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Trase: Bringing ‘radical transparency’ to global supply chains

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Written by Caspar Trimmer

Friday, 11 November 2016 17:56

SEI News 2016 Trase COP22 350
A screenshot from the Trase platform

A new online platform lets companies, governments and others track flows of "forest-risk" commodities from production landscapes to consumer markets.

Deforestation and land-use change are major drivers of climate change, accounting for about 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. Much of the cleared land is used to grow agricultural commodities, to be sold around the world.

With growing pressure from consumers and environmental groups, many companies that produce, trade and market these commodities in their products have pledged to purge their supply chains of deforestation by 2020. However, only a fraction have adopted time-bound, actionable plans for doing so. There are many reasons for this lag, but one major obstacle is the “stupefying complexity of global supply chains”, as SEI Research Fellow Toby Gardner put it at a side-event at the Marrakech Climate Change Conference on Wednesday 9 November 2016.

Trase, an online platform developed by SEI and GCP, seeks to change the equation, bringing unprecedented transparency to flows of "forest-risk" commodities. Trase (for Transparency for Sustainable Economies) dynamically maps and visualizes the movement of commodities such as Brazilian soy from the specific production localities to the importers in consumer countries around the world.

With such "blanket" transparency, Trase reveals the fate of almost the entire internationally traded volume of the commodity and identifies the various actors (traders, exporters, importers, shippers) all along the supply chain. Trase complements this mapping with other information to create a powerful decision-support tool for governments and companies.

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Toby Gardner introduces Trase at COP22 in Marrakech. Marion Davis / SEI

“We see Trase as the start of a data-driven revolution in supply chain transparency,” says Javier Godar, a Senior Research Fellow at SEI and one of the platform’s founders. “Trase can help catalyse improvements across the board: in production practices, procurement and investment policies and the governance of supply chains by both producer and consumer governments”.

Unique capabilities

One of the key innovations of Trase is its ability to link actors – importers and other companies all along the supply chain – to specific production landscapes, usually at the level of municipalities. By cross-referencing this with localized data on deforestation and biodiversity threats, water scarcity, rights issues and others, it is possible to quantify the risks in a particular actor’s supply chain, as well as to see who is involved in the trade of commodities produced in problem hotspots. Previously, this kind of information has only been accessible through costly studies focused on a particular region or company.

The platform's fine-scale tracking capability is achieved using the SEI-PCS tool developed by SEI, in combination with millions of national production, customs, shipping and other trade records. User-friendly visualizations translate the complexity of this supply chain data into clear, easily understood information and analysis. Trase evolved out of the Transformative Transparency beta platform showcased at last year's Paris COP in 2015.

Trase also integrates data such as companies' Forest500 score and zero-deforestation commitments, and over time will incorporate data on factors such as local governance issues, helping to make it an essential tool for designing strategies and investments to combat deforestation, as well as for tracking the performance of corporate and government anti-deforestation strategies.

Trase is already being recognized as a potential game-changer among major businesses. "Without transparency it is impossible to enter into a dialogue with our traders,” said Lucas Urbano, PMO for major manufacturer Danone’s Climate Nature and Cycle Sustainability Strategy. Trase, he said, helps a company like Danone “move beyond the blame game and start a constructive dialogue about solutions.”

A long-term vision

As of the launch at COP22, Trase is focused on internationally traded Brazilian soy. But by 2017 Trase’s coverage should include all traded Latin American soy, followed by beef from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and on to other major commodities including Colombian coffee, Brazilian timber and Indonesian palm oil. In five years, the aim is for Trase to cover more than 70% of total production of major forest risk commodities.

Speaking at the official launch of Trase in Marrakech on 11 November, Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Sustainability Director of food company Mars spoke of his belief in the value of "data-driven decision-making" for addressing sustainability, adding: "Trase is a perfect example of that."


Explore Trase and learn more about its capabilities »


Trase has been developed by SEI and GCP, in close collaboration with Vizzuality and the European Forest Institute. It has been generously supported by the European Union, the Nature Conservancy, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Swedish Research Institute Formas, and the UK Department for International Development.

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