SEdward Storey, from his farm in Yass, insists that “wool is an incredibly sustainable fiber, if you want to stop carbon emissions, don’t turn on the heat, put on a wool sweater.” Storey is the President of Wool Producers Australia and is part of the Trust Australian wool , launched in March to assure consumers that wool is a sustainable product.
The campaign was announced in anticipation of the European Union Sustainable Products Initiative, an ambitious piece of legislation that will set minimum sustainability and reporting requirements for products sold in the union, including textiles.
Farmers are concerned that wool (and other natural fibers) will fare poorly with the new legislation due to the methodology used.
A data tool called the Higg Index, which is widely relied upon by fashion designers and companies to calculate the environmental impacts of textiles, has attributed a higher environmental impact to wool than to polyester.
Storey says this calculation “fails the pub test” and more than one sustainable fashion expert agrees with him: a report of Berkley researchers found the index needed to prioritize and support “real environmental results,” while several experts concerns expressed to the sustainable fashion publication Eco Cult last year.
The Higg Index uses Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and standardized data provided by the textile manufacturing industry to measure the average impact of one kilogram of material in five areas: greenhouse gases, water scarcity, water pollution, use of finite resources such as fossil fuels and chemicals management.
Wool’s bad score doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is widely accepted that methane emissions from the guts of sheep and other animals contribute significantly to global warming. According to the Department of Agriculture, emissions from livestock represent around 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, although a report published by CSIRO says sheep only contribute 16% of this, with Australia producing the vast majority of the world’s fine clothing wool.
The problem is that standardized data and averages have a hard time accounting for nuances in the production of fiber types. For example, it is easier to get facts and figures from a chemical factory that makes polyester than from a sheep farm.
This is partly because polyester manufacturers can afford to fund more studies, something Storey and his colleagues are trying to rectify by providing technical documents to the European Commission. But it is also because the nuances of agriculture are difficult to explain.
Climate expert Professor Mark Howden says that the sustainability of wool cultivation can be reduced to “management that is used on a particular farm, or even on a particular paddock.” This variation means, in many ways, that using the Higg index to measure the environmental impact of global wool production is like asking for the length of a yarn.
Higg CEO Jason Kibbey says his information on wool was provided by the International Wool Textile Organization, but acknowledges that the system thrives when they have more data. “We’d love nothing more than to have data from regenerative farmers to show what improvement regenerative farming can make,” he says.
Kibbey’s comments reflect how thinking on the subject is evolving as more nuanced understanding of agriculture becomes more widespread.
Howden gives the example of John and Robyn Ive, who rehabilitated a dilapidated and dilapidated farm in the Yass Valley and turned it into one of Australia’s best wool operations. They have improved the operation of that farm and now “it absorbs 11 times more carbon dioxide equivalents than it emits.”
Although hesitant to label it regenerative agriculture, Howden refers to stewardship that focuses on soil health, biodiversity, reduction of chemical inputs, and encourages holistic livestock grazing, generating positive results for the environment, such as carbon sequestration and ecosystem restoration.
In her role as head of sustainable sourcing innovations for luxury group Kering (whose list of brands includes Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga), Dr. Helen Crowley has become optimistic about the power of regenerative agriculture. “I’ve been to regenerative wool production systems in Australia, where it basically looks like … the eastern box gum forest habitat that we had 200 years ago, they’ve restored,” she says. She says the comparison between conventional and regenerative agriculture is “apples to oranges.”
Howden is a bit more cautious. He says the best managers in Australia are as good as anywhere in the world, but “there is probably an entire group of farmers who still have room to move to improve their systems.” This is also true of mule, the process of removing excess skin from sheep’s skin to avoid attack by flies, which has been banned in some countries but is still practiced in Australia.
Crowley emphasizes that sustainable fashion has to be more than mitigating negative impacts, noting that with synthetics, “you can reduce a certain negative element, but it does not generate any positive results.”
On the contrary, he says, natural fibers have enormous potential to do good, something that Kering has committed to through its Regenerative Fund for Nature, which will help the transition of 1 million hectares of crops and grasslands. to regenerative agriculture.
While Crowley believes that life cycle assessments “are a good start” for achieving transparent impact measurements and objectives, “we must also be very careful that they do not become absolute truths.”
Other criticisms of the Higg Index focus on the materials index’s ability to measure only the cradle-to-door impacts of a garment (from the start of its production process to its arrival in a store), but not its impact during use and disposal.
Storey points out that, compared to a polyester garment, wool requires much less washing, lasts much longer, biodegrades, and does not contribute to microplastic contamination.
June 14 Higg announced its technology was updated and a tool was added to evaluate the impact of a product through design, use and disposal. A Higg spokesperson confirmed that the tool explains the fact that wool products are washed less frequently and that people tend to store them longer.
From a design and use perspective, wool is a highly valued fabric. It is warm, breathable and soft to the touch. It can hold up to 30% of its own weight in water before it feels cold or damp. Its flaky surface can be molded into felt-like textures that are wind resistant. Its structure makes it naturally elastic, strong and resistant to wrinkles. It is resistant to stains due to its waxy coating. Its ability to capture and release moisture means it does not retain odors. It is favored by luxury fashion houses, performance clothing companies, and interestingly, by the CEO of the Higg Index.
Kibbey says: “I am a huge lover of wool t-shirts. They are the only shirts I buy because they last a long time, they fit me well and I love how they feel on my body. ” He says you should look at the garment holistically because “ultimately, if I love it, wear it and wear it for a long time, it is a sustainable product.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism