Wood-fibre products company Sappi has achieved the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification- (PEFC-) endorsed Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (Safas) certification in South Africa.
The Safas project was a successful collaboration between Sappi and a number of South African forestry organisations.
The project started in 2015 with the establishment of Safas and entailed the development of a Forest Management Standard, the development of certification requirements and, in 2018, the endorsement of the standard and certification procedures.
A certification tool was also developed by the team to assess plantations, based on several factors, including environmental, social and economic conditions specific to South Africa, Sappi points out.
"The final step in the process was to get certification bodies accredited to undertake certification assessments against the standard; a hurdle which proved more difficult to overcome than expected, and was further delayed by the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and the cessation of international travel."
Sappi, with the support of Safas, the Soil Association and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) was, however, able to undergo a Stage 1 certification audit, which was conducted remotely by the Soil Association during lockdown in June 2020.
A Stage 2 audit during October was conducted by local SABS auditors while streamed live to the UK where the Soil Association observed proceedings and the UK Assurance Scheme (UKAS) witnessed the audit.
This innovative process, though demanding, proved to be successful, leading to the Soil Association becoming the first certification body to be accredited to undertake Safas audits, and Sappi Forests the first organisation to become Safas PEFC Forest Management-certified in South Africa.
"Although Sappi provides customers with the assurance that its wood-fibre originates from known and responsibly managed forests, including through its longstanding certification with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the PEFC certification provides an additional important global certification standard in its assurance to consumers about the responsible origin of the wood used.
"Importantly, it also allows for chain of custody (CoC) certification, which tracks forest-based products from sustainable sources to the final product. This is assured through independent auditing of the CoC procedures which closely monitor each step of the supply chain.
"Sappi Southern Africa has commenced the process to achieve PEFC CoC certification for its manufacturing sites, to bring them in line with Sappi’s European and North American operations."
“Sappi’s purpose is to build a thriving world by unlocking the power of renewable resources to benefit people, communities and the planet. Credible, internationally recognised, robust forest certification systems like PEFC and FSC are fundamental to Sappi’s commitment to sustainability," says Sappi Southern Africa CEO Alex Thiel.
PEFC-endorsed national forest certification systems, such as the PEFC-endorsed Safas, are highly relevant and valuable because they are locally developed and owned, and they respect the country’s operational and cultural conditions. This is important because it ensures that the advantages of certification are accessible to all forest owners, with a particular emphasis on smallholders," PEFC International CEO and secretary general Ben Gunneberg notes.
"This certification is a landmark in Africa at a time when climate smart solutions are needed to enable achievable sustainable forest management certification for all forest owners,” he adds.