Connectivity for restoring forests

Restor is driving collaboration in the area of nature restoration by using satellite technology to monitor the progress of conservation projects across the globe.

CEO Clara Rowe explains why businesses should be accessing its data and how restoration is providing a beacon of hope when tackling climate change.

What is Restor and what is your mission?

Restor’s mission is to increase the transparency and connectivity of ecosystem restoration efforts worldwide. To facilitate this, we built a platform over a year ago that connects all the actors involved in ecosystem restoration to each other and to the scientific data and monitoring insights – such as satellite imagery – they need to accelerate and scale up the protection and restoration of healthy ecosystems.

We use satellite imagery to monitor restoration projects globally. Our key message is about the climate contribution of nature and how nature is a multifaceted, multi-beneficial thing. We illustrate this using three statistics: Forest restoration alone has the potential to improve food security for over a billion people, prevent up to 60 percent of expected species extinction, and draw down about 30 percent of carbon accumulated in our atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

Are you just monitoring reforestation, or does it include wider restoration projects?

Forests across the world have gained a lot of attention, but we want to help raise awareness about many other native ecosystems. There are grass-lands, wetlands, peatlands, mangroves, and coastal systems. Sometimes restoration can be the most cost-effective option, like fencing off an area so that cattle don’t come in, and letting the vegetation grow back. Sometimes it’s about working within a more modified ecosystem, like bringing agroforestry systems into more traditional agriculture practices. We think of restoration as a continuum of activities.

When someone looks at your platform, what will they see?

When you focus in on the satellite data, you can view a time-lapse that shows how the landscape is changing over time. For example, the imagery might reveal how an area that was severely degraded in 2010 now has lush green grass and a new canopy of trees. Or you might see how a diverse forest has been replaced with cattle ranching, or a monoculture of crops. We separate data into static and dynamic data. An example of static data might be data modeled from analyzed soil samples that we then scale up, or it could be self-disclosed data. Static data is a one-off. It is an estimate of carbon in the soil, or the elevation, or the water table.

Dynamic data is about change over time and insights derived from global satellite coverage that are available for anywhere on earth. Updates can happen every few days or every few years. It can be how much carbon is accumulating in plants over time, how much carbon is sequestered in a region or how much water is moving through the vegetation into the atmosphere, or something simple like a donor being able to see how many trees have been planted over time on a particular project. 


Restoration is a space where people are really pushing back, regrowing, and regreening. It’s a very hopeful place.” “It’s important we don’t romanticize planting a tree and then think we have fixed everything, but restoration really can fuel a sense of hope and drive our strategies.

Clara Rowe, CEO of Restor


Why is it so important to provide this data to restoration and conservation projects? 

Our theory of change is built around the pillars of transparency and connection. We believe that they are key to increasing the speed, the quality, and the scale of restoration around the world. Transparency – in terms of being able to see what’s happening – builds trust and accountability around efforts on the ground. It also inspires additional investment. We know some funders hold back because they are concerned about what the actual impact will be. By informing, monitoring, and showing change over time, we can increase funders’ confidence. The connectivity piece is about facilitating knowledge exchange, where people can connect with each other and learn from each other and share experiences. It’s also about spurring investment for projects looking to identify new funding partners or new technical partners. 


Bühler has been an early corporate user of your site. Why do you think businesses should be interested in accessing your data?

Having corporates connected to restoration is key for three reasons. Many companies have made philanthropic pledges to do restoration in some parts of the world as part of their CSR efforts. There’s a big movement to link that commitment to the number of trees being planted or the number of hectares being restored, and there’s a great need to bring transparency to that. Then there are companies that are purchasing nature-based carbon offsets. How can they really guarantee that what people are saying is actually happening, and how do they communicate that transparently to their stakeholders? That’s where Restor can support corporate users. The third and most complex reason is supply chain traceability. How can I remove deforestation from my supply chain?

Do you hope to expand the information available on your site?

Yes! For 2022, we’re piloting different aspects of ground data integration. One is drone imagery. The other is bioacoustics, which is basically the sound coming from a particular area. Each has a role to play in understanding the biodiversity of an area. For example, with the drone imagery you can begin to count trees and their diversity automatically using machine learning and artificial intelligence. We then hope to scale what we learn from drones to satellites. Then using audio files for bioacoustics, we hope to be able to look at the overall complexity of the sound landscape to estimate biodiversity. We want to make it easier to integrate more and more aspects of data collected on the ground and make that easy to synthesize and see so that you have both a top-down and a bottom-up picture of what’s happening for any given site.

How would you describe Restor?

You could describe Restor as a hybrid of a charity and a business because we spun off from a research institution but are fundamentally a non-profit company that’s owned by a charitable foundation. Our goal is to become financially independent of the foundation and cover our own costs over time. We will never have a mandate to generate profit, so we get the best of both worlds of having a non-profit structure that ensures we always prioritize impact while operating in a nimble start-up fashion. 


What plans do you have for the future?

Short term, we are launching an updated version of our platform in September 2022, allowing companies, governments, and organizations to have profiles and describe the work they are doing linked to specific sites. Our mid- to long-term vision is that Restor is the place to come to find new restoration projects, to monitor their progress and to connect with people doing similar kinds of work. It’s a hub much like the way Google Maps is centralizing what’s happening around the globe. It means any funder, any implementer, a drone provider, a carbon creditor, a seed nursery, all these actors will exist on Restor and will have more value because they can be found together on the site.


Are you optimistic? 

There’s obviously a lot of bad environmental news out there and we need to understand that and figure out what to do with it. But the restoration space is a space where people are really pushing back, regrowing, and regreening. It’s a very hopeful place. People are drawn to that hope. I think it’s important we don’t romanticize planting a tree and then think we have fixed everything, but restoration really can fuel a sense of hope and drive our strategies. I think that is very powerful.


Clara is the CEO of Restor. Before joining Restor, she worked in supply chain sustainability in Latin America, engaging large consumer goods companies, plantation owners, and smallholder farmers to design and implement solutions to protect forests and respect human rights. She has also worked in fishery management, youth development, and environmental education. In 2022, Clara was named a Leader to Watch.

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