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Beyond the Bale : June 2018
LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT EXPLAINED There is actually little agreement scientifically on what a ‘sustainable product’ is. There are many ways to assess environmental sustainability, but one popular method is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is a tool that attempts to tell in technical terms the environmental story of products across their entire supply chain (see diagram below left) – from raw material production; through processing, manufacturing and distribution; to a product’s use, repair and recycling; and finally to a product’s end-of-life and disposal. All these phases of a garment’s supply chain affect the environment in some way. However, LCA is a young science and there are severe shortcomings to current ratings because they consider only a limited part of the supply chain and only consider some environmental impacts. AWI's Program Manager for Fibre Advocacy and Eco Credentials, Angus Ireland, says comparisons between fibres should only be made when the full life cycle impacts are known, but the apparel ratings agencies have not yet done this. “The environmental impact of producing wool is more significant at the earlier end of the supply chain; but it’s a superior fibre that lasts longer, requires less washing and is frequently recycled to extend the use phase even further, plus it’s 100% biodegradable,” he explained. “However, apparel ratings agencies only assess the first part of the supply chain up to fibre production and exclude the use phase and the product’s end of life, resulting in an incomplete analysis.” AWI is therefore funding technically sound scientific studies to establish wool’s true environmental credentials and thereby correct the weaknesses in the environmental agencies’ rating tools. “The wool industry is continuing to invest strongly in an accurate and scientifically credible assessment of wool’s environmental footprint from its beginning on the farm, through all life stages to wool’s ultimate biodegradation back into the soil,” Angus said. “By working with the apparel ratings agencies, through the provision of contemporary data and sound methodology, we are seeking to improve the accuracy of the ratings.” THE CONSUMER ‘USE PHASE’ OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN An example of an AWI-funded study into wool’s environmental footprint is a new review into the ‘use phase’ of garments (see the fourth phase in the LCA diagram left), which was published in February by Consumption Research Norway (SIFO). Let’s revisit our designer, Claudia who we met at the beginning of our story. Since we last saw her, she has been doing some further research into wool’s environmental footprint and... she has made her decision about whether to incorporate wool in the new fashion collection at work. Right now, she is sitting in her kitchen at home on a warm evening in June after a long and tiring day in the studio. She has put her daughter to bed and has just finished a plate of Pad Thai. In her adjacent laundry, she can hear the tumble-drier – and feel the heat from it blowing into the already hot kitchen. She Wool garments are washed less and on lower temperatures, which means a smaller environmental footprint due to the need for less energy, water and detergent for laundering. PHOTO: Nick White It was conducted by researchers from SIFO and Adjunct Associate Professor Beverley Henry of the Queensland University of Technology with support from AWI. The consumer ‘use phase’ in a garment life cycle is known to impact substantially on the environment. But the review showed that clothing made from different materials are used and reused in different ways, and therefore have different environmental impacts. In summary: • Wool is washed differently, at about ten degrees lower washing temperature than the average laundry in Europe. • Wool is also more likely to be either dry- cleaned or washed by hand than other textiles. Moreover, when dried, it is less likely to be tumble-dried. • People are likely to use their woollen products about twice as long between washes compared to their equivalent cotton products. • Woollen products have a longer average lifespan and are more likely to be reused or recycled. Dr Henry says the study showed that the use phase of wool has less environmental impacts than the use phase of other fibres. “Consideration of the use phase in LCA should be critical as it strongly affects a fibre’s overall environmental impact,” she said. “A longer life and less washing mean a smaller footprint as garments have to be replaced less often and require less inputs (water, energy and detergents) during use. For wool, this will provide a more accurate and fair ranking result. “Furthermore, we found there is a lot of research-based information available concerning the use and re-use of clothing, and we believe there are sufficient results available for ratings agencies to include in LCA studies.” AWI’s Angus Ireland said this work undertaken for AWI contributes to the understanding of wool as an environmentally responsible fibre in comparison to its synthetic counterpart. “The review helps demonstrate the eco- credentials of natural fibres in a world where there is increasing concern about society's trend towards ‘fast fashion’ or disposable clothing, and the effect on the environment of synthetic textiles,” he said. The use phase also includes the worrying environmental impacts of synthetic microfibres that are released during laundering – see separate article on page 14. More information: The report Use phase of apparel: Literature review for Life Cycle Assessment with focus on wool is available free from www.hioa.no/eng wishes that the laundry didn’t need doing so often. If only all her clothes could be like her Merino wool suit, or her wool yoga gear, which do not need laundering very often. She then glances through to the hall and sees the beautifully embroidered wool shawl that she inherited from her grandmother – it has lasted well – and hanging next to the shawl she sees the wool coat that she bought all those years ago on her first trip to St Moritz soon after she first met Thomas. Reflecting on her own experiences of owning and using wool, she is very glad she indeed has chosen wool for the upcoming collection she is designing. POSTSCRIPT FROM CLAUDIA OFF FARM 17