How sustainable is wool, actually?
Sheep grazing on a lush meadow provide the sustainable raw material wool for natural, ecological clothing. This image should be conveyed to present clothing made of wool as a sustainable solution to the environmental problems in the textile industry. But does this romantic image actually correspond to the truth, or does wool also have its dark sides?
In this blog post, we take a closer look at the challenges of wool and highlight viable and wise solutions to address these issues.
Wool has been used for centuries for textile production and has always enjoyed a great reputation. Since the emergence of the sustainability issue in the textile industry, this reputation has even been strengthened, because the natural product wool is also supposed to be more sustainable than alternative textile fibers, for example. made of synthetic material.
However, there is increasing scientific attention to the environmental impact per kilogram of material of wool. Wool is said to be more harmful to the environment than most other fibers.
Up to 5x higher CO2 emissions than cotton
If you look a little closer at the environmental impact of wool, the worshipful effects of sheep farming quickly become apparent. As with other forms of animal husbandry, raising sheep for wool devours valuable resources. Land is cleared to make way for pasture, leading to increased soil salinization and erosion and a decline in biodiversity.
Like cows, sheep are also ruminants (i.e., they have multiple stomach chambers), and as they digest their food, gases form in their intestines that must be expelled. This releases enormous amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane is considered to be one of the most effective greenhouse gases and has, for example, a positive effect on the climate. has a 25-fold stronger greenhouse gas effect compared to CO2. Manure produced by livestock - especially in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where huge flocks of sheep have been built up to meet global demand for wool - has also contributed significantly to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Depending on the approach and source, sheep's wool can thus have up to 5x higher CO2 emissions per kilogram of fiber than conventional cotton.
Animal friendly husbandry?
Aside from the worshipful environmental impact of wool production, sheep in the wool industry often suffer excruciating agony. PETA has released videos and images taken at numerous farms around the world showing sheep being mutilated, abused, and in some cases even skinned alive - even for wool from sources labeled "responsible" and "sustainable" (read more
). Using wool for textile production is therefore also enormously sensitive and debatable from an ethical point of view.
Why we still rely on wool
Wool, by nature a recyclable fiber, is a great raw material in many ways. Wool receives top marks in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 's Material Circularity Indicator. Wool and wool products are renewable, recyclable and have a long use phase that has a positive impact throughout their life cycle.
Despite the actually massive environmental impact of the production of wool, we are concerned that we do not avoid the problem by doing without it completely, but create sustainable solutions and make them acceptable. We are still enormously reluctant to use sheep's wool, but we want to prove that responsible use of this great raw material can also be sustainable.
Wool as a waste material? Not with us
Sheep's wool used to have a very high value in Switzerland. However, in recent decades came the decline of wool: synthetic fibers, cotton and merino wool from abroad established themselves in the textile sector. All materials that are much cheaper and better suited for rapid mass production. Even shearing sheep no longer paid off for Swiss farmers. Thus, wool became a waste product of sheep farming, most of which was simply thrown away or burned. Today, however, more and more companies are using Swiss wool again, even if it never receives the appreciation it once did. We wanted to set an additional example here and make a strong case for the recycling of an otherwise often unused raw material. So we decided to buy this "leftover wool" and process it into high quality fabrics with our partners in Northern Italy. As a result we created our famous
jackets made exclusively from Swiss wool. You can also learn more about this topic
Clothing from recycled wool
From the beginning, we did not want to source merino wool from questionable sources, even if the raw material offers great properties for textile processing. But when we learned that wool can be recycled and reused very well, it triggered the developer spirit in us. Can we make a jacket from 100% recycled wool? The short answer: yes, absolutely. So, together with our Italian fabric producers, we set out to find recycled fibers and started making woven fabrics and, from them, jackets from recycled wool. The first products from this development are the jackets of our
line, which we would now like to expand step by step.
Transparency along the supply chain is essential for us when we talk about sustainability in the textile industry. Certificates and labels make sense, but it is only when we can trace a raw material back to its origin that we gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities for improvement. And only then can we optimize the supply chain and the products in terms of sustainability.
Transparency as a central foundation
As mentioned, we wanted to completely turn our backs on ordinary new wool. Thus, we would have been significantly less vulnerable in terms of ecological impact and animal welfare. But we would also have completely avoided a fundamental problem in the textile industry instead of developing solutions for it. In this case, we have thus set out to address the prevailing lack of transparency in the market and create complete transparency along our value chain (see
). The result is our LEGNA-MERINO collection.
Now that we understand our value chain and know the players and processes, we can start optimizing in the next phase. From more efficient and environmentally friendly processes in wool processing to the reuse of discarded garments. We will continue to look for solutions and evolve until, hopefully, at some point we will be able to create a fully circular value chain, where animal welfare and environmental protection will, of course, remain paramount. In addition, we are always looking for vegan solutions and alternatives, because animal welfare is highest when we completely abandon their raw material and products.Our sweaters with woolOur jackets from wool According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, methane is 28 to 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, and 84 to 86 times more potent in the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere. Nevertheless, there is no standard approach to monitoring, recording, or reporting methane emissions.