Wool’s Carbon Footprint Up to 80% Smaller Than Previously Thought

by , 01/19/12   filed under: Eco-Fashion News, Eco-Textiles

wool, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, carbon footprints, Australian Wool Innovation, Wool Carbon Alliance

The carbon footprint of wool has been grossly overstated, according to a consortium of Australian woolgrowers, scientists, and carbon specialists known as the Wool Carbon Alliance. The group, which claims that recent advances in methodology have resulted in estimates up to 60 to 80 percent lower than previously indicated, wants to challenge existing notions about wool carbon using “current and relevant” science. “We are finding that the wool fiber production systems, based on renewable grass and natural vegetation, complement current demands to reduce carbon emissions,” announced Martin Oppenheimer, chairman of the alliance, on Tuesday. “Wool is part of the natural cycle of water and carbon that can impact climate in a positive way.”

So tell us, is wool haute or not?

  • 355 Votes HELL NO! It's cruel, barbaric, and unnecessary.
  • 225 Votes HELL YES! It's renewable, biodegradable, and requires little processing.
  • 24 Votes MAYBE. Different factors tip the balance one way or the other.

View Results

wool, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, carbon footprints, Australian Wool Innovation, Wool Carbon Alliance


Wool’s status as a sustainable fiber is not uncontested. Unlike leather or fur, it doesn’t require the animal’s demise. Vegans eschew the fiber, however, because they oppose practices such as mulesing, a painful surgical operation that involves cutting flaps of flesh from around a lamb’s breech and tail to prevent flystrike, a parasitic infection rampant in flocks in Australia.

A growing movement exists to promote wool as an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based synthetics.

Sheep, like other ruminants, also happen to be methane-belching machines. Lumped with other livestock, they are responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than cars are, according to a United Nations report.

Yet at the same time, a growing movement exists to promote wool as a fashionable, durable, and eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based synthetics such as polyester, most notably by Britain’s Campaign for Wool, which holds an annual “Wool Week” to fete all things wild and wooly.

But can woolgrowing actually help stem global warming? “Advanced methods of on-farm carbon accounting have shown how woolgrowers can play an important role in the carbon cycle,” says Stephen Wiedemann, an independent agricultural scientist with FSA Consulting. “Preliminary results suggest where soil carbon sequestration can be achieved, wool production can be carbon-neutral.”

Australian Wool Innovation, an industry group of 29,000 Australian woolgrowers and, incidentally, a thorn in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s side, counts itself among the researchers working on ways to slash wool’s carbon footprint by reducing energy use during manufacturing, laundering, and garment disposal. The leading offender? Dyeing, which the group will tackle in two ways: first, by looking at mechanical modifications to the dyeing machine and second, investigating the dyeing process itself.

“With regard to domestic laundering of wool garments,” the organization adds, “AWI is exploring technology that allows wool garments to be successfully washed at lower temperatures than the normal 40°C wash. In addition, work is being conducted to reduce the drying time during tumble drying…by about 30 percent.”

+ Press Release

+ Wool Carbon Alliance

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13 Responses to “Wool’s Carbon Footprint Up to 80% Smaller Than Previously Thought”

  1. Alexander27 says:

    OMG. i love animals btw. sheep unsheared whould get infeasted, get caught in the sharp shrubs and die and in the summer the dont need the thick coat thus free in them from a over heating and dieing. STOP BEING PETTY this is not crule to the animal. they would not lamb if they were miss treated.

  2. sspengem says:

    I hope people realize that sheep used for wool are killed for meat. This study doesn’t seem to take into account the environmental impact of transporting and slaughtering the sheep after they are no longer good for wool. If allowed to live out their natural lives, sheep can live 15 years or even longer. I have met many glorious old sheep at Farm Sanctuary. Sheep who are used for wool, however, are inevitably sold for slaughter quite young because the quality of their wool declines significantly after 2-3 years. Once the quality of their wool declines, the farmer has to auction them off to slaughter houses, where they will not be treated humanely, and the “carbon footprint” of a slaughter house is heavy. No wool farmer can allow his sheep to live out their lives in peace and remain financially viable. All wool sheep are destined for slaughter.

  3. bohemiandelight says:

    Wool woool wooooool!
    It is more cruel to use synthetic materials that have a net increase in harm to the Earth, than eliminate our dependence on such toxic materials and return to sustainable relationship to what is naturally available to us (man and animal) on this Earth. What sense is it protecting animals if there is nothing left for them to live on?

  4. panthera says:

    The comparison between wool and polyester is skewed. Polyester can be made from recycled plastic, which diverts a waste product from the landfill or incinerator, while avoiding the problems of water usage and contamination that animal agriculture causes. Even pasture-based grazing can have deleterious effects on the environment, including the spread of disease to wildlife as well as resource competition.

    Clothing can also be made of plant fibers such as hemp, which is a soil-enriching crop. Better yet, we can simply make use of pre-owned clothing, which requires NO new resource consumption or waste pollution (besides things like shipping, which all types of clothing involve).

    Wool, leather, and fur are all wonderful materials. That’s why the animals to whom they actually belong USE them. It may appear that wool can be taken w/o killing the animal who is currently using it, but that is only true for a few years. All animal agriculture involves the killing of animals.

    Rather than trying to minimize cruelty and reduce environmental degradation, let’s look for alternatives that respect all life. Humans may not be equipped with wool or fur, but we do have pretty good brains, ones that generate innovation AND empathy. Let’s use them in both capacities.

  5. stwberywine77 says:

    Really? On Facebook you’re blaming PETA for your own audience not liking wool? You regularly post vegan recipes and vegan clothing options, who did you think you were posting to? To start an attack against PETA is quite the turn around and not the blog I thought I was following.

  6. gagriffin (@gretchengriffin) says:

    Well, this article is about Australia’s beef industry, not its mutton industry. However, it shows that there are places in the world that are trying to maintain a level of humane treatment for meat industry.


    And I would reserve some other more gruesome practices for the category of “cruel, barbaric and unnecessary” like factory chicken and egg farms.

  7. Jasmin Malik Chua says:

    @stwberywine77: PETA posted a tweet telling its followers—who are not necessarily Ecouterre readers—to vote a certain way. Saying someone “hijacked” a poll is not an attack. We would say the same of any group that intentionally skews poll results. (We did the same when a group of furriers bombarded an earlier poll in support of hunting.) And we don’t post vegan recipes; you have us confused with someone else.

  8. mountainview says:

    This article would have you believe that these barbaric practices are standard in the industry. They are not. New Zealand has phased out mulesing in favor of more humane practices. The “Wool Carbon Alliance” is a classic case of “greenwashing.” Boycott Australian wool (cheaper, so it’s used everywhere, including in all those over-priced “merino wool” sweaters). Search out products made with humanely harvested wool, instead. It may be more expensive, but the quality is much better. That’s why Karastan, for example, makes its rugs with New Zealand wool.

  9. meganrascal says:

    Re: the “skewed” results, votes usually just tell you who cares more. Now you know who cares more.

  10. kyliegusset (@gusseting) says:

    The australian wool industry is a lot like the fast food industry. Remember the mclibel trial, where Mcdonalds tried to convince us that their food is nutritious and healthy?

    David Green, McDonald’s Senior Vice-President of Marketing (USA) When asked if Coca Cola is ‘nutritious’ he replied that it is ‘providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet’. He agreed that by his definition Coke is ‘nutritious’.

    What AWI and the wool carbon alliance (WCA) are doing is something rather similar. Here’s the statement from Martin Oppenheimer, chairman of the Wool Carbon Alliance:
    “We are finding that the wool fiber production systems, based on renewable grass and natural vegetation, complement current demands to reduce carbon emissions,”
    “Wool is part of the natural cycle of water and carbon that can impact climate in a positive way.”

    Who exactly has been going to AWI or WCA and telling them that the carbon footprint of wool production has been grossly overstated?

    Where I have issues with the Australian wool industry as a whole is the sweeping under the carpet of wool processing. Over 60 million tonnes of lanolin, dirt, sheep dung, and all the other stuff that gets removed in the sheep fleece washing process (known as scouring) is shipped to China each year, using fossil fuels. Why? It’s cheaper to scour in China. Their treatment of waste water and the environment in general also leaves some major room for improvement.

    in 2009, the Managing Director for the Goulburn Wool Scour mentioned to the ABC that: “We did convince them they were polluting a lot of drinking water, when they had a scour discharging raw effluent into a lake in Wuxi when six million people were without drinking water.”

    So, if AWI and the Wool Carbon Alliance want to start talking about how environmentally friendly wool is, they can start by demonstrating what actions they’re taking to ensure minimum use of fossil fuels in transport, and low environmental impact processing which includes the scouring, topmaking, spinning and dyeing stages. That’s where the spotlight on wool has long been dimmed, and needs to shine again.

  11. indianaflint says:

    a few facts to straighten the picture.

    we humans have spent some 4000 breeding sheep [otherwise their pelt would still resemble that of a goat] to the point where their wool must be shorn annually.

    when wool is responsibly processed, ALL of the waste can be returned to the earth as valuable fertilizer.

    recycling PET bottles into cloth takes vast amount of energy. and if PET bottles aren’t safe to drink from more than once, given the release of polyethylphthalates, how could they be safe to wear?

    not all wool sheep are destined for the slaughter house at an early age.

    wool garments dyed with safe dyes [such as eucalyptus] can [after thorough wearing and subsequently going through mending, felting and re-fashioning to make the most use of the fibre etc] be safely returned to the environment as a slow-release nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

  12. ayt2007 says:

    Here in the UK, most sheep are responsibly reared. There is one scouring plant left, saved 5 years ago, which has a closed loop system ensuring not effluent is discharged into the local water system.

    Wool garments do not have to be washed, as they shrug stains and doesn’t hold on to odours. Just hang your garment up to air! Well made garments will last years and can be composted at the end of life.

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