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Beyond the Bale : June 2018
AWI funds scientific research into wool’s environmental footprint, to enable the wool industry to market Australian wool to the fashion and textile trades – and consumers – as the ‘planet-friendly’ fibre of choice. Picture a designer at a large premium fashion brand in Europe. Let’s call her Claudia. Claudia lives in a nice apartment in the centre of the city. She spends her summer holidays in Tuscany and used to ski at St Moritz each year, until her daughter arrived. She likes yoga, her favourite cuisine is Thai and her husband Thomas is a professional fashion photographer. Claudia has never seen a Merino sheep, never touched raw greasy wool, and never visited rural Australia. She is far removed from the day to day realities of wool-growing, but nevertheless, she is an important person for Australian woolgrowers because it is Claudia who makes the decision as to what fibre to use in the fashion brand’s clothes. At Claudia’s work, wool has never been a large part of the brand’s collections, but in recent seasons Claudia has noticed that the brand’s competitors are using more Merino wool in their collections and she has become interested in using the fibre herself. She likes its handle and drape, its breathability and its versatility. The brand for which she works has rightly identified the preference for environmentally sustainable products as a key trend amongst premium consumers, and one that is likely to become even more important, so Claudia is keen to find out more about the eco-credentials of wool. She knows wool is natural, renewable and biodegradable – and she fondly recalls seeing sheep grazing in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. But when reading up on the subject, she discovers that environmental ratings agencies (such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and MADE-BY) have historically rated wool poorly against competing synthetic fibres. Claudia wants to do the right thing, for her company, for the planet and for her children’s future. But she is confused by these ratings – they seem counter-intuitive. Like most people, she is not an expert in either wool or environmental sustainability, so she asks herself: “Should I rely on the ratings from these environmental agencies?” How Claudia, and others like her in the fashion industry, answer that question is vital for the wool industry, because brands, similar to the one that employs Claudia, do use these ratings to help choose which type of fibre to include in their products. So what is the answer to Claudia’s question; should she rely on the current ratings? The short answer is “no” – and AWI is funding studies that are progressively correcting the weaknesses and flaws in the rating tools. Read on... THE KEY POINTS 1. Wool is natural, renewable and biodegradable – and therefore well placed to take advantage of the increasing consumer demand for more earth- friendly products. 2. But the wool industry faces an issue. Environmental ratings agencies have historically rated wool poorly against synthetics, which puts wool at a disadvantage, particularly as these ratings are used by brands to help choose what fibre to use in their products. 3. Why do the ratings agencies rate wool poorly? Agencies use Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methods to assess a fibre's environmental impact. However, LCA is a young science that is not yet robust. To date, assessments have looked only at the production part of the supply chain, not all the supply chain. This means that, for example, wool’s 100% biodegradability is not taken into account by the agencies. 4. What is AWI doing about it? AWI is funding research to improve the current body of LCA studies and improve the methodology for applying LCA, for a more accurate analysis of wool’s environmental benefits. 5. Can you give me an example of the research? A new AWI-funded review into consumers’ ‘use phase’ of apparel establishes wool as an environmentally responsible fibre, because in comparison to synthetic garments: wool clothes are washed at lower temperatures, washed less often, and are less likely to be tumble-dried (and therefore use less energy, water and detergent); and have on average a longer life-span, don’t contribute to microplastic pollution and are more likely to be recycled. WOOL’S LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT RAW WOOL PRODUCTION PROCESSING DISTRIBUTION USAGE AND RECYCLING END-OF-LIFE 16 OFF FARM
In the Shops - September 2018