South African dissolving wood pulp: helping to ensure future fashion trends are sustainable
Ms Krelyne Andrew – Sappi’s General Manager Sustainability Dissolving Pulp
When most people think about pulp they automatically assume paper or packaging to be the end product, but there is a whole world wood-based cellulose or dissolving pulp products out there with applications across the textile, pharmaceutical, food and industrial industries.
Being cellulose-based, it is formed from the structural component of the cell walls and is the most common biopolymer on earth. Verve, Sappi’s brand for wood based cellulose is purified making it suitable for subsequent chemical conversions into a range of sustainable products including microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) found in many pharmaceuticals, cellophane, ethers and textiles. Sappi Verve holds 16% of the global dissolving pulp market, producing approximately 1.4 million tons per annum. Between 91-95% of this goes to the textile industry.
Viscose and lyocell are all cellulose-based fibres that are soft, breathable, have a natural feel and provide a sustainable alternative to the fossil fuel-derived synthetic fibres. Often, they are used in combination with cotton and/or polyester depending on the end-use for the fabric. Viscose is the most prominent of the wood based fabrics, accounting for 70% of the global dissolving pulp production, it can be found in clothing, home and decorating textiles, face masks, health and hygiene clothing and sanitation.
Lyocell, is the next generation of wood-based fibres, which formed in a closed-loop system, reducing chemical processing and allowing for 99% of the chemical recovery. It is the most sustainable wood-based cellulosic fibre, with almost two-thirds of the world’s production of raw material for Lyocell, originating from Sappi Mills.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in everything we do, not just as a company but as a society in general. Globally, we are facing a crisis point with the effects of climate change already evident. We are seeing a market shift towards sustainable production as consumers demand products that have been produced in a way that minimises environmental impact while maximising social benefits.
As a sector, South African forestry has been ahead of this sustainability curve with forest based certification systems in operation for the past two decades. Certification by internationally accredited organisations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council ® (FSC®) and Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) provides assurances that the wood fibre used in our DWP originates from sustainably managed South African timber plantations.
The fashion industry is also facing mounting pressure to improve sustainability and we are seeing brands and industry leaders putting in steps to improve the sustainability of the industry. One example of this is Textile Exchange, a non-profit, that has devised preferred fibre ranges within each portfolio. In the wood based cellulosic portfolio, FSC/PEFC accredited sources is preferred, while for cotton it is organically sourced products that are preferred and for polyesters, its ones sourced from recycled plastics which can lower the carbon footprint. Initiatives like this are improving the sustainability of the industry across the board.
Still, the demand for wood based textiles in the future is expected to increase exponentially as consumers and policymakers look for renewable, carbon-neutral alternatives and global markets shift towards a bio- or green economy. While a wood-based economy would already be seen as a part of the green-economy solution, Sappi has committed to a Science Based Target (SBT) to reduce its carbon footprint further.
This means that Sappi’s carbon footprint will be reduced along a clearly defined pathway to avoid “worse-case climate impacts”. Through a key multi-billion Rand investment in South Africa, the carbon footprint for Verve, Sappi’s dissolving pulp brand will be reduced by more than 45% by 2025. Besides taking climate change mitigating steps, Sappi is also investing in research and innovation to ensure that the trees of the future remain resilient to increased disturbances and changing weather patterns caused by climate change, as well as establishing partnerships across the textile value chain that will scale the use of recycled textiles.
One of the challenges for the textile industry as they try to move forward more sustainably is accountability. Unlike the paper value chain, which has a relatively small number of steps from pulp to the end product, the textile value chain is highly fragmented and complex with multiple steps and manufacturers at each level. The impact of this is that currently only 5% of textile products can be traced to their source and traceability is a major issue. The lack of traceability impacts on consumer trust and it also makes holding the industry accountable for its emissions, practically impossible.
To improve traceability and accountability across the fashion industry, Sappi has joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) along with 240 global brands, retailers and manufacturers, as well as government, non-profit environmental organisations and academic institutions. SAC uses a suite of measurement tools, known as the Higg Index, which measures sustainability performance across the value chain and drives supply chain transparency and decision-making.
Looking forward, I believe even greater emphasis will be placed on improving the environmental and social footprint of both the product and the value chain. This is going to require strong partnerships between public and private entities to ensure that the shift from, “do less harm” to “do more good”, which consumer and brand owners demand, is realised. With less than a decade to act, we are going to see companies becoming better aligned with Sustainable Development Goals to achieve this. The EU Green Deal and policy levers will accelerate the shift towards circular and climate-neutral economies. Ultimately, I believe a more sustainable textile industry will be realised, with products like Verve and Lyocell leading the way.
Photos courtesy of Sappi Forests.
Meet Ms Krelyne Andrew – Sappi’s General Manager: Sustainability Dissolving Pulp
During her 18 years at Sappi, the largest non-integrated manufacturer of dissolving pulp, Krelyne has held various technical and leadership roles involving global external engagement As a member of the South African Regional and Global Sustainability Councils she is part of a team that guides Sappi on emerging trends to inform policy and strategy development. Krelyne’s role also sees her engage closely with the Textile Exchange and Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), in various capacities.