Wool Integrity

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Wool Integrity

Countering counterintuitive ratings and embracing regeneration, wool sets a course for long-term credibility at its annual Round Table

With the price of Merino at record highs, IWTO opened its annual Wool Round Table 7 December in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, hub of the country’s wool and mohair industry.

Wool hovers at just over 1% of the world’s total fibre production, but the wool message remains strong: throwaway culture is on its way out, and with the weight of both science and common sense around it, the wool industry is primed with the facts that support its sustainability and integrity. 

“We are swamped by the thing that will end up in landfill,” said IWTO President Peter Ackroyd in his opening remarks – and, as a later presentation attested, in our drinking water. “But with scientific correctness we can counter the arguments against wool.”

"Wool is often unfairly classified by powerful organisations promoting petroleum based fibres that do not (strategically) measure performance on a cradle to grave basis," Mr Ackroyd further noted. He urged the industry to speak with conviction supported by the science in which the industry has been investing – an investment that is being returned in spades.

Countering the Counterintuitive

Since sustainability ratings have come into vogue in the past decade, wool has seen itself and other natural fibres ranked below synthetic fibres such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon. It’s a counterintuitive outcome that leaves many (just one example) scratching heads.

One big reason for the low rankings is oversimplification – ratings specialists want to come up with a single score, and in so doing make subjective weightings to environmental impact assessments such as land use and eutrophication.

Equally irksome is what the ratings fail to consider.

Astonishingly microfibres – those invisible bits of plastic that have now entered the planet’s food chain – are not included in the data that leads to the ratings scores.

This is one of the most pressing environmental problems the planet is currently facing, and it must be considered, said LCA expert Dr Beverley Henry. “The environmental footprint score should include all significant impacts. Land use, biodiversity, microplastics – we may not have the methods, but they must be considered.”

Sustainability is the Bridge, Regeneration is the Destination

Speaker Chris Kerston of the Savory Institute agreed that modelling the LCA (life cycle assessment) does not always capture the full impact and not all systems are created equal.

The brands in the Savory Institute’s new Land 2 Market programme are in fact moving beyond sustainability to regeneration.

“Net zero is not going to save humanity,” said Mr Kerston. Brands in the L2M are looking for a “differentiated product” that shows net positive results on land.

“Sustainability is the bridge, regeneration is the destination,” Mr Kerston stated.

Wool Integrity On-Farm

Communicating the benefits of wool sheep may have its challenges: “urban disconnect” requires educating consumers about the provenance of wool products and why this matters. The industry’s increasing transparency may prove helpful: presentations on wool declarations showed that wool growers are increasingly reporting on-farm practices such as mulesing. Through certification processes in both Australia and South Africa, this information is passed along through the supply chain, providing confidence to those choosing wool. 

This is market-driven, with incentives for clearly emerging for Australian growers, where declarations are voluntary. The national declaration rate is up to 65% and in some states even higher.

In South Africa such declarations are compulsory.


Wool for Future Markets: Hong Kong

Join the wool textile industry in Hong Kong for the annual IWTO Congress, 14-16 May 2018. For event details along with the latest wool news visit www.iwto.org



Images: Top: Retail Sustainability Panel L-R Feroz Koor of Woolworths; Chris Kerston of Savory Institute, Rolf Pretorius of Olive Leaf Foundation and IWTO President Peter Ackroyd. Middle: Dr Beverley Henry of  Queensland Univ of Technology. Bottom: Merinos of Smaldeel in South Africa's Eastern Cape.

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