Prioritising renewable and clean energy

Why it’s material

Prioritising renewable and clean energy is strongly linked to the need to mitigate climate change. In order to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement, there is growing consensus around the world that CO2 emissions will need to fall to net zero by 2050. In certain regions where we operate, we are experiencing strong regulatory pressures to decarbonise our operations. Additionally, within our markets, some customers are pursuing their own ambitious commitments and looking for us to do our part.

How this issue links to other aspects of our business

Our global priority SDGs


Our top ten risks

3 Evolving technology and consumer preferences
4 Sustainability expectations
9 Climate change

Our strategic fundamentals

  • Grow our business
  • Drive operational excellence
  • Enhance trust

The global forces shaping our Thrive25 strategy

  • Climate change continuing to impact businesses and reshape societies






As an energy-intensive industry, Sappi’s fuel choices have a major impact on air emissions. We’re focused on increasing the share of renewable and clean energy within our energy consumption, while also continually improving our energy efficiency.

Globally, the concentration of major greenhouse gases, including carbon CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, rose to new record high values during 2019. The global annual average atmospheric CO2 concentration was the highest in the modern 61-year measurement record.1

1 State of the Climate report, published by the American Meteorological Society and available at: https://www.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/publications/bulletin-ofthe- american-meteorological-society-bams/state-of-the-climate/

Fossil vs renewable energy

Fossil fuels           Renewable energy      
      CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere            

Coal, crude oil and natural gas are all fossil fuels – so called because they were formed over millions of years, from the remains of dead organisms: Coal from dead trees and other plant material; crude oil and gas from dead marine organisms.

In the process carbon is ‘locked up’.



When fossil fuels are combusted – to heat our homes, propel our cars and power factories, the CO2 that was previously locked up is released.

In other words, 'new' fossil CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere.



Trees absorb CO2, sunlight and water to produce the carbohydrate energy that is needed for growth and give off oxygen as a by-product during the process of photosynthesis.



When wood or wood-derived biofuels like black liquor are burned, the CO2 captured during photosynthesis is released – in other words, no ‘new’ CO2 is released into the atmosphere.



In the sustainably managed forests and plantations from which we secure woodfibre, harvesting is balanced with regeneration and replanting and the process of carbon capture beings all over again.

Our approach

Lower use of fossil fuels and greater use of renewable energy help to reduce carbon footprint. As the pie chart below shows, own black liquor resulting from concentrating process liquors is our most significant fuel source. This is significant because black liquor is classified as a renewable biofuel, which in turn means that the higher our use of black liquor, the lower our fossil fuel emissions. It’s important to note that our use of energy is balanced by the carbon sequestration of the sustainably managed forests and plantations from which we source woodfibre.

In addition to black liquor, own and purchased biomass and renewable energy used for purchased power generation, we also use the following forms of renewable energy:


In the kraft pulping and recovery process, black liquor is the spent cooking liquor that results from digesting pulpwood into paper pulp thereby removing lignin, hemicelluloses and other extractives from the wood to free the cellulose fibres. Black liquor contains more than half of the energy content of the digested wood.

Promoting energy efficiency

We are committed to reducing our use of traditional fossil fuels and increasing our use of renewable fuels, lowering both our environmental footprint and energy costs. We focus on the efficient use and recovery of materials used in the manufacturing process to minimise waste. Our energy efficiency is enhanced through our ongoing drive to make process improvements and install more efficient equipment, as well as through our extensive use of cogeneration.


Most conventional power generation is based on burning a fuel to produce steam, with the steam pressure turning the turbines and generates power. Cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP) makes use of more than one form of energy provided from a combustion source – most commonly excess heat, usually in the form of relatively low-temperature steam exhausted from the power generation turbines. Such steam is suitable for a wide range of heating applications and effectively displaces the combustion of carbon-based fuels. We have cogeneration power plants at 14 of our mills.

Electricity sales

In some instances, Alfeld, Carmignano, Condino, Ehingen, Stockstadt, Gratkorn and Maastricht Mills (SEU), Westbrook and Somerset Mill (SNA), and Ngodwana Mill (SSA), excess energy is generated that is sold into the power grid. This power is used for district heating in the vicinity of Sappi’s plants and for export into the public grid, thereby replacing fossil fuels.

Cooking with gas: circularity in action

Matane Mill produces its own biogas from raw process wastewater using anaerobic reactor technology. In this process, anaerobic biomass transforms organics in the raw wastewater (mainly sugars) into methane gas.

Significant environmental benefits …

This biogas fuel is then consumed to dry bleached chemi-thermomechanical (BCTMP) pulp in the final step of production. The process displaces the light oil previously used, thereby reducing fossil fuel consumption by 87% and also reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the environment as well as solid waste to landfill by 24%. Biogas fuel currently accounts for 79.5% of Matane Mill’s on-site fuel consumption.

And economic benefits

What’s more, installing the anaerobic reactor plant debottlenecked the capacity limitations of the wastewater treatment facility, presenting the opportunity for increased market pulp production.

Overhauling the Kaplan turbines at Gratkorn Mill’s hydro-electric power plant

An essential component of Gratkorn Mill’s electric power supply is the onsite hydro-electric power plant with its two Kaplan1 water turbines. During the past three years (2018-2020), both water turbines were completely renovated. Thanks to this major overhaul, an increase of availability and an increase of hydro-electric power generation of almost 5% will be achieved. This aligns with our 2025 sustainability goals of increasing the renewable energy we use. A green and renewable energy source, hydro-electric power generation at the mill has the following advantages:

1 Viktor Kaplan (1876-1934) was an Austrian engineer and the inventor of the Kaplan turbine

Key developments in 2020

Breakdown of fuel type (%)

Renewable energy

Globally, our use of renewable energy stood at 54.9% of which 68.3% was own black liquor. Unfortunately, specific energy intensity, which had been on a downward trend until last year, increased by 7% – the result of production curtailment across all regions. On the positive side, energy self-sufficiency increased by 6.2%.

In June 2020, we committed to setting science-based targets through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). The SBTi is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). As an early supporter of the Paris Agreement, our overarching aim in terms of science-based targets is to fully contribute to SDG13, to ensure a more sustainable future for all and limit the increase in the global average temperature to well-below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. Through heightening our focus and ambition on climate action, we look to increase our contribution to building a resilient, thriving world. Within the context of Sappi’s 2025 sustainability targets, we have established a global specific greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target of 17% reduction in combined specific Scope 1 & 2 emissions under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13: Climate Action. The global target is supported by targets specific to each region.

While these are not yet science-based targets, they will catalyse an ambitious emissions reduction trajectory. We now have two years to work with the SBTi on setting and validating our science-based targets. This will give us precision for our longer-term 2030 and 2050 targets, will help our customers on their sustainability journeys and is an important milestone of our own. This commitment marks an important next step in our ongoing decarbonisation journey. It places Sappi within a group of ambitious corporate leaders who are serious about climate action and ensuring a sustainable future for all. It will also sharpen our focus, ambition and responsibility to get on a trajectory towards climate neutrality by 2050.

Sappi recognises the science of climate change and acknowledges the role we need to play in reducing our emissions. Moving forward with the SBTi and Sappi’s own climate action, will position our business for the future, making us more resilient and more sustainable.

We established cluster 1.5 – comprised of experts across the group – so called because of the identified global need to limit global warming to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels. The cluster has prioritised novel technologies for fuel switching and deep decarbonisation in terms of Scope 1 & 2 emissions across energy, pulping, papermaking and bleaching.

We also took the decision to move forward with our fuel rod project: Some 150 years of intensive coal mining in South Africa have produced about a billion tons of discarded thermal-grade coal fines. Once discarded, these sulphur-planet ultra-fines cause health problems. They can also contribute to several environmental problems, emitting greenhouse gases as they decompose. To utilise this energy source, we constructed a small-scale plant to manufacture fuel rods that comprise a mixture of coal slurry, biomass and Sappi’s lignin based binder, which can be used as a coal replacement, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Following positive test results at Tugela Mill, we plan to construct a plant at the mill. This was delayed because of Covid-19, but will be progressed in FY21.

Similarly, construction of the 25 MW biomass power plant at Ngodwana Mill in which we have a 30% stake and that will use biomass from the surrounding plantations, was delayed because of the pandemic, but is now moving forward.

Mapping our decarbonisation journey

The global drive for decarbonisation is manifest in each region where we operate. It includes developments such as the European Green Deal, the American Energy Innovation Act and, in South Africa, the government’s procurement programme for renewable energy and the carbon tax that was implemented in 2019.

In alignment with our commitment to the SBTi, in each region we have established a detailed decarbonisation roadmap.


Our regional roadmap lays out ambitious initiatives to reduce emissions and maximise material and resource use in our nine mills across Europe. It reflects over 80 projects, which will be prioritised and implemented throughout the 2021-2025 period. Our three main priorities in this region over this period are:

  • Our most significant potential impact in emission reductions lies in exiting coal in the three mills that still partially use this fuel. We plan to implement projects that enable the shift to using carbon neutral biomass or natural gas. An example of this is our planned upgrade to Boiler 11 at Gratkorn Mill in Austria. This involves a shift from a coal boiler to a multi-fuel boiler in two phases with the goal to finally use only sustainable and renewable fuels.
  • We’ve committed to procure more green electricity from the grid where it is available. This will reduce our Scope 2 emissions, especially at our three mills in Germany.
  • All mills will embark on ‘eco-effective’ projects to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions on an ongoing basis, investing in state-of-the-art technology and processes.



In this region we have made good progress on decarbonising our four mills already. Our newly acquired Matane Mill in Canada uses nearly 100% renewable energy. Our other three mills operate at a very high renewable capacity presently, approximately 80% in 2020 and by the end of 2021 we will no longer be using coal at any location. In the short term, we will continue to focus on energy efficiency projects. Longer term we will have opportunities to upgrade equipment due to retirements, such as a power boiler at Cloquet. Other opportunities include reducing:

  • Scope 1 emissions from our Somerset Mill by reducing and/or eliminating tyre-derived fuel (TDF). By burning TDF we keep waste tyres from the region going to the landfill. Unfortunately, the global warming potential is high and therefore it is an opportunity to address the climate challenge but creates a new challenge for the region on how to manage waste tyres.
  • Scope 1 emissions from our mill site landfills. Our new waste reduction goal will help but we still account for previously landfilled waste that decomposes in the landfill and presently those emissions are not captured. Due to the high global warming potential of landfill gas, primarily methane, there is a significant opportunity to reduce emissions by capturing and reusing or incinerating the landfill gases.
  • Scope 2 emissions with new energy contracts for renewable power as both countries in which we operate in are committed to ‘greening’ the power grid.

We will continue to access other technologies that allow for the electrification of our operations in anticipation of a future greener grid, as will modifying our lime kilns to burn renewable fuels.


In this region we have prioritised:

  • Reducing fossil energy (mainly coal and heavy fuel oil). As an example, our Vulindlela expansion project at Saiccor Mill will significantly reduce fossil Scope 1 emissions and the work being done on a hybrid fuel rod project at Tugela Mill will also partially displace fossil energy.
  • Potentially installing solar photovoltaics on three mill sites – while the payback is six years, the environmental return on investment is significant .
  • Promoting our use of renewable energy - Ngodwana Energy, the biomass project under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers’ Programme (REIPP) programme in which we have a 30% stake, will be improving the renewable energy % on the national electricity grid.
  • Implementing energy efficiency projects at all our mills.

To accelerate progress, our roadmap will be adapted as new ideas are developed and new insights and technologies become available.

Percentage renewable energy (%)

Includes renewable and nuclear energy, renewable energy certificates not deducted

Globally there was a slight increase, mainly due to SSA where the shut-down of the calcium line at Saiccor Mill in Q3&4 resulted in lower coal boiler usage and an increase in liquor firing availability. There was a slight decrease in SEU as Alfeld Mill produced less ‘green’ power due to the repair standstill of the steam turbine generator #4 and Lanaken Mill used a higher percentage of fossil fuels. In SNA there was a slight decrease as pulp mill curtailment at Cloquet Mill meant more natural gas was consumed and less black liquor burned. Somerset Mill used more natural gas due to a Covid-related price decrease.

Energy intensity (GJ/adt) (STE) GRI: 302-3

Figures based on net calorific values

Globally there was an increase in energy intensity, mostly caused by reduced production due to Covidrelated curtailment. In SEU, there was an increase for all mills, except Carmignano Mill. There was an overall increase in SNA, due to a curtailment in paper and dissolving pulp (DP) production at Cloquet Mill, reduced production at Westbrook Mill. However, energy intensity decreased at Somerset Mill due to increased use of natural gas related to cost efficiency and less biomass firing. The increase in SSA was the result of curtailed production due to weak markets as well as mill instability, power outages and equipment downtime.

Energy self-sufficiency

There was an increase across all regions. In SEU, energy self-sufficiency increased at Stockstadt Mill because of the new steam turbine generator, while at Gratkorn Mill it increased due to commercial downtime in paper production. In SNA, the increase was due to additional uptime for #2 boiler as the normal planned outage at Somerset Mill was delayed until FY21 due to Covid-19. In SSA, Saiccor Mill increased energy self-sufficiency as power generation by the turbines improved and there was a reduction in usage of heavy fuel oil, electricity and coal usage reduction due to active management of steam venting and improved boiler availability.

Please refer to Our 2020 Planet indicators on www.sappi.com/ 2020GSDR-Planet-indicators for these and other graphs detailing

Accelerating our decarbonisation journey in Europe

Transitioning to renewable fuels at Gratkorn Mill

Under a regional-specific Thrive25 target, SEU aims to deliver a 25% specific greenhouse gas reduction by 2025. The complete modernisation of boiler 11 at Gratkorn Mill plays an important role in achieving this ambition. The investment into state-of-the-art technology will see a shift from a coal boiler to a multi-fuel boiler in two phases with the goal to finally use only sustainable and renewable fuels. The rebuild will enable the mill to reduce CO2 emissions by 30%. In addition, the chosen technology for the project will additionally allow us to sharply reduce dust and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions.

The largest production site within Sappi Europe, Gratkorn Mill manufactures high quality coated woodfree paper for the global printing and writing market. Ongoing investments have kept the site technologically ahead, with its facilities housing one of the largest and most advanced coated fine paper production lines in the world.

This further investment proves our steadfast commitment to not only maintaining and improving our production sites but to progressing our sustainability journey – and that of our customers. The rebuild is expected to be complete in late 2021.

Becoming more energy efficient

Pulp and paper manufacturing is energy intensive. But with Sappi, the energy we both consume and produce is increasingly efficient and beneficial to surrounding communities.

Condino Mill relies on a combined heat and electric power plant (CHP) that uses methane to generate the mill’s electricity and steam. The technology enables us to recover waste heat that would normally be lost in the power generation process for use in other activities. With the CHP we are thriving producers, not just consumers of energy.

In 2014, an agreement was signed between the mill and the municipality of Condino to distribute residual thermal energy from the mill to the community.

After some infrastructure investments, today the mill supplies this recovered energy to heat the local schools, senior home, nursery, public library, police and fire stations, city hall, community houses and even the public pool.

In 2020, the mill delivered 3,200 MWh of thermal energy to the community. If the local users burned this with conventional gas instead, it would emit 600 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The heat recovery system still has capacity to delivery extra heat that the mill management is exploring with the town.

The project is yet another example of how Sappi invests in the communities that we also call home and enhances people’s everyday lives.

Looking beyond 2030 in pursuit of climate neutrality

Sappi Europe’s decarbonisation plan guides us in our journey to reduce GHG emissions up to 2030. So what’s the plan from 2030 and beyond? To further advance beyond the levels of our ambitious 2030 emissions targets, it is understood that new breakthrough technologies will be required. Moving beyond the current state of the art, available technologies that our 2020-2030 plan will deploy, from 2030 and beyond we need technologies not yet available.

Moreover, we need radical innovation and industry collaboration to reimagine how we make pulp and paper. Without such breakthroughs it’s difficult to imagine how we can continually improve an already low carbon footprint and achieve neutrality. Our newly established Future Group in Sappi Europe, brings together Sappi experts from manufacturing, R&D, procurement and sustainability to work together to investigate future technologies and their relevance in our mills.

In addition, we actively participate to a range of collaborations and research consortiums that are focused on developing and testing innovative technologies that may hold promise for future deployment in our sector. Some examples of this collaboration include: