Sappi supports South African innovation and research – Celebrates World Environment Day with the launch of the Sappi Chair in Climate Change and Plantation Sustainability at Wits University

Sappi Southern Africa and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) are pleased to announce the launch of the Sappi Chair in Climate Change and Plantation Sustainability.

In celebration of World Environment Day, 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, who is 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.

Through the Research Chair, Professor Scholes is identifying critical research needs and developing 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. The Chair will further focus on developing and mentoring young and upcoming academics and research, through the funding for one post-doctoral fellow as well as bursaries for one Masters and one Honours student.

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.

“Our association with Wits is not new: In 2020, we began working on a project with other industry members and the Wits Global Change Institute on a project which involved the generation of raster – a rectangular pattern of parallel scanning lines followed by the electron beam on a television screen or computer monitor – 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.

“We are looking forward to progressing our understanding of, and actions related to, climate change through replicable, workable methodologies.”

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 Scholes.

The launch is taking place at the junction of three important developments: Firstly, it aligns with the Wits 2022/2023 centenary campaign which honours the university’s work in changing and shaping society for the better. Next, it is taking place at the same time as the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in Durban (South Africa), where one of the key topics for discussion is the impact of climate change on the African continent. Finally, today is World Environment Day which this year, is focused on beating plastic pollution and transitioning to a circular economy. This theme is particularly meaningful for Sappi, given their portfolio of a broad range of woodfibre-based sustainable solutions as an alternative to fossil fuel-based, non-renewable packaging across many product segments.

Sappi’s initial sponsorship of the Research Chair will run until 2026.


For further information

Zelda Schwalbach
External Communications Lead
Sappi Southern Africa
Mobile +27 (0)83 652 8528

Professor Mary Scholes
School of Animal Plant and Environmental Sciences
Wits University
Mobile +27 (0)82 889 8670

Schalk Mouton
Senior Communications Officer
Wits University
Mobile +27 (0)82 739 9637


About Sappi

Sappi unlocks the power of trees to make every day more sustainable. Sappi is a leading global provider of powerful everyday materials made from woodfibre-based renewable resources. As a diversified, innovative and trusted leader focused on sustainable processes and products, we seek to support a more circular economy and to build a thriving world. With operations in four key regions: South Africa, Europe, North America and Asia Sappi is powered by the expertise of more than 12,000 people. In South Africa we have offices in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal (three mills, forestry operations and a shared services hub), Mpumalanga (two mills and forestry operations) and the Western Cape (sales).

Our product offering in SA include dissolving pulp, packaging and speciality papers, graphic papers and forestry products. We generate shared value in the communities in which we operate, by investing in skills training and SMME development to boost employment and grow the economy.


About the University of the Witwatersrand

The University of the Witwatersrand (aka Wits University) is renowned for its academic and research excellence, its commitment to social justice, and the advancement of the public good, for over 100 years. It is one of the leading institutions on the African continent that produces world-class research that is locally relevant and globally competitive.

Wits is a global leader in botany, zoology, and animal, plant and environmental sciences. It is committed to solving global challenges (including climate change) from its vantage point in the global south. Wits’ research output has increased by over 45% in the last four years with more than 85% of its research published in international journals.

Wits offers a free space for the exchange of ideas and a vibrant intellectual community that fosters debate and knowledge transfer both within and beyond its lecture halls.

Wits celebrated its Centenary in 2022 and received support from its alumnae and friends for priority areas such as research, teaching, learning and infrastructure. To date the University has raised ZAR3,1 billion with a target of ZAR3,2 billion for 2023.

Read about Wits’ centenary celebrations and follow the latest Wits research.


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.
Dr Tracy Wessels
Group Head of Sustainability and Investor Relations