Keeping track of illegally logged trees is a lot easier when you know how many trees there are. At least that’s the hope of Helveta, a British company that hammers plastic barcodes into trees.
The company, which is tracking a million trees in southeast Asia, Africa, and South America, gives every tree in a plantation above a certain size its own barcode. When a tree is chopped down, workers use a handheld computer to scan processing and export data into Helveta’s database. Each felled tree is given a new barcode for export auditing at docks. Think of it as supermarket shopping for trees.
So far, Helveta’s business is booming. The company just received over $4 million in funding from investors, and its barcoding technology could become even more popular if a global climate deal is passed in December’s Copenhagen talks. That’s because trees soak up carbon dioxide, effectively making it easier for countries to keep their emissions low. Barcoding technology could also ease the $10 billion annual financial burden on timber-producing countries caused by losses from stolen wood. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that even major companies like IKEA, BMW, and Kraft rely on leather and beef from farms involved in deforestation.
Helveta’s system can’t stop determined criminals from selling illegal timber on the black market, but it does make it more difficult for them to sell or export the wood, as any timber processed without tags is considered illegal. Because in this case, someone does hear when a tree is chopped down in the wilderness.