Members from at least 12 countries attended the 86th IWTO (International Wool Trade Organisation) annual Wool Round Table at The Beach Hotel in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth. A working group met on 6 December, while the event took place on 7 and 8 December, offering ample opportunity for questions to be asked and answered.

IWTO is the recognized global authority for standards in the wool textile industry, and the recent Wool Round Table offered an excellent opportunity to participate in the industry and to network with other professionals from all parts of the supply chain.

Pre-event meetings

Wednesday, 6 December comprised of an Executive Committee Meeting, followed by the following working group meetings:

  • Sustainable practices
  • Product wellness
  • Wool trade biosecurity
  • Wool sheep Welfare
Wool in the fibre industry

Veeplaas’ journalist attended the event on Thursday, 7 December where Peter Ackroyd, IWTO president welcomed delegates to the opening session. The message he conveyed was that wool has withstood the test of time. “We need your knowledge in the wool industry. Our organisation in many ways amplifies national messages with the creditability of a one-voice organisation for the fibre industry.”

Peter said that he is terrified by fashion trends where fibre content becomes more insignificant and polyesters are blended into wool. “I worry about the current move towards fashion trends which are easily dilutable. We therefore need to demonstrate the worth of wool to fashionists, designers and consumers.”

“We are swamped by unsustainable things that end up in landfill. We therefore need science, the right documentation and your cooperation to produce science which is undisputable, solid and probably the key element in determining demand for fibre content throughout the world.”

The analysis debate continues

Geoff Kingwill, chairpersonof the Sustainable Practices Working Group, looked at wool sustainability, pointing out pressure points in the wool industry and the responsibility of dealing with it after some rating agencies listed the wool industry as a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions which plays a role in global warming. “I think most producers are aware of the effect of global warming, anyway.”

“Variance of environmental impacts are measured by the rating agencies, but it is time for a new strategy as there is no consistency regarding the different negative reports by them,” he said, also noting that wool growers are in fact engaging with rating agencies like SAC to get the correct data out there.

“Let’s give credit to SAC as an important player in the industry for being willing to engage with us since we implemented the Sustainable Practices Working Group. Though we haven’t yet made the desired progress with them, we are looking at benchmarking methods to effectively prove that what is being said about the wool industry, is not always true.”

Differentiating between the agencies’s benchmarking methods and the wool industry’s preferred change modeling, he said as follows, “Benchmarking comes up with single figures, while change modeling better considers all implications associated with biological systems.”

Footprinting the use of textiles

What has the wool industry been doing lately? Asking this question, Angus Ireland, vice chairperson of the Sustainable Practices Working Group answered it by saying the wool industry has been generating scientifically defensible data and methods to measure the environmental footprint of the entire supply chain.

He moved on to point out the differences between fibres like wool and polyester. “The latter is, for example, made of oil and is not biodegradable. Wool can be used a lot longer and requires far less care and washing, so less energy and water is required.”

In the light of SAC’s primary goal to move the global apparel and footwear industry towards greater sustainability, primarily through use of its Higg Index, Angus commented that wool has an MSI score (according to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index) of about 80% while polyester is approximately 40%. “So, when one looks at the complete lifecycle of polyester, then it is not as good as wool.”

Is wool part of the conversation?

The voice of wool in SAC and Pulse, dr Beverley Henry from Queensland University of Technology and member of the LCA Technical Advisory Group, discussed the place of wool in the world of textile sustainability and the current analysis debate.

There are many dimensions to the sustainability of wool, she said. “For good results one needs good data and methods. Sustainable assessment really consists of several complex issues and there are many dimensions to the sustainability of wool. It is not just about greenhouse gas emissions, or a few impact categories that are measuring some of the environmental footprints, but about regenerative agriculture, biodiversity and more. It is also about issues that are important to the environment, and a digital concept too. Can we really say that wool is sustainable?”

Using a slideshow, she noted that the sustainability of wool cannot currently be measured, though one can speak about the aspects around it. “All fibre and textiles affect the environment, but we also know there are many dimensions in sustainability.”

“Polyester has a lower environmental footprint the way it is being calculated presently. We will thus have to learn to tell the story of the sustainability of wool without being restricted to some of the metrics that are in use.”

She also said that wool’s voice is stronger, thanks to the investments IWTO has made in communication products and science. Dr Henry then showed a slide of a tattoo-gone-wrong. “Our opinion will be disregarded in the wider community if we don’t implement the right experience, skills, science and methods. So, in a proverbial sense one can say that the tools are the same, but the outcome depends on how they are used.”

Land to Market Programme

From the Savory Institute in the USA, Chris Kerston spoke about farmers being trained since the 1980’s on biological monitoring where they measure the health of their land. “They use that to make their own decisions on how to graze their animals differently to get the kind of results they require.”

“We are bringing food and textiles together with our established programme that is specifically developed around livestock products. In the next few years, we’ll be moving over to cropping. But right now we focus on livestock as it is our core competency and support network.”

Holistic farming practices

Olive Leaf Foundation is an NGO established in 1989.

“A community that lives off the land, naturally is able to work with animals,” said Rolf Pretorius.

“We provide between 3 to 4 million services per annum, from 440 service points in South Africa.” Their task is to establish what the farmers’ inherent skills are and then to get them to understand how to graze their animals properly and how to market their animals successfully. “Once we have completed a project, we step out of it with the confidence that it will continue without us being there. That truly is sustainable development.”

Rolf showed a video clip about communal producers learning to farm in a sustainable manner. “It is a truly South African story with many different facets about how wool affects the lives of the wool farmers.” – Carin Venter, Stockfarm

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