It’s a simple idea. While we might not usually think about it this way, tropical rainforests are the world’s giant wood store, and just like shoplifters lurk in your local Target, treelifters scheme to fraudulently help themselves to timber supplies. Your local retailer protects themself by electronically tagging merchandise and keeping a hawk’s eye on inventory, and Helveta, a British tech company, feels that forests can benefit from the same methods. So far, the company has hammered plastic barcodes (or barkodes, if you will) onto a million trees across Africa, southeast Asia and South America to help countries keep track of timber reserves, and they’re not done yet.
The purpose of the barcodes is to help firms comply with the stringent laws on importing sustainable timber into the United States and Europe, but they could also fight deforestation, which amounts to approximately one fifth(!) of global emissions of carbon dioxide. The electronic system is less prone to fraud than old school paper records, and can even help governments to collect more timber taxes. What’s to stop criminals from simply cutting the barcodes off of the trees? Put simply, it’s not the barcode itself that deters would-be tree-stealers, it’s the fact that leaving the forest carrying a huge log without a barcode is very difficult to do – hopefully so difficult that it’s no longer worth it to criminals.
In addition to lowering the risk of fires, flooding and damage to forests, tagging the trees makes good business sense. Illegal logging costs timber-producing countries $10 billion a year in stolen wood, lost taxes and lower prices for legally-sourced products (as estimated by the World Bank).
Treehugger also has some outstanding videos on the subject here.