PROVING the environmental credentials of wool will be one of Australian Wool Innovation’s top priorities in 2013.
AWI group manager of market intelligence and reporting Paul Swan said key projects would focus on collecting the hard data required to prove wool was as environmentally friendly as Australia claimed.
Dr Swan said the industry urgently needed to combat incorrect perceptions that wool was not a natural, sustainable fibre.
This was from overseas groups such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition – an industry-wide alliance of 60 brands, retailers, suppliers and not-for-profit groups working to reduce environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products – and also Made-By, a European not-for-profit organisation with a mission to ‘make sustainable fashion common practice’.
Both had released sustainability indexes that had scored wool poorly.
“There’s an urgent need to combat those poor ratings. We think it is mostly education or informing people,” he said. “It’s a long-term strategy but will yield enormous fruit.
“We have done a lot of work in quantifying wool’s footprint and identifying the flaws in previously published research where some people say wool is bad for the environment.”
This included a global wardrobe audit where 500 consumers in seven countries assessed their wardrobes to determine how many items of clothing there were, comprising what fibres and how long they had owned them. This work proved wool garments were reused or recycled more than other fibre types.
He said AWI was working with the International Wool Textile Organisation and had recently appointed an environmental credentials coordinator based in Brussels who would engage with companies, such as Nike, on behalf of the wool industry.
IWTO had also established a working group on wool’s environmental credentials with membership from China, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, South Africa, Uruguay and Argentina. In total, 65,000 Euro had been raised, which AWI would match, to help progress research and education.
Meanwhile on-farm, work to underpin wool’s environmental credentials by FCA Consulting’s Stephen Wiedemann, Toowoomba, which took an alternative view of the carbon footprint of wool, would soon be published in scientific journals for review.
The research – presented at IWTO’s conference in May – found a new method of measuring on-farm emissions from wool production could reduce previous estimates of its carbon footprint by 70 per cent to 80pc.
And off-farm, following wool from a raw fibre through all the processes of transport, processing, knitting, weaving to its end use, its whole of life footprint could be 34pc lower than earlier estimates.
These new estimates are being called a breakthrough for wool, further boosting its reputation as a natural, environmentally-friendly fibre and delivering farmers some extra firepower when it comes to negotiations on emissions trading and the carbon tax.
“This work has a dramatic impact, especially when combining that with the work we’ve done at the garment end in asking ‘how long do wool garments last?’” Dr Swan said.
“We think this year will be a very good year for looking at wool’s environmental credentials. It’s been a while coming but it takes time to do the research and put the relationships in place. There’s a number of things happening now and we will start to see the output in the next 12 months.”