Measuring the forest sector’s sustainability progress
The International Council of Forest & Paper Association’s (ICFPA) latest Sustainability Progress Report demonstrates progress in seven key areas of sustainability and highlights the role the forest sector can play in helping to meet global climate goals.
“Forestry workers and consumers of forest products are in the unique position to drive our move to a world with less dependence on fossil energy and fossil-based materials,” noted Jori Ringman, ICFPA President and Director General of Cepi (the Confederation of European Pulp and Paper Industry). “They are doing this through sustainable forest management, advancing the forest bioeconomy, and recovering more and more paper and paper-based products and packaging for recycling.
“I am proud of the work and leadership ICFPA has built over nearly 20 years. This report demonstrates the global impact of associations working together on a common set of commitments," he said. The ICFPA Sustainability Progress Report tracks progress achieved in 2020-2021. The overall trend is positive – reflecting that the industry continues to improve in key sustainability areas from baseline years.
Key progress on ICFPA’s sustainability performance indicators include: • 50% of procured wood fibre came from third-party certified sustainably managed forests, a 38-percentage point increase from the 2000 baseline year. • Greenhouse gas emission intensity decreased 23.5% from the 2004/2005 baseline year. • The energy share of biomass and other renewable energy increased to 63.7%, a nearly 11 percentage point increase since 2004/2005. • Sulphur dioxide emission intensity from on-site combustion sources decreased 74% from the 2004/2005 baseline year. • Water use intensity decreased 9.5% from the baseline year. • Investment in health and safety interventions yielded a 30% reduction in the global recordable incident rate from the 2006/2007 baseline with the number of recordable incidents falling to 2.81 per 100 employees annually. • In 2021, 59.9% of paper and paperboard consumed globally was reprocessed by mills to make new products, marking a 13.4 percentage point increase in the global recycling rate since the year 2000.
The 2023 ICFPA Sustainability Progress Report also includes info about the 2023 international finalists for the ICFPA Blue Sky Young Researchers & Innovation Award. The theme was ‘Building a Lower Carbon Economy with Climate Positive Forestry and Forest Products’.
Representing South Africa among the top three finalists was Leane Naude, a Master of Science (Chemical Engineering) student at North West University, who presented a more cost-effective purification method for lignosulphonate, an abundant and versatile alternative to fossil-based fuels. ICFPA serves as a forum of global dialogue, coordination and co-operation. Currently, the ICFPA represents 16 pulp, paper, wood and fibre-based associations from 27 countries, including many of the top pulp, paper and wood producers around the world.
South Africa, through the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa, is a longstanding member of the ICFPA and contributes data and case studies to the Sustainability Progress Report.
Climate change & forestry sustainability on research radar
Professor Mary Scholes is heading up a research initiative on climate change and plantation sustainability at Wits University, supported by Sappi …
Sappi Southern Africa and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) have established a Sappi Chair in Climate Change and Plantation Sustainability. This initiative aligns with Sappi’s drive to generate technical and operational solutions which mitigate against climate change risks and to enhance reporting on carbon emissions, climate change and sustainability.
Professor Mary Scholes, an internationally recognised authority on tree physiology and climate change and who is affiliated with the research platform in the Wits School of Animal, Plants and Environmental Sciences, will act as the Research Chair.
The work by Wits will help to enhance Sappi’s planning process and overall competitiveness.
“Because forestry is a long-term crop, the industry needs to know well in advance where to direct their resources and investment and needs the most accurate climate models to rely on,” says Prof Scholes.
She will identify critical research needs and develop research outputs related to climate change, which is one of the University’s eight research priorities. She will also lead the development of capacity to manipulate and interpret climate modelling data.
Speaking at the launch, Tracy Wessels, Sappi Group Head of Sustainability and Investor Relations, commented: “The creation of this Chair demonstrates Sappi’s commitment to building a thriving world through strong partnerships, supporting innovation and investing in future research capabilities.
“Like all other agricultural crops, the trees in the 399,996 hectares of land we own and lease are negatively impacted by climate change. While we practise climate-smart forestry and while our research teams have been hard at work developing drought resistant genotypes, the temperatures over the South African interior are projected to rise at about 1.5 to 2 times the global rate of temperature increase.
“In addition, there is increasing global pressure to account accurately for greenhouse gas emissions from forests, land and agriculture. Against this backdrop and in line with our commitment to UN SDG13: Climate Action, the need to develop climate solutions has intensified, which is why our sponsorship of the Sappi Chair in Climate Change and Plantation Sustainability makes sound business sense.”
Sappi’s initial sponsorship of the Research Chair will run until 2026.
Sappi’s association with Wits is not new: In 2020, Sappi began working on a project with other industry members and the Wits Global Change Institute on a project which involved the generation of raster climate surfaces for the entire forestry domain of South Africa, at a resolution of eight kilometres, with monthly time resolution, for the years 2020, 2030 and 2040 to 2100.