IWTO Round Table Focuses on Sustainability
December 22, 2017

The sustainability of wool was the key focus at the 2017 International Wool Textile Organization Wool Round Table, held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, earlier this month. A total of 80 delegates - including Chase Adams of the American Sheep Industry Association - from 11 international destinations attended the event.

In his opening remarks, Peter Ackroyd, IWTO president, explained that the wool industry is scoring low in sustainability indices due to the wrong methods being used to calculate sustainability.

"The wool industry does need to speak with conviction and a firm voice, and above all, with scientifically proven data that is indisputable," he said. "Our message is a good one and the competition doesn't like it."

Geoff Kingwill, chair of the IWTO Sustainable Practices Working Group, said the industry continues to face challenges in the way the sustainability of wool is scored, and more progress is needed for the ranking of wool to reflect its true green attributes. Pointing to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, where wool is rated as the fourth worst fiber with regards to environmental sustainability, he called upon IWTO members to contribute resources to ensure the industry can redress the situation.

"As longtime members of IWTO representing the American wool industry, ASI has collaborated on SPWG projects and continues to participate in the working group," said ASI Deputy Director Rita Kourlis-Samuelson.

It is costly to influence sustainability ratings for fibers in terms of resources, manpower and money, Kingwill acknowledged. On the other hand, "It would take years to recover from the damage if we can't prove that wool is sustainable soon enough."

He added that the use phase of wool should be accounted for in its life cycle assessment to ensure a fair assessment of sustainability. "This is an area where wool is strong: wool garments are used longer, and use less washing in their care."

The IWTO SPWG has worked progressively along the whole wool supply chain since it was launched in 2011 to work on sustainability standards. A complete cradle-to-grave LCA for wool will be finished by 2018, "a significant achievement not many industries can point to," said Angus Ireland, vice chair of the IWTO SPWG.

However, he noted that the SPWG will have to invest in the LCA to keep up with the evolution toward more sustainable practices in the wool industry. He explained that the current challenge for wool is that only a partial LCA is used to assess wool sustainability, leading to an incomplete analysis.

"When that information is used to make decisions to divert the supply chain away from wool to 'more sustainable products', it is misleading," he explained, adding that it is important to develop indicators for service lifetime that are more readily available, and to use cheaper data.

Dr. Beverley Henry, a member of the IWTO's Wool LCA Technical Advisory Group, said that sustainability assessment is a complex issue with many dimensions.

She noted that all fibers and all fashion impact the environment, adding that it is important for the story of wool's sustainability to be told in a different way, going beyond wool's environmental footprint in order to get the message in the media and out to consumers. Dr. Henry said that the story needs to include the marine biodegradability of wool and research on the microplastics produced by other textiles.

Source: Fredalette Uys, World Textile Information Network