The world’s biodiversity underpins life on Earth and the ecosystem services on which we depend. It can be defined as the variety of all living things; the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genetic information they contain and the ecosystems they form. Biodiversity is usually explored at three levels: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. These three levels work together to create the complexity of life on Earth.
However, we humans are putting increasing pressure on the planet, using and consuming more resources than ever before. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), despite some positive trends the loss off biodiversity continues at an alarming rate. Halting deforestation is critical not only to combating climate change, but because it contributes massively to the ongoing loss of biodiversity. Deforestation is chiefly caused by the conversion of forest land to agriculture and livestock areas. FAO is thus calling for a transformational change in the way we manage our forests and their biodiversity, produce and consume our food and altogether interact with nature. The management of working forests is important in securing biodiversity, and practices to enhance biodiversity should be mainstreamed.
Forests provide habitat to an estimated 80% of terrestrial plant and animal species, making them the most diverse ecosystems on land. Healthy forests and plantations are dependent on biological processes including soil regeneration, nutrient cycling, pollination, decomposition, reforestation/regeneration, forest stand succession following disturbance events and predator-prey relationships – all of which, in turn, rely on biodiversity.
Given that woodfibre is one of the primary inputs into our manufacturing processes, conserving the biodiversity that underpins the delivery of ecosystem services and the health of the forests and plantations is paramount. In other words, biodiversity is at the foundation of our business.
Sustainable forest management planning aims to maintain, conserve or enhance biodiversity of forest ecosystems. The great diversity of forest types calls for a variety of silvicultural approaches and measures, which often imitate natural processes. Modern forest practices include measures like leaving fallen and standing dead wood, decaying wood, groups of retention trees, as well as maintaining buffer zones and enhancing diverse tree species composition or protecting key biotope areas, to enhance biodiversity within managed forests.
Healthy, robust, well-managed forests support community well-being, provide a haven for wildlife and diverse plant species, protect watersheds and play a critical role in the carbon sequestration cycle. When timber is responsibly harvested, it can, and often does, contribute to the maintenance and restoration of resilient, renewable forests. When planned and supervised by qualified foresters, responsible timber harvesting supports - and can enhance - fish and wildlife habitats, improved water quality, reliable water supplies, and recreation.
Active management can also reduce the risk or impact of catastrophic natural disturbance events such as fire, disease, insect infestations, wind and floods. These events can have substantial direct and indirect impacts on forest biodiversity but also at times costly impacts to society. At a landscape-scale, active forest management via timber stand improvement thinnings, harvesting and regeneration activities also play an essential role in maintaining biodiversity.
In the context of addressing global deforestation, active, sustainable forest management is a solution to help create value in standing forests, promoting the regeneration necessary to keep forests thriving and avoid conversion of forests to other uses.
Forest certification systems including the Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™ N003159), Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC/01-44-43) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) all have requirements within their forest management standards, which focus on maintaining or enhancing biodiversity and managing or protecting high conservation and ecosystem values. Through the inclusion of these requirements in forest management practices, attention is placed on maintaining and conserving biodiversity while implementing other management objectives. The impact of FSC, PEFC and SFI standards also extend beyond certified forests. Each aforementioned system requires conservation of critical biodiversity values during all harvesting activities, including those on non-certified forestlands, through implementation of a due diligence system and risk-based mitigation measures where necessary.
In South Africa where we are one of the country’s major landowners, we own and lease approximately 400,000 hectares (ha) of land, of which about 261,600 ha are planted. The remainder is unplanted natural areas totalling approximately 138,000 ha that are managed for biodiversity conservation. All this land – planted and unplanted – is FSC and PEFC certified.
Some of the many ways we invest and act on our commitment to biodiversity conservation include:
Towards Sappi’s 2025 biodiversity conservation target, we have committed to enhancing, biodiversity in conservation areas on our landholdings by 10% by 2025. We have mapped our baseline and are developing and implementing management plans. From a conservation management perspective, our priority is to identify those vegetation types that are least protected and of greatest conservation importance and prioritise efforts to safeguard those types.
FAO reports that the forest biodiversity varies significantly according to factors like forest type, geography, climate and soils, and about 60% of all vascular plants are found in tropical forests. According to WWF, tropical rainforests are perhaps the most endangered habitat on Earth and most vulnerable to deforestation.
Sappi neither harvests nor buys woodfibre which originates from tropical natural forests, and our wood sourcing causes zero deforestation. Our commitment to zero deforestation means knowing the source of woodfibre and ensuring that suppliers implement practices to promptly regenerate forests post-harvest, which is required under the global forest certification standards that Sappi upholds. All Sappi’s mills are certified under one or more of the leading global Chain of Custody (CoC) standards, including the FSC, PEFC, and the SFI systems. In addition, all the woodfibre we procure for use in our pulp, paper, packaging and speciality products is traceable to its origin and is sourced from legal, controlled, non-controversial sources in accordance with the FSC Controlled Wood Standard, as well as PEFC (and SFI in the United States of America) risk-based due diligence systems.
Sappi’s rigorous internal due diligence systems identify and mitigate risk of controversial sources in Sappi’s fibre stream and include risk assessments for rare species and habitats that may be threatened by management activities (e.g. ecologically important forest areas defined by PEFC and high conservation values identified by FSC Controlled Wood National Risk Assessments). Additional actions we take to conserve biodiversity through our woodfibre sourcing include:
Through partnership and active collaboration, we seek to accelerate change and build solutions to the challenges facing our planet. Some of the related initiatives where we are currently active includes:
In South Africa specifically, we're reintroducing endangered Pepper-Bark trees that are endemic to the forests in the region.