2020 Sappi Southern Africa Corporate Citizenship Report


Restoring ecosystems is essential for both a healthy planet and healthy people.

What is this about?

A flourishing life on land is the foundation for our life on this planet. We are all part of the planet’s ecosystem and we have caused severe damage to it through deforestation, loss of natural habitats and land degradation. Promoting a sustainable use of our ecosystems and preserving biodiversity is not a ‘nice-to-have’. It is the key to our own survival.

Why is this a priority goal and why does it matter?

Our actions to support this goal include maintaining high levels of forest certification and safeguarding biodiversity.

Forest certification

For South Africa: Like the rest of the world, South African consumers are concerned about deforestation.

For Sappi: Maintaining a high level of certification of fibre supplied to our mills is important if we are to maintain our competitive advantage in markets. Essentially, certification is a tool that helps environmentally and socially conscious consumers make the right choice when they buy paper products.


For South Africa: One in seven plants and animals in South Africa are threatened with extinction8. Almost half a million people in South Africa draw their income from a biodiversity-related job, while biodiversity-based tourism is valued at more than ZAR30 billion annually. The informal African traditional medicine industry is worth about ZAR18 billion a year9.

For Sappi: Our timber plantations are biological systems and are based on biodiversity in that they comprise a variety of tree species which are genetically diverse and rely on biotic processes – soil regeneration, nutrient cycling, pollination and decomposition – for healthy functioning.

8 https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-10-08-one-in-seven-plants-and-animals-in-sa-threatened-with-extinction-new-report-shows/
9 https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-10-11-mega-climate-shocks-for-sa-biodiversity-government-report/
“As the SAFAS standard is home grown, directly relevant to a range of South African conditions and more flexible with respect to group schemes, we hope that this move will facilitate the full involvement of small-scale growers and improve the sustainability of the forestry industry.”

Michael Peter,
Executive Director of Forestry South Africa

What is Sappi doing about it?

Maintaining high levels of certification: All our owned and leased plantations are Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™ N003159) certified. In terms of woodfibre supplied to our mills, we require rigorous tracing practices and documentation of the origin of all woodfibre, and evidence that all wood is sourced from controlled, non-controversial sources. We neither harvest nor buy woodfibre that originates from tropical natural forests and our wood sourcing causes zero deforestation10.

Expanding certification: We operate a group scheme which offers FSC certification and we pay growers in the scheme a premium for certified timber. In FY20, the group consisted of 44 members representing a total of 42,000 planted hectares.

Sappi’s forestry experts contributed to the Value-Based Platform developed by the Sustainable African Forestry Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) for sustainable forest management and certification. The scheme is called the ‘Value-Based’ because it is designed to help protect the values that exist within a particular forest setting. The system was endorsed by PEFC International in 2019 and was introduced to South Africa based on customers’ request for PEFC-certified products. SAFAS offers access to feasible, attainable and, especially, affordable forest certification solutions and thus market access especially for the country’s smallholders, like Sappi Khulisa growers.

Following a two-stage audit process, Sappi Forests’ plantations were PEFC-certified by December 2020, thereby supplementing the FSC certification already achieved. Our South African mills will soon be able to apply for PEFC Chain of Custody certification.

Safeguarding biodiversity: Our Group Sustainability Charter commits Sappi to: “mitigating our impact on biodiversity and promoting sustainable forestry through internationally accredited, independent environmental management and forest certification systems”. We own and lease 394,000 hectares of land, all of which is FSC and PEFC-certified and we maintain approximately one third of this land to conserve the natural habitat and biodiversity found there. We maintain seven proclaimed nature reserves and about 160 Important Conservation Areas (ICAs) on our land – these are classified using a systematic conservation planning approach based on the “As the SAFAS standard is home grown, directly relevant to a range of South African conditions and more flexible with respect to group schemes, we hope that this move will facilitate the full involvement of small-scale growers and improve the sustainability of the forestry industry.” Michael Peter, Executive Director of Forestry South Africa presence of both plant and animal red data species, the size, connectedness, condition and aesthetic and recreational value of the area.

The majority of our permanently unplanted land comprises open areas with natural vegetation cover. These areas are managed according to best practice with respect to fire management, weed control, poaching and grazing by livestock. This helps to maintain healthy natural habitats for biodiversity conservation, natural habitat and biodiversity found there, which are managed for conservation purposes. Our strategies for managing biodiversity include: managing natural vegetation according to best practice in terms of burning, grazing and weed control to ensure health habitats; ongoing assessment and monitoring of veld condition; protection of sites from poaching, illegal medicinal plant collection and overgrazing; as well as long-term integrated weed management plans on all our plantations.

Invasive alien plants (IAPs) are widely considered to be a major threat to biodiversity, human livelihoods and economic development. Currently, there are 379 species of plants listed as IAPs in South Africa. As a result of their high diversity and far-reaching distribution, they are extremely difficult to control. We combat weeds by implementing weed control programmes, managing natural areas to maintain healthy vegetation (weeds generally spread into disturbed poorly managed areas) and reducing sources and avenues of seed dispersal.

Working towards our biodiversity target

Plant communities or vegetation types provide habitats that support essential ecological processes and provide ecosystem services, materials and food critical for human well-being. In FY20, we made progress in terms of our Thrive25 target by addressing our first biodiversity objective underpinning this task – understanding what types of vegetation are present on our plantations, as well as their importance value. This enables managers to develop appropriate management plans for implementation. It is also important, from a conservation management perspective, to identify those vegetation types that are least protected, to prioritise efforts to safeguard the vegetation type from possible extinction.

Our potential contribution to conserving vegetation types at the provincial level can be calculated by comparing what is present on Sappi property with the vegetation types in the province.

  • In Mpumalanga, of the 15 vegetation types present on Sappi land, six are well represented, enabling a potential contribution of between 9-18% of hectares conserved for the vegetation type in the province.
  • In KwaZulu-Natal, of the 20 vegetation types present on Sappi land, four are well represented, enabling a potential contribution to conserving the vegetation of between 8-13.5% in this province.
10 Please find all our certificates on www.sappi.com/sustainability-certifications

 Case studies

Managing for healthy ecosystem services

We often hear the phrase ‘ecosystem services’. So, what are they and why are they important?

Biodiversity underpins the supply of ecosystem services on which the world’s population depends, which is why SDG15: Life on land is so important to Sappi. Most people are unaware of the extent of their dependence on these services, probably because they are taken for granted, and their contribution to the formal economy is undervalued and not priced or paid for. Ecosystem services can benefit people in many ways, either directly or as inputs into the production of other goods and services. As an example, the pollination of crops provided by bees and other organisms contributes to food production and is thus considered an ecosystem service. Another example is the attenuation of flooding in residential areas provided by riparian buffers and wetlands. The ecosystem services on which Sappi depends are set out alognside.

Working to conserve biodiversity on Roelton Nature Reserve

People sometimes ask – does it really matter if one species, of birds, for example, disappears when it’s estimated that there are more than 18,000? The answer is, yes it does, because animals, birds, plants and insects depend upon each other, so the loss of one species affects others within that complex web of relationships.

That’s why we’re proud to be playing a role in providing a habitat for the critically endangered Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea) on our Roelton Nature Reserve situated in our Sutton plantation. This reserve forms part of the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Grassland Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). As an IBA, this site is recognised internationally as an important site for bird conservation. The Blue Swallow migrates seasonally within the African continent, breeding in South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. During April, the birds journey back to Uganda and Kenya for winter. Reports suggest that there are currently only about 1,000 breeding pairs left in the world.

Currently, Roelton is fully managed by Sappi with some assistance from the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. The Blue Swallow is a flagship species for the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Grasslands IBA and by protecting their habitat we will also be securing the future of other important species such as the endangered Mistbelt Chirping Frog (Anhydrophryne ngongoniensis) and the critically endangered orchid Satyrium rhodanthum.


Looking forward: Our Thrive25 target aligned with this SDG
Increase share of certified fibre >82% certified fibre delivered to our mills and 100% own certification
Enhance biodiversity in conservation areas 10% improvement
How can I support this goal?

Avoid using pesticides that end up in rivers and lakes, as they are harmful to wildlife

Never buy products made from threatened or endangered species

Try to choose products with certification labels

Make your own compost – it supports biodiversity, enriches the soil and reduces the need for chemical fertilisers