Nature and Biodiversity

These 21 innovations are enabling sustainable forest management and linking forests to human well-being

An increasing global population requires increasing quantities of sustainable forest products, be it wood for buildings or furniture, or pulp and paper products for packaging or personal hygiene.

An increasing global population requires increasing quantities of sustainable forest products, be it wood for buildings or furniture, or pulp and paper products for packaging or personal hygiene. Image: Unsplash

Prachi Jha
Digital Activation, Marketing Communications Lead, World Economic Forum
Gianluca Gygax
Impact Lead, Uplink, 1t.org
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  • Healthy forests are instrumental in addressing some of the most pressing issues of the day.
  • We need innovations that secure forest health and enable the sustainable use of forest resources through a community-centred and biodiversity protection lens.
  • The selected 21 Top Innovators from two UpLink Challenges, the Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge and Forest and Health Challenge, will receive support to scale their solutions which enable sustainable forest management and promote planetary and human health.

Healthy forests are instrumental in addressing some of the most pressing issues of the day: slowing climate change and the loss of biodiversity, advancing social equity, providing sustainable and renewable resources, and promoting human well-being. Forests and trees help improve air quality, reduce temperatures in urban areas by up to five degrees Celsius, provide opportunities for physical activity, and give us access to fresh and healthy foods. Spending time in forests and in the presence of wood products has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health such as reducing stress and anxiety.

However, demands on our forests are high. An increasing global population requires increasing quantities of sustainable forest products, be it wood for buildings or furniture, or pulp and paper products for packaging or personal hygiene. Additional pressures on forests are increasing too, with natural disasters such as forest fires becoming more frequent.

We urgently need to find sustainable ways to increase forest cover while safeguarding the supply of wood and other forest products. We need innovations that secure forest health and enable the sustainable use of forest resources through a community-centred and biodiversity protection lens.

To this end, UpLink partnered with Manulife – a leading insurance and financial services company as well as the world’s largest timberland investment manager – to accelerate the innovation agenda to ensure the protection and restoration of forests, and the sustainable management of forest resources to safeguard planetary and human health.

UpLink ran two Innovation Challenges on these themes which received a total of 147 high-quality submissions from around the globe, of which, 21 Top Innovators were selected to join the UpLink Innovation Ecosystem. These organizations will now get the opportunity to drive global attention to their innovation and connect with the right stakeholders to scale their impact. Additionally, winners will have the opportunity to receive grant funding of up to 150,000 USD, made available by Manulife.

The first Innovation Challenge of this collaboration, the Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge, launched at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos, called for ecopreneurial start-ups that provide innovative and scalable models for sustainable forest management, the production and application of different wood products and enabling technology solutions. This Challenge was supported by 1t.org, American Forests, Built by Nature, Climate Smart Forest Economy Programme, Dalberg, EcoTree, European Forest Institute, and US Endowment for Forestry and Communities.

Meet the 12 Top Innovators of this Challenge:

1. Fairventures Social Forestry offers investment opportunities in a scalable, agroforestry-based climate solution with social impact. It works with local communities to establish agroforestry plantations on degraded areas, providing sustainable jobs and profit sharing for them.

2. Cambium Carbon uses technology to build local, regenerative wood supply chains. It turns fallen urban trees into value-added wood products and creates waste-to-value revenues that reinvest in tree canopy regeneration.

3. Lignum produces high-performing and biodegradable bioplastic materials from forest and agricultural residue. Its patented technology converts lignocellulosic biomass into a functional bioplastic material which has wide application.

4. AirForerstry is re-inventing forestry by harvesting from the air with high-capacity drones. Its solution reduces emissions from forestry work while increasing the forest's ability to sequester carbon by freeing up to 20% of forest land that is currently used for forestry access roads.

Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge

5. CIOL AS provides a unique and sustainable alternative to existing methods of wood protection. Through pressure treatment using non-toxic, sustainable chemicals, it provides a more durable alternative to standard chemical impregnated wood products.

6. Urban Machine is a robotics company that reclaims wood waste from construction and demolition. Using artificial intelligence to pinpoint metals, Urban Machine's robot removes bulk fasteners and surface materials from reclaimed wood.

7. Timber Finance Initiative mobilizes impact capital for the entire forest to frame value chain and raises awareness and demand for timber investment opportunities through new research, financial products, and services.

8. Juno has invented a scalable solution to improve the productivity and sustainability of urban housing. It uses a combination of repeatable architectural components and proprietary software to expedite layout and planning, and accelerate build schedules.

9. Vibrant Planet has developed a data-driven, science-based tool which allows real-time scenario planning, monitoring, and reporting. By calculating the potential avoided loss and ecosystem services value of each land management and community wildfire protection treatment, it helps qualify projects for conservation finance.

10. Easy Housing offers a circular, locally-sourced and climate-resilient building technology to provide affordable housing in emerging African economies. Easy Homes can withstand climate disasters, store carbon, upcycle plastic waste and save energy.

11. Folia Materials has invented the world’s cheapest and most effective plant-based coating that adds advanced functionality to ordinary paper at a marginal cost. Using this technology, Folia is developing products such as microwave food packaging, anti-viral face masks and anti-microbial water purifiers.

12. Divine Bamboo makes briquettes primarily made from bamboo, which are long-burning, smokeless and 30% cheaper compared to charcoal, providing economic benefits to local communities while driving forest restoration and biodiversity protection in Africa.

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Learn more about the Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge and the winning innovations.

Forest and Health Challenge winners

The second Innovation Challenge of this collaboration, the Forest and Health Challenge, tackled the negative effects of being disconnected from nature in our modern world. It called for innovative solutions that emphasize forest health as a pathway to achieving human well-being, and tackle urban and rural environments with a community-centred and biodiversity protection approach. This Challenge was supported by 1t.org, American Forests, Health in Harmony, Impact One, and the University of Washington.

Meet the nine Top Innovators of this Challenge:

1. The Forest Therapy Hub specializes in designing, delivering, and evaluating nature-based activities and interventions, which are backed by robust scientific research and evidence, and benefit specific mental health populations,

2. Green Health Initiative combines the expertise of Maya elders and renowned scientists to provide healthcare based on traditional Maya healing using native plant species.

3. NatureQuant is a technology and research company that develops tools to monitor, quantify, and evaluate links between nature exposure and health.

Forest and Health Challenge

4. Planète Urgence was founded around the original model of citizen engagement and enables companies, communities, or individual citizens anywhere in the world to act in support of projects created and managed by local populations.

5. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative advances sustainability through forest focused collaborations, particularly through its education initiative, Project Learning Tree, which advances environmental literacy, stewardship, and career pathways.

6. The Forest Bathing Institute is dedicated to advancing the practice, and increasing awareness of the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku (Forest Bathing) through its research and programmes based on this nature-based therapy.

7. City Forest Credits is a carbon registry and impact certification organization which has developed a tool combining human benefit quantification with project-level design focus, to measure the health and equity impact of urban tree-planting projects.

9. Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) is a planetary health organization which implements a dual conservation-health programme. Using the radical listening methodology, it uncovers and invests in solutions designed by local communities.

9. Forest Homes develops biophilic and sustainable design products to connect people with nature while being indoors. Its nature-inspired spaces and products have been shown to increase creativity, focus, and productivity, and promote faster and better healing.

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Learn more about the Forest and Health Challenge and the winning innovations.

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