Making history with forest management certification in South Africa

Sappi has achieved a major industry first in South Africa and a win for sustainable forestry in the country.

On 04 January 2021, we obtained the first Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) endorsed Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) certificate in forest management. 

Sappi’s leadership role in developing SAFAS and receiving its first certificate is a testament to our commitment to champion sustainable forestry and to source woodfibre responsibly. It’s yet another measure of our effort to ensure plantation forestry in South Africa remains healthy today and tomorrow. All while contributing to a more equitable society in a warming world. 

More and better sustainable forestry

“This certification is a landmark in South Africa. At a time when climate smart solutions are so needed, it’s imperative that we expand sustainable forest management practices in all regions of the world”, explains Ben Gunneberg, CEO and Secretary General of PEFC International. 

“What makes PEFC-endorsed national forest certification systems so relevant and valuable is that they are locally developed and owned. They respect the country’s operational and cultural conditions and are accessible to forest owners of all size, with a particular emphasis on smallholders”, explains Gunneberg.

PEFC also allows for chain of custody (CoC) certification, which tracks forest-based products from source to the final product. Independent auditors closely monitor each step of the supply chain to ensure its integrity. In South Africa, we’ve begun the process to achieve PEFC CoC certification for our manufacturing sites, bringing them in line with our European and North American operations.

“Credible, internationally recognised, robust forest certification systems like PEFC are fundamental to Sappi’s sustainability commitments”, says Sappi Southern Africa CEO, Alex Thiel.

“This PEFC certification provides an additional and important global certification standard in our assurance to consumers about the responsible origin of the wood we use”.

The journey to certification

In 2015, the Environmental Committee of Forestry South Africa (FSA) tasked a steering committee comprising numerous South African forestry organisations to develop a certification system that could be endorsed by PEFC. 

The committee developed a Forest Management Standard, including certification requirements and a certification tool in 2018 to assess plantations based on factors including environmental, social and economic conditions specific to South Africa. 

When the Coronavirus hit in 2020, there was just one final step required before SAFAS could get the PEFC endorsement. Certification bodies needed accreditation to undertake assessments. But with these bodies situated in the UK and travel banned to and from South Africa, the work was put on a frustrating hold.

Digital transformation during the pandemic 

The solution? Digital transformation. Like so much during the pandemic, the accreditation process went digital. In yet another world-first, the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) conducted the audits locally while being live streamed to the UK where the Soil Association observed proceedings, witnessed by the United Kingdom Assurance Scheme (UKAS). 

Audit procedures were filmed and live streamed abroad
Audit procedures were filmed and live streamed abroad

Forestry contractor being audited on correct use of first-aid kits in the field
A forestry contractor being audited on the correct use of first aid kits in-field

When the audit was successfully concluded in October 2020, the Soil Association became the first accredited certification body to undertake SAFAS audits. And Sappi Forests became the first organisation to become SAFAS (PEFC Forest Management) certified in South Africa. 

A sustainable win for all

“After all the intense work developing SAFAS, it’s rewarding to have this achievement for Sappi”, remarked Dr David Everard, Divisional Environmental Manager for Sappi Forests.

The most exciting part, he explained, is that it makes forest certification more accessible to South Africa’s small landowners. “This has great promise to ensure that certification not only delivers social and environmental values, but also supports socio-economic and development priorities.”

Rob Shaw, Technical Manager of Soil Association Certification added, “This was truly a collaborative effort and a milestone for sustainable forestry certification for all of South Africa”. At Sappi, we couldn’t agree more.

Forestry certifications

As a global company, Sappi participates in several internationally recognised certification programmes. Learn more.