Developing and commercialising innovations in addition to adjacent businesses

Why it's material

Innovation is at the heart of Sappi's strategy. No growth is possible without innovation. We view innovation not as an end in itself, but as an avenue for the provision of sustainable, competitive advantage that will make a significant difference. We make ongoing investment into R&D (US$39 million in FY20) and promote a culture of innovation through the annual Technical Innovation Awards. Together with the wide-ranging, significant expertise of our people, these factors mean we are well positioned to collaborate with our stakeholders and offer relevant solutions, thereby generating meaningful revenue. Our focus is on understanding what our customers – and potential customers – need, and adapting to that need.

How this issue links to other aspects of our business

Our global priority SDGs


Our top ten risks

  • 3 Evolving technologies and consumer preferences
  • 4 Sustainability expectations
  • 9 Climate change

Our strategic fundamentals

  • Grow our business
  • Sustain our financial health
  • Drive operational excellence
  • Enhance trust

The global forces shaping our Thrive25 strategy

  • The move towards a circular economy
  • Climate change continuing to impact businesses and reshape societies
  • Resource scarcity and growing concern for natural capital


Manufacturing products from renewable resources is the core of Sappi's business and central to our commitment to the circular economy. Through R&D, practical innovation and new product development, we continually create new products, solutions and value from natural resources.

High demand for low grammages

Our considerable expertise in Functional Paper Packaging is evident in low grammages with an integrated mineral oil and grease barrier. The light papers with grammages of 75 g/m2 and higher are particularly popular. This keeps products such as rice, cereals, tea and chocolate free of mineral oil saturated hydrocarbons (MOSH) and mineral oil aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) residue and prevents any mineral oil from getting into the final product during production and transportation. Sappi offers these packaging papers in several other grammages, which are ideally suited to primary and secondary packaging. Papers like Sappi Guard MS also offer impressive heat sealability, resulting in a reduction in production steps as additional sealing media are not required.

Our approach

Although our 2025 innovation goal is linked to products, we believe innovation is also about processes, as well as business strategy, ways of working and communicating, ways of making meaningful social impact. Innovation by itself means nothing, unless it is linked to the successful delivery of projects, from idea generation through to completion, which ultimately makes a meaningful impact on Sappi's profitability and enhances our competitive advantage.

Our focus on innovation is allowing us to take advantage of the changing dynamics between the environment, consumers and the products they require within the context of the global forces shaping our world. It also underpins our growth strategy that is targeted at high-impact, high-value areas.

Whereas technological disruptions – from the steam engine to electricity to the internal combustion engine to the computer chip – used to come once a generation, today they come fast and furiously, with dozens of innovations seeming to emerge annually.

Key developments in 2020

Ongoing legislative edicts and consumer concern mean companies are rethinking their packaging needs. Governments, retailers and brand owners all over the world are seeking paper based packaging solutions for their products, and eco-conscious consumers and shoppers are pressuring brand owners for more biodegradable, recyclable and compostable packaging, all reflecting a more circular economy. Against this backdrop, we continued to develop our packaging paper solutions with integrated functionality. For example, we recently added a 91g/m2 version to our high-barrier paper range, opening up additional applications for manufacturers of branded goods. All high-barrier papers from Sappi ensure that the product quality of foods and other goods is preserved. They feature barriers against oxygen, water vapour, grease and mineral oil as well as outstanding print results, a wide range of finishing options, complete recyclability and integrated heat sealability.

Sappi Rockwell Solutions launched a new r-PET lidding film to give our customers a greater choice of options to meet their own sustainability goals. This makes Sappi Rockwell one of only two suppliers in this industry to provide recycled peelable coatings. These films combine the high performance of Rockwell's heat-seal, anti-fog and barrier coatings with base polyester film made from food-contact approved r-PET, delivering environmental, waste and cost benefits to food manufacturers and retailers.

There is a global movement to limit or eliminate solvent-based casting systems in order to reduce chemical waste and pollution. We invested in chemistry and technology to create the industry's first premium high-fidelity casting paper compatible with solvent-free systems – Ultracast Viva, which we launched in 2020. Performance improvements include reduced curl, increased reusability and easier handling with expanded temperature limits for polyvinyl chloride (PVC), semi-polyurethane (PU) and 100% PU including aqueous PU chemistry.

With the world rapidly moving to adopt the internet of senses, one of printed paper's unique selling propositions, touch, is becoming increasingly important. Developed by SEU, our latest graphic paper, Raw, takes this to a new level. Raw offers a true uncoated feel with a coated print performance, while also delivering high bulk and natural whiteness. We expect the product to be used in high-value commercial print products, such as books, coffee-table journals and lifestyle catalogues.

In Europe, we collaborated with a machine manufacturer on a project for a well-known cereal manufacturer that switched its fully automated production to paper-based, sealable barrier pouches. Two further application projects focused on confectionery and snacks are already in the development stage. The project has given us and our collaboration partner a strong position to successfully implement paper-based packaging solutions for future customer demands.

Thinking, striving and thriving

In the light of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the ability to innovate and creatively adapt to change has never been more important. Entries in our annual Technical Innovation Awards, now in its 20th year, did not disappoint and highlighted the drive to collaborate, communicate and leverage the synergies within OneSappi.

The Global TIA winning team comprised individuals from Gratkorn Mill in SEU and Westbrook Mill in SNA who won for their project, 'Image analysis: Hawkeye and Shadow-Caster'. The project involved the design and implementation of a unique system to image, analyse and decipher non-uniform patterns in coated paper that lead to off-quality production if not detected. The first generation unit, the Shadow Caster, was first used in SNA and then brought to SEU, where a unique technique to determine better sources of paper machine fabric marking on the product was developed. This technique led to the Hawkeye unit, an improvement on the Shadow Caster, by including several light sources and angles offering a more complete diagnosis. The SNA and SEU use of these units and techniques to prevent off-quality production had already contributed US$3 million in business benefit.

The winning team in SEU addressed the challenge of increasing pulp integration, meeting customer satisfaction and improving sustainability. At Ehingen Mill in Germany, the team helped to substantially increasing the amount of pulp we produce at the mill instead of purchasing it on the market. This substitution known as 'pulp integration' leads to many eco-effective benefits by avoiding carbon-emitting transport and reducing the refining and use of never-dried pulp. In the end, we pulp integration increased from 73% to 77%. Prior to this achievement, pulp integration had declined at Ehingen due to the perceived need for specific pulp qualities only attainable with market pulp. By challenging our assumptions related to fibre length and runnability, the team developed an innovative solution that delivered pulp integration with multiple benefits for environmental performance and product quality. Without the need to transport market pulp, Ehingen avoided more than 3 million ton-kilometres of rail transport and 13 million ton-kilometres of sea transport. All combined, the environmental impact included a savings of 4.273 tons of steam, 553 megawatts of electricity and 501 tons of carbon. Even more, Ehingen also increased the quality (dimensional stability) of its graphic paper grades and achieved a production record.

In SSA, the 'Steam packer improvement' team from Saiccor Mill won the regional award. The team engineered and manufactured prototype steam packers to improve wood loading in the digesters, thereby improving the mill's overall digester yield and production. The trials showed a marked improvement, in some cases by 10%, with the added benefit of steam savings. The initiative has since been implemented at all other MgO2 digesters and has yielded an improved contribution of 2.47% return on investment.

Although not a regional winner, a collaboration between the Gratkorn Mill team and the SSA Technology Centre highlighted the benefits of inter-regional collaboration. Over some years, the team identified and further developed – in collaboration with a chemical supplier – a surfactant-based digester additive. This chemical is added to the cooking liquor and improves liquor penetration into the woodchips, allowing a more uniform cook. This resulted in less rejects and improved pulp yield. Like all other pulp mills, Gratkorn is faced with high timber costs, amounting to 85% of the variable costs required to produce integrated magnephite pulp (Ecocell). Since the implementation of this application, the mill has been saving EUR1.3 million annually, as a result of increased pulp yield and reduced demand for expensive market pulp.