Sappi and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals


The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) points out that respecting the Ten Principles across all business operations and supply chains is a baseline for any company engaging on the Sappi and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a long-standing signatory to the UNGC and responsible corporate citizen, we have an advantage in that we have been working to achieve the SDGs well before they were formalised.

We believe that sustainable growth must be based on a solid foundation from which we do not focus exclusively on profits, but rather, balance our need to generate Prosperity by promoting the interests of People while respecting the boundaries of the Planet

To achieve these aims, we work closely with a broad group of stakeholders, including technology partners and industry bodies to develop more sustainable approaches to the task of balancing socio-economic growth and natural capital.

Our commitment to those SDGs identified as a priority for Sappi is set out below.

Men in boardroom

1 No Poverty | Icon

We promote development throughout the value chain in the rural areas in each region where we operate, thereby creating jobs and opening up economic opportunities that would otherwise be limited (see Prosperity – Adding value in each region where we operate).

We also help to create economic opportunity and drive local economic development through our shared value approach to corporate citizenship.

As an example: The Abashintshi (the ‘changers’ in isiZulu) programme, which was established in 2015, in conjunction with development agency, Devcom, is a skills development and community upliftment programme. It has expanded from 18 Abashintshi in nine communities to 117 Abashintshi across 65 Sappi communities in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Mpumalanga. These young people are transferring skills to their communities and helping Sappi engage with the communities. Many have also begun to generate an income for themselves through their own businesses while they motivate other community members to restart or improve their own businesses. During 2018, 190 such micro- and small businesses were started or rejuvenated, earning an income for 268 people. Businesses range from brickmaking projects to poultry and pig farms, and from crèches to home industries. The programme is not only contributing to socioeconomic development, it is also helping to boost morale and empower people.

We also support Poverty Stoplight, an approach that helps people progress out of poverty by empowering them to understand and map their own choices. It encourages households to participate and own their journeys out of poverty, and provides a clear line of sight of how to get there; at the same time allowing organisations delivering support to measure progress against their programme objectives.

Recognising that we have a particular responsibility in South Africa, which is a developing country, we promote the development of local small-, medium- and micro enterprises and local suppliers. Further details are contained in our Sappi Southern Africa Sustainability Report (see

3 Good health and well-being | Icon

We adopt an holistic approach to health and wellbeing, with health and wellness departments at regional level to manage safety, health and wellness in the workplace and safety and wellbeing committees at each operation. In terms of safety, we see contractor safety as equally important as that of our own employees. Performance in this regard is monitored by a global target (see People – Promoting safety, health and wellbeing).

As an example of our approach, in SNA, Westbrook Mill identified an opportunity to improve employee wellbeing by developing an ergonomics and injury prevention programme. The mill partnered with a local medical group to assist onsite safety field teams and departments with ergonomic tool and process design, the development of ergonomic guidelines as well as job physical demand assessments in order to reduce the risk of injury. The mill also opened an Office Ergonomics Lab to promote proper equipment fit and assist with office setups. For those seeking additional assistance, the mill recently opened a wellness centre so employees can use exercise equipment and meet with licensed physical therapists who can perform preventive musculoskeletal assessments as well as design an exercise programme tailored to their specific needs.

South Africa is estimated to have the most signficant HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world, with 7.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS and prevalence among the general population standing at 18.9%.1 We established our HIV/AIDS programme here in 1992 to measure, monitor and manage the disease in order to mitigate the risks posed to our employees, our organisation and the communities in which we operate.

We involve contractors in our HIV/AIDS programme by training contractor peer educators who are then fully incorporated into our peer educator programme. We offer counselling and testing to contractors and refer them to the appropriate treatment centre if necessary. We also assist contractors with tuberculosis (TB) testing and treatment referral to the Department of Health (see People – Promoting safety, health and wellbeing).

4 Quality Education | Icon

We have extensive internal training and development initiatives (see People – Training initiatives). As an example, we assist our employees with tuition reimbursement/study assistance programmes as follows: 29 people in SEU, 22 people in SNA and 306 people in SSA.

However, our commitment to education and training extends beyond our employees and customers to the communities where our mills are located.

Kids training

In Europe, we support Career Expos and host visits by schools and colleges to our mills. In this region, in order to build a technical talent pool, we are training and developing approximately 200 young apprentices mainly at our four German-speaking mills on a three- to four-year vocational training programme.

In North America, we support Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education through scholarship programmes at the University of Maine, the University of Southern Maine and the Fond du Lac Tribal Community College in Minnesota. We also support the Codman Academy, a charter school in Boston.

In South Africa, we sponsor five Programme for Technological Careers (PROTEC) centres located close to Sappi communities. PROTEC works to advance Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. Recognising that 90% of brain growth and development takes place before the age of five and that children whose development is nurtured early in life are more likely to be academically successful, more productive and healthier when compared with those who are not exposed to formal development, we have established an Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme. In addition, we run a training centre for growers in our supplier and enterprise development scheme, Sappi Khulisa. In 2018, this centre trained over 1,700 people. In 2017, we opened Sappi Skills Centres at our Saiccor and Ngodwana Mills to train both Sappi employees and unemployed youth. To date, 68 young people have qualified through the skills centres (see People – Education).

6 Clean Water and Sanitation | Icon

In line with our focus on promoting the responsible use of natural resources, we return 95% of water returned to the environment.

7 Affordable and clean energy | Icon

One of our key goals is to promote the use of clean energy and reduce our carbon footprint by improving energy-use efficiency and decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels.

There are significant opportunities, inherent in our business and processes, that can help us to meet this key strategic goal and sustainability driver:

  • The carbon sequestration of our plantations and forests
  • Using a high proportion of renewable energy, most of it self-generated in the form of black liquor, and
  • Identifying further cogeneration opportunities.

Most conventional power generation is based on burning a fuel to produce steam. It is the pressure of the steam which turns 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. Cogeneration therefore offers energy savings ranging between 15 – 40% when compared against the supply of electricity and heat from conventional power stations and boilers. We have cogeneration power plants at 14 of our mills.

See Key material issues – Bio-energy, for more information about Ngodwana Energy, the biomass project in which we have a 30% shareholding.

8 Decent work and Economic growth | Icon

As part of its annual programme, the Social, Ethics and Sustainability (SETS) Committee reviews Sappi’s standing in terms of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Protocol on decent work and working conditions.

We are proud of the fact that, in general terms, in all regions where we operate, our activities promote economic growth in rural areas, where there are often limited forms of economic activity.

In Europe, we work to ensure our customers’ success by providing them with information and solutions through the Sappi&You online portal. We are also supporting printers’ need for digital transformation through OctoPrint by becoming a software solution provider and selling software licences and services.

In North America, the Sappi Forestry Programme assists forest landowners to meet their objectives for managing their woodland. The Sappi Lake States Private Forestry Program works with landowners in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula to develop, manage and harvest their woodlands. The Sappi Maine Forestry Program does the same for landowners in Maine.

We provide extensive support for our customers in the form of online and print education platforms and run two flagship projects, the Ideas that Matter (see and Printer of the Year (see initiatives.

In South Africa we have established a number of projects which promote economic growth, including:

  • Sappi Khulisa (‘Khulisa’ means ‘to grow’ in isiZulu), was established in 1983, our enterprise development initiative, previously known as Project Grow is aimed at community tree-farming. Since 1995, a total volume of 3,796,940 tons, to the value of ZAR2.1 billion, has been purchased from small growers in terms of this programme;
  • The African Honey Bee project which is positively impacting on communities in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province. The AHB project is a social enterprise enabling families from disadvantaged rural communities to build sustainable micro-beekeeping businesses by leveraging the natural resources available to them. Over the past two years, AHB has trained 1,482 people in KZN. Of this number, 962 people are actively keeping bees and producing and selling honey. In addition to empowering people, the project is helping to reduce fires from honey hunting on our plantations, and
  • Active participation in 60 land reform projects.

Further details of the projects in SSA detailed above can be found in our Sappi Southern Africa Sustainability Reports (see

9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure | Icon

We have technology and innovation centres of excellence in all regions. We have also invested in biomaterials innovation through research and pilot and demonstration plant investments regarding hemi-cellulose sugar extraction and cleaning, lignosulphonate, nanocellulose and biocomposites (see Key material issues – Extracting maximum value from woodfibre in adjacent markets).

We also foster industry-wide innovation and environmental responsibility by participating in a number of local and global programmes―a few examples of which are set out below:

  • We are a founding partners of The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Together with other partners, we are funding research on artificial intelligence and bringing carbon emissions to net zero in the paper and pulp industry (see Key material issues - Investing in innovation).
  • We work with the European industry on issues related to the Green Growth Platform. These include the development of a new low carbon pulp technology (deep eutectic solvents), exploring financing options to support industry’s transformation and investigating block chain technology for timber certification.
  • SEU is an active member of the Bio-Based Industries Consortium, focused on supporting innovation and unlocking investments and markets in terms of bioproducts, and deploying the bioeconomy across Europe.

Landscape of flowers

  • SNA supports the Agenda2020 Technology Alliance, a non-profit organisation that promotes pre-competitive research on key technical challenges that face our industry. Working collaboratively with industry partners, universities and government agencies, the alliance has developed technology road maps in five areas:
    • Reducing the use of fresh water
    • Advancing drying technology on paper machines (reducing energy)
    • Developing next-generation pulping (improving yield and selectivity)
    • Reducing energy in the chemical recovery process (more efficient black liquor concentration), and
    • Advancing the commercialisation of cellulose nanomaterials.

    Each of these initiatives has clear ties to economic and environmental benefits through resource conservation (reducing water, materials and energy) or access to new markets. While some of these initiatives may take a decade or more to address, we believe that success in these areas has the potential to transform our industry.

  • Sappi Forests is a member of the South African Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) and is a founding member of the Tree Protection Co-operative Programme (TPCP) based in the Forestry and Bio-technical Institute (FABI) ( at the University of Pretoria. Through the TPCP we also belong to the internationally collaborative Biological Control of Eucalypt Pests (BiCEP) programme ( at the Australian Centre for Industrial and Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

    In addition, we belong to the Eucalyptus Genome Network (EUCAGEN) based at the University of Pretoria and to CAMCORE, an international, non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation and utilisation of subtropical and tropical tree species.
12 Responsible consumption and production | Icon

Given that our business depends on natural resources, consuming and producing responsibly, is not only the right thing to do, it makes sound business sense.

We use key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure and track our environmental performance. We track key metrics for fibre, emissions, energy usage and the impact of our operations on air, water and solid waste and use this data when setting improvement goals related to our operations. In addition, our R&D work strives to address the demands for light-weighting and making other products deliver more through the addition of our renewable fibre based products (biocomposites, lignosulphonates, dissolving wood pulp).


As regards production, globally, over five years we have:

  • Increased energy self-sufficiency by 5.6%.
  • Reduced:
    • Specific indirect (Scope 2) emissions by 13.34%
    • Specific direct (Scope 1) and indirect (Scope 2) emissions by 3.4%
    • Specific particulate matter emissions by 10.4%, and
    • Specific NOx emissions by 12%.
  • Decreased specific process water extracted by 3.8%.
  • In terms of water quality, decreased chemical oxygen demand (COD) by 5.2% and total suspended solids (TSS) by 17.2%.

We continue to find new and innovative ways to reduce our environmental impact. For example, our expansion project at Saiccor Mill, Project Vulindlela, will result in CO2 halving and waste to landfill being reduced by 48%, SOx emissions reducing by 35% and water use efficiency increasing by 17%.

Our focus on reducing environmental impact carries through to the packaging solutions we offer our customers. For example, Sappi was the world’s first manufacturer to present a new speciality recyclable paper with a mineral oil barrier integrated directly in the paper, as well as including heat sealing properties. In addition, in light of concerns about carbon footprint and fossil fuel based packaging, we continue to expand our portfolio of lightweight packaging grades.

This also has positive implications in terms of SDG13 – Climate Action.

13 Climate change | Icon

Responsible forestry management and use helps mitigate climate change, while certification helps ensure that the tropical forests are not harvested and used. This is important, as deforestation of the world’s endangered tropical forests drives a significant proportion of global warming. We do not source woodfibre from endangered forests anywhere in the world and participate in climate action because the sustainably managed forests and plantations from which we source woodfibre help to mitigate global warming. Our support for responsible forestry management and commercial plantations means that we not only contribute to the expansion of the amount of natural and planted timber, but also that we promote the protection of natural areas and their biodiversity. We also work to promote the role of renewable products from woodfibre in a low carbon economy.

We are also playing our part in climate action by using high levels of renewable energy. In 2018, renewable energy in our mills stood at 46.98%, mostly from black liquor (71.5%). This not only helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also separates our operations from the volatility of energy prices.

On World Environment Day 2018, which had Beat Plastic Pollution as its theme, the United Nations Secretary-General urged all people to reject single use plastic. Our efforts to expand our portfolio of sustainable, paper based packaging products align with this call and offer environmentally conscious consumers greater choice.

Beat plastic pollution | World environment day

15 Life on land | Icon

High levels of forest certification―75.2% certified fibre supplied to our mills, with the rest procured from known and controlled sources, highlight our responsible approach to life on land.

The sustainably managed forests and plantations from which we source woodfibre are havens for life on land. Europe’s net forest area is currently increasing at a rate of approximately 1.6 million hectares per annum. In the United States of America (USA), over the last six decades, the total net USA forested area has increased by over 3%.

In North America, we participate in a partnership with the American Forest Foundation and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, whereby stakeholders across the supply chain have come together to understand challenges and identify new methods to evaluate sustainable forest management on family-owned land. Development of a new data-driven assurance model will demonstrate how the practices and actions of landowners on individual parcels of land aggregate into a healthy forested landscape or regional ecosystem. The model could also be used to identify potential landscape-wide gaps and opportunities to enhance forest sustainability, and find practical ways for the supply chain to address them at a meaningful scale.

In South Africa, we set aside approximately one third of land that we own and lease, managing these areas for the conservation of the natural habitats and the biodiversity they contain. Accordingly, our lands are havens for all forms of natural life. Approximately 455 bird species have been recorded on our plantations, more than half of all South Africa’s bird species. A total of 15 faunal red data species have been recorded on our land, with endangered mammal species including Oribi and the Samango Monkey. Near threatened species include Serval and Honey Badger. We provide feedback on numbers and location of specific priority species on our lands to the Endangered Wildlife Trust every year.

Biodiversity―the complex web of life made up by millions of species of animals, plants, bacteria and fungi―underpins many of the Earth’s systems that we take for granted; systems that provide us with the air we breathe and the food and water we consume.

Given that all our products are based on woodfibre, biodiversity has a particular relevance for Sappi. Neither our own plantations in South Africa or those from which we source woodfibre in South America, nor the managed natural forests in Europe and North America, or plantations would be productive without biotic processes taking place. These processes play a vital role in ensuring the health and vitality of trees and include decomposition, soil rejuvenation, pollination and pest control.

Landscape of flowers

Both the plantations and forests which provide us with woodfibre are actively managed to enhance these beneficial processes and restrict harmful impacts like pests and disease. Biodiversity contributes to the provision of a number of products and services in the following ways:

  • Ecosystem services:
    • Protection of water resources
    • Soils formation and protection
    • Nutrient storage and recycling
    • Pollution breakdown and absorption
    • Contribution to climate stability
    • Maintenance of ecosystems, and
    • Recovery from unpredictable events.
  • Biological resources:
    • Food
    • Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs
    • Wood products
    • Ornamental plants
    • Breeding stocks, population reservoirs
    • Future resources, and
    • Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems.
  • Social benefits:
    • Opportunities for research and education
    • Recreation and tourism, and
    • Cultural values.
16 Peace Justice and Strong Institutions | Icon

Sappi reports to its board on an annual basis regarding the application of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines on bribery and corruption, which partly works to prevent companies undermining institutions. Sappi’s group value statement and Code of Ethics (Code) (see also drive the company to support peace, justice and strong institutions. Sappi Limited is listed on the FTSE/JSE Responsible Investment Index, a reflection of our commitment to strong institutions.

The Code is essentially a tool to guide Directors, the executive, employees and other stakeholders as to the acceptable ethical behaviour in complying with the various laws, regulations and policies applicable to Sappi. We require our suppliers to abide by Sappi’s Code and are also in the process of rolling out a Group Supplier Code of Conduct which calls on suppliers to commit to ethical behaviour, human rights, health and safety, diversity and equal opportunity and environmental awareness.

To view calls and follow-ups to our hotlines in each region, see Annual Integrated Report.

17 Partnership's for the goals | Icon

Sappi Limited is a member of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), a voluntary organisation of the approximately 70 largest listed companies on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) which is actively working to end corruption, underpin the democratic state and institutions and drive economic growth. Sappi is a signatory to BLSA’s pledge which reinforces our own Code of Ethics by committing us to:

  • Actively combating corrupt practices wherever we encounter them
  • Not acting anti-competitively
  • Having zero tolerance for corruption in our midst, and
  • Protecting whistle-blowers and providing information.

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