Sappi Limited Group Head:
Investor Relations and Sustainability
Enhancing energy selfsufficiency, improving energy-use efficiency and decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, thereby reducing our carbon footprint, are key strategic goals”
When did Sappi first commit to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
We formalised our commitment in 2019 in alignment with the UN Summit on the SDGs – the first global summit since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015. Having said that, as a signatory to the UN Global Compact (UNGC) since 2008, we have incorporated the UNGC’s Ten Principles across all business operations and supply chains for more than a decade – a good baseline for any company engaging with the SDGs. So, in a way, we were working to integrate the SDGs into our business well before they were finalised.
What did ‘formalising’ Sappi’s commitment to the SDGs involve?
We established a working group drawn from colleagues across all regions to prioritise the SDGs most relevant to our business, develop related action plans and translate them into specific business targets
Could you describe the SDGs you have prioritised and their relevance to Sappi’s business?
Let’s look at the SDGs we have prioritised at a global level first. SDG6: Clean water and Sanitation is relevant to Sappi because water, a life-giving natural resource, is one of our key process materials. In addition, our tree plantations in South Africa, while not irrigated, depend on rainfall to grow. In terms of SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy , as an energy-intensive industry, Sappi’s fuel choices have a major impact on air emissions. Our related action plan is to increase the share of renewable energy within our total energy consumption and to continually improve and look for new energy solutions. To this end, we have established a 1.5 Future Energy Technologies & Decarbonisation ‘cluster’. This cluster is tasked with exploring and developing novel technologies for fuel shift and deep decarbonisation in terms of Scope 1 and 2 emissions, with a particular emphasis on energy, pulping, papermaking and bleaching.
SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth aligns with our focus on being a responsible corporate citizen by providing a safe working environment in which our employees can reach their full potential. We facilitate social and economic well-being by using labour drawn from local communities, and the services of small and medium enterprises situated in the areas around plantations and production facilities. We also have a best practice training programme and follow a shared value approach to business, which means that communities close to our operations benefit from our extensive socio-economic development programmes.
There are many points of relevance for how Sappi can contribute to SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production, especially from the perspectives of manufacturing, product design and product use/end of life. Our manufacturing process begins with sustainably managed, renewable forest resources and we operate according to circular economy principles. We do so by using resources efficiently and reducing waste generation, from manufacturing processes through to end-of-life product recycling. With investments in research and development (R&D) and new product development, we continually strive to create new products and value from woodfibre and side streams. Not only does this work improve resource use, but in many cases, it also generates products that have superior sustainability credentials to the conventional products that they replace.
For Sappi the obvious and direct connection to SDG13: Climate Action is through our CO2 emissions. Enhancing energy self-sufficiency, improving energy-use efficiency and decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, thereby reducing our carbon footprint, are key strategic goals. For each of our mills we are developing decarbonisation roadmaps to identify and plan for the necessary investments.
SDG15: Life on Land has particular relevance for Sappi, given that our business is dependent on sustainably managed and sourced woodfibre. Globally, we enhance sound forestry management practices by utilising credible, third-party verified forest certification schemes. We neither harvest nor buy woodfibre which originates from tropical natural forests and our wood sourcing causes zero deforestation. In South Africa, Sappi owns and leases 394,000 ha of land of which approximately 26% is managed for biodiversity conservation.
In terms of SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals, while Sappi is already engaged in and has been contributing to many partnerships and collaborations, there are many further opportunities in the sustainability field for us to become more involved. Over the past year, we became a founding partner of 4evergreen, an alliance of fibre-based packaging leaders in Europe, joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and committed to setting science-based emission reduction targets in collaboration with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) in addition to many other collaborations.
What SDGs have you prioritised at local level?
Sappi is headquartered in South Africa which is a developing country. Accordingly, in this region we have also prioritised SDG1: No Povertyand SDG4: Quality Education, both of which align with our commitment to the national drive to promote socio-economic development.
Please explain the link between your priority SDGs and targets?
In 2020 we closed off our previous set of targets and set new 2025 targets under our new Thrive25 business strategy. The indicators we selected are aligned with our seven priority SDGs. We believe the targets set are sufficiently ambitious to enable us to accelerate progress and support the achievement of these SDGs. We see them as a way of entrenching sustainability further into our core business, while strengthening our connection to the 2030 global agenda. For example, the goal linked to SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production involves the number of products launched annually with defined sustainability benefits.
Any closing thoughts?
Given the sheer complexity of sustainability, the SDG framework gives us focus. It also offers a common language to engage our employees and to guide our interaction with our customers and other stakeholders. Integrating the SDGs into our Thrive25 business strategy has also given us more clarity and purpose for unlocking the power of renewable resources to help build a thriving world.