Wool – Natural, Circular Sustainability

The International Wool Textile Organisation’s Dalena White outlines wool’s sustainability credentials at every stage of the product life cycle.

Among the many benefits of using wool, its sustainability is one of the most compelling. Meanwhile, its performance characteristics during use are such that woollen garments should surely be high on a wish list for any active person. This combination clearly sets wool apart from the competition making this fiber, which has been used for thousands of years by humans, more relevant now than ever.

But in an era during which manufacturers and consumers are being overwhelmed with claims and counter claims about performance and sustainability, how do we cut through the myriad of available information? In short, the answer is that we must use facts and figures to target the right audiences with the most relevant information and make a clear and scientifically proven case for wool. The good news is that this work is already well underway.

Our industry has recently got off the starting blocks to champion wool as a great material for runners and outdoor enthusiasts, during both activity and at rest. New research by Raechel M. Laing at the University of Otago in New Zealand showed that wool, overwhelmingly more than any other fiber type, has the attribute of odor resistance.

This is a triple win: It’s a win for sustainability, because wool has to be washed less often, using less detergent and water; it’s a win for wellness because of the full package of performance benefits – odor resistance, plus breathability, warm-when-it’s-cool-and-cool-whenit’s- warm properties, and comfort next to the skin of superfine Merino garments; and it’s a win for people who love the outdoors, because wool not only performs, it also lasts and looks great. This can resonate on multiple fronts and our messages are starting to gain traction in a greater range of relevant target media, such as Runner’s World.

Wool’s naturally long lifespan

Durability – or longevity – is a particular area where using wool represents a big net positive in sustainability terms. Whichever way you approach the subject, it’s clear that wool is a sustainable choice. Well-made woollen garments last, so in simple terms they don’t have to be replaced as often. As I have already noted, they have to be washed less often, which itself extends product life and uses fewer resources in the process.

Looking at sustainability from a different perspective, if wool returns to the ecosystem after the end of life of a garment, it’s a natural fibre that will biodegrade. This is in sharp contrast to synthetic materials.

These are areas where wool’s sustainability really shines through and that is characterised by clear and well-established circularity:

Dalena White is the Secretary General of IWTO, the authority for standards in the wool industry.

Sheep turn grass into wool, we harvest it once a year, it grows back; wool is fashioned into garments, garments are used until they are worn out, the wool can return to the ecosystem, which can then produce more material. That’s how humans have interacted with wool for millennia. Of course, there are more factors involved today, but the fundamental circular economy that wool offers is the same as ever – reliable, robust and renewable. Now add the material’s other properties to the mix, and woollen garments really hit the sweet spot, as both the best choice for active, healthy living, and the most comprehensive sustainable purchase options.

For many years, the International Wool Textile Organisation has been leading the way in establishing a solid portfolio of scientific evidence about the sustainability of wool and since 2011, our members have collectively contributed more than €560,000 to this work. Those efforts have been substantial and the results are now delivering the robust, significant data that reinforces our sector’s position as a champion of sustainability, and which we are communicating in a more
strategic and impactful way than we have ever done before.

Next IWTO Congress: 18-20 May 2020 in Tongxiang – more details at:  www.iwto.org





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