A natural fibre, wool is intrinsically part of the life cycle of the planet. To better understand how wool and wool products interact with the environment, a tool called life cycle assessment (LCA) is used.
The most commonly used tool for evaluating the environmental performance of products,LCA typically measures the use of natural resources, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other environmental impacts over a product's lifespan.
Wool's life cycle begins on the farm where sheep grow wool as a matter of course. After it leaves the farm it is cleaned and spun, then woven or knitted into garments, carpets, or other wool products. Wool is resilient and longlasting, and readily recycledand reused. At the end of its useful like wool readily biodegrades and returns to the earth.
Recent Developments in Wool LCA
LCA is a science and is still evolving. In 2012 IWTO formed the Wool LCA Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to improve the quality of information available on the environmental performance of wool products globally.
Properly used, LCA can help to identify ‘hot spots’ for action to increase efficiency in the wool supply chain, decrease negative impacts and accelerate environmental benefits, and to provide the data sought by brands, retailers and consumers.
Wool LCA Guidelines
Agricultural products such as wool are particularly challenging to assess due to factors such as the wide diversity of sheep farming systems producing the greasy wool raw material, the complexity of allocating the environmental burden between co-products such as fibre and sheep meat, and the range of wool products from high value apparel to interior textiles and industrial insulation.
In order to address these challenges, the IWTO LCA TAG has developed a set of guidelines for conducting LCAs of wool proucts. These Guidelines assist LCA practicioners apply internationally recognized LCA methods more consistently and accurately to wool products. The Guidelines for conducting a life cycle assessment of the environmental performance of wool products is available as a PDF to download. Click on the link or visit our Resources page.
One of the first issues addressed by the Wool LCA TAG was methodology in wool LCAs, and particularly the method used to share the environmental impacts between meat and wool on farms that raise sheep which produce both of these products. Many sheep farms around the world produce both meat and wool, so it is vital that the impacts are distributed fairly and consistently.
As a result of the Wool LCA TAG's work, a recently published technical study recommends a scientifically-sound methodology for impact sharing which should lead to greater consistency in wool LCAs.
IWTO's researchers are currently working to fill data gaps along the entire wool supply chain by working with early stage processors, spinning and weaving companies to measure and benchmark the wool industry's performance in areas such as water and energy use.
Use, Reuse and Recycling
Wool products have long lives, need to be washed less frequently and are readily reused and recycled. This data is being quantified so that it can be used in wool LCAs. Read more about this work here.
Wool LCA Explained
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