands, and non-profit organizations in online spaces to manage finances for tree-planting schemes.

While such platforms create new ways to link stakeholders with restoration projects, users can potentially be disengaged from local forest livelihoods and effective practices. Such mobile applications can thus create barriers for users interested in transparently offsetting their carbon emissions.

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Screenshot of the The Treeapp website. Image source: Treeapp [screenshot]. Retrieved 24 June 2022, from https://www.thetreeapp.org/

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