How Sustainable Are Merino Wool Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
The super fine and soft merino wool is an increasingly favorable clothing fabric. It has a comfortable feel and resistance to odor that helps reduce the washing frequency, saving energy and water. Yet, the large flock of thick-hair merino sheep can be troublesome to their pasture lands and the environment at large. So, we had to ask: How sustainable are merino wool fabrics?
Merino wool is generally considered sustainable. It’s made with merino sheep’s thick fleeces, a renewable resource. Merino wool can be washed sparsely, saving water and energy. At the end of its life, pure merino wool is fully biodegradable. However, the wool industry has some ethical problems.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of merino wool fabrics used for clothes and accessories. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with merino wool fabrics.
Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Merino Wool Fabrics
Merino wool is generally considered a sustainable textile material. It is a biodegradable fabric made with the fleeces of merino sheep, a renewable resource. Merino wool clothes are soft, light, and comfortable, yet caring for these items requires relatively low energy.
However, it is important to take note of the widespread animal cruelty in sheep farming and the ethics of using merino wool.
“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”Oxford Dictionary
To understand the sustainability of merino wool fabrics, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of merino wool fabrics!
In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothing items and accessories made with merino wool fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments.
|The life-cycle stages of merino wool fabrics||Each stage’s sustainability|
|Sourcing of merino wool fabrics||The raw material for merino wool fabrics comes from the fleeces of merino sheep, a species specifically bred for fine fibers. Merino wool fibers are considered a renewable resource. Some merino sheep breeds can be shorn for their fleeces as frequently as two months and yield significant amounts of fibers. |
The environmental impacts of raising merino sheep for wool and meat depend largely on farming practices, but it is possible to source merino wool sustainably.
|Manufacturing of merino wool fabrics||Manufacturing merino wool fabrics starts with collecting merino sheep’s fleeces. In many cases, the shearing is painful and stressful for the animal. The processes that come after fiber collection are mostly mechanical. They are energy and water-intensive, making merino wool processing less sustainable.|
|Transporting of merino wool fabrics||Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of clothing items made with merino wool fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Merino wool fabrics typically travel from pasture lands, where the sheep’s fleeces are collected, to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills.|
|Usage of merino wool fabrics||The usage of merino wool is generally sustainable. Merino wool requires less frequent washes because it is a breathable, odor-resistant, quick-to-dry material.|
|End-of-life of merino wool fabrics||The end-of-life stage for merino wool is generally sustainable because untreated merino wool is fully biodegradable and compostable.|
Overall, we can say merino wool is a sustainable material. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, like a base layer or a pair of socks, depends on more specific factors, including the sourcing of the raw material (the fleeces of merino sheep), the manufacturing process, the transportation distance, and vehicles used during transport.
Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy merino wool fabrics more sustainably.
How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Merino Wool Fabrics
The raw material for merino wool fabrics comes from the fleeces of merino sheep, a species specifically bred for fine fibers. Merino wool fibers are considered a renewable resource. Some merino sheep breeds can be shorn for their fleeces as frequently as two months and yield significant amounts of fibers.
The environmental impacts of raising merino sheep for wool and meat depend largely on farming practices, but it is possible to source merino wool sustainably.
What Raw Materials Are Used for Merino Wool Fabrics
Merino wool is made with the fine hair of merino sheep. This type of sheep first appeared in Spain in the 12th to 13th century. Various breeds of merino sheep are now found in multiple countries across the Southern Hemisphere.
How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Merino Wool Fabrics Impact the Environment
Merino wool fabrics are made with merino sheep’s fleeces – a renewable resource. However, this raw material bears the environmental impacts of raising sheep, including global warming, land degradation, and biodiversity loss.
Merino Fibers Can Be Considered A Renewable Resource
Merino sheep wear a dense coat of fine wool. The wrinkles and folds on their skin provide even more space for wool production.
On average, a sheep lives 10 to 12 years. Merino breeds often live a bit longer, with the record being 23 years.
- The fleece of a merino sheep can be ready for collection every few months. Farmers can shear merino sheep of certain breeds as frequently as 2 to 3 months.
- Presume that a merino sheep lives for 12 years; it will be able to produce enough wool for over 100 garments containing around 1 lb each over its lifetime.
The high yields, the repeated harvest, and the relatively long lifespan make it possible to consider merino wool fibers a renewable resource.
Sheep Farming Emits Methane – A Potent Greenhouse Gas
the sourcing stage (aka the merino sheep farming) contributes to an elevated carbon footprint of merino wool fabrics, which could be much higher than other fabrics made with plant fibers:
- Ruminant animals, sheep included, belch enteric methane (CH4) as they digest their food.
- Methane is the second most significant contributor to the climate crisis, following carbon dioxide. It traps more heat than carbon dioxide, so it is considered a more potent greenhouse gas, especially in the immediate future.
- Specifically, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a period of 20 years. On a 100-year timescale, methane has 28 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide.
For example, a knitted jumper made with 12 ounces of Australian merino wool has a sourcing carbon footprint 27 times higher than that of a knitted jumper made with Australian cotton fibers.
In absolute value, the farming stage of (Australian) merino fabrics has a carbon footprint of 24.9 kg CO2 -eq per kilogram unit of greasy wool at the farm gate, according to a life-cycle assessment.
Some researchers also look into the way pasture lands sequester carbon in the soil and vegetation.
- The study suggests that the amount of carbon sequestered could be deducted from the total emissions over the whole life-cycle.
- This deduction is equivalent to 4% for each successive wool production year over a 100-year period.
Land Occupation of Sheep Farming Could Have Serious Ecological Consequences
Raising sheep takes up a lot of land.
For example, considering the stocking rate in Australia, 109 acres (44.04 hectares) of land are needed to raise the sheep to get enough wool fibers for one bale. A bale of cotton – a plant fiber – requires 367 times less land.
However, Australia has a relatively low stocking rate compared with northern hemisphere countries or other wool-producing nations such as New Zealand. Thus, sheep farming in Australia requires more land per animal in absolute numbers.
On the other hand, a low density of sheep reduces the risk of overgrazing, which could lead to pasture lands not being able to recover, degraded and eroded, and biodiversity loss.
It is important to note that not all lands are equal regarding the ecological consequences of using the land. For example, pastures set up on non-arable grounds, which are not suitable for growing crops, are different from pastures obtained through clearing bio-diverse forests.
Regenerative farming practices could improve soil health (instead of degrading the ground), resulting in more carbon sequestration. Some examples of these agricultural practices that sheep farmers can do are as followings:
- Planting native trees in pasture lands
- Confining flocks to specific areas and letting the grass and other plants regrow in other parts of the land before the sheep graze there again. This practice is called rotational grazing.
- Composting of sheep manure to sequester carbon
- Growing crops in pastures to improve biodiversity and soil health
- Removing pollutants from waterways
According to a life-cycle assessment of a merino sweater, the shares of the sourcing stage (or sheep farming) are significant in the global warming impact and freshwater consumption categories across the whole value chain (cradle-to-grave):
- Sourcing (sheep farming) accounts for 48% of the total global warming potential
- Sourcing (sheep farming) accounts for 67% of the total freshwater consumption
Where Are the Raw Materials for Merino Wool Fabrics Usually Sourced From
Though merino sheep originally came from Spain, the current significant producers of merino fibers are all located in the Southern Hemisphere. These include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and several South American countries.
Because of the methane sheep belch as they eat, sheep production results in high emissions of greenhouse gas.
- Australia – the world’s most important sheep-rearing nation – is home to more than 71 million sheep (with about three-quarters being merino sheep).
- The GHG emissions from that amount of sheep are equivalent to burning fossil fuels to supply energy for one-million homes for a whole year.
Another issue with sheep farming is land degradation and desertification caused by overgrazing. In several sheep-rearing countries, many areas are so degraded that the grounds can no longer be productive.
- The Patagonia region of Argentina was once incredibly rich in species.
- However, it has been turned into patches of deserts empty of life, all because of sheep ranching.
- Roughly 20m acres have become so deteriorated that they are abandoned.
- The Australian native Tasmanian tigers were blamed for sheep deaths and, consequently, brought to extinction by the wool industry.
- Dingoes, another species native to Australia, are poisoned, trapped, and shot by the wool industry.
How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Merino Wool Fabrics
Manufacturing merino wool fabrics starts with collecting merino sheep’s fleeces. In many cases, the shearing is painful and stressful for the animal. The processes that come after fiber collection are mostly mechanical. They are energy and water-intensive, making merino wool processing less sustainable.
How Sustainably Are Merino Wool Fabrics Generally Manufactured
Here are the standard steps in manufacturing merino wool fabrics:
- Collecting the hair of the merino sheep: This can be done by shearing the whole fleece of the animal. Depending on the breeds, farmers can shear merino sheep every three or six months.
- Scouring: The raw fibers ( “greasy” wool) are cleaned to remove dirt, impurities, and other organic waste.
- Carding: Wool fibers are sorted into grades and combed into long, thin strings.
- Spinning: The carded fibers are fed into a spinning machine, which twists the wool fibers to form yarn.
- Weaving or knitting: The merino wool yarn is (plain- or twill-) woven or knitted into fabric.
- Finishing and post-treatment: The fabric is occasionally dyed and subject to chemical treatments.
The manufacturing process of merino wool fabrics is relatively standard for textiles made with natural fibers. In most cases, merino manufacturing doesn’t involve toxic synthetic chemicals. However, mechanical processes require energy and water resources.
Merino Wool Manufacturing Is Energy-Intensive
Energy is needed to heat water for cleaning and to produce the electricity needed to run machinery (spinning, weaving, or knitting). And if fossil fuels are the main source of electricity, it will increase the manufacturing carbon footprint.
According to a life-cycle assessment of a merino sweater, manufacturing accounts for 47.7% of fossil fuel use and 23.5% of greenhouse gas emissions across the whole value chain (cradle-to-grave).
A change to renewable energy will reduce the carbon footprint of this step. Organic waste from wastewater treatment during the scouring processes could be one source of generating renewable energy.
Merino Wool Manufacturing Causes Wastewater Pollution
Scouring and dyeing are the key processes causing wastewater pollution.
The scouring removes grease, pesticides, and other organic matter (including feces) from the fleece. To wash and clean the wool, potent cleaning agents and a large quantity of water (which needs heating up to 150oF to melt to wool wax or grease).
Chemicals and organic matter may become suspended in the wastewater after scouring. If not treated properly, they contaminate the freshwater supply. One study found that the average wastewater from wool scouring contains as much as 291 times more pollutants than fresh (or blue) water.
Also, the dyeing process can contaminate surface water with heavy metals like chrome. Using natural dyes will avoid this contamination though these expensive dyes aren’t always opted for by merino fabric producers.
Where Are Merino Wool Fabrics Usually Manufactured
Australia is the world’s leading exporter of merino wool fibers, but the processing of these fibers occurs predominantly in China and India due to lower labor cost.
There are sustainable and ethical problems associated with the merino fabrics’ value chain happening in these three countries.
Animal Cruelty At Merino Sheep Farms
The ethics of using merino wool is tainted with the widespread mistreatment of the sheep.
Merino sheep are bred to have wrinkly skin (which increases the wool available per animal). This unnatural overload of wool has two immediate consequences:
- Causing many sheep to collapse and even die of heat exhaustion during hot months
- Increasing the risk of flystrike – a condition in which maggots eat the sheep alive. The wrinkles collect moisture, especially under the tail, making it favorable for flies to lay eggs, which turn into maggots.
To reduce the risk of flystrike, some farmers perform a procedure called “mulesing,” in which they remove the wooly skin near the buttocks of a sheep.
- This procedure is extremely painful for sheep, especially when it is often done without painkillers.
- This cruel practice is banned in New Zealand, yet still available in Australia – home to the world’s largest flocks of merino sheep.
Other mistreatments of sheep include:
- ‘Tail docking’ (chopping off a lamb’s tail)
- Kicking, punching, swearing aiming at the sheep while shearing the fleece
- Sewing up cuts caused by shearing without painkillers
Fossil Fuel Dependency Elevates GHG Emissions During Manufacturing Merino Fabrics
According to Our World in Data, the shares of renewable energy in primary energy in China and India are 14.95% and 9.31%, respectively. These two countries depend more on fossil fuels for energy than, for example, Italy, Spain, or the UK. Consequently, the merino fabrics’ manufacturing footprints in these two countries would be relatively higher than, for example, the three above-mentioned European countries.
How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Merino Wool Fabrics
Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of clothing items made with merino wool fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Merino wool fabrics typically travel from pasture lands, where the sheep’s fleeces are collected, to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills.
In the life-cycle of merino wool clothing items, transportation typically occurs as below:
- From grasslands, where the sheep’s fleeces are collected, to yarn factories
- From yarn factories to textile manufacturers
- From textile manufacturers to sorting centers/physical shops
- From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s house
- From the consumer’s house to the centers for recycling/ disposing of
Traveling Distances of Merino Wool Fabrics Vary Depending on the Supply Chain
It is not uncommon for merino wool fabrics to have their supply chain spreading globally, meaning that animal farming, yarn processing and finishing might happen in various towns, countries, or even continents.
Here are some scenarios for transporting merino wool fabrics:
- Merino wool manufacturers can source the fleece from New Zealand, ship it to China to be scoured, Vietnam to be spun, Cambodia for garment-making, and finally across the Pacific for US consumers.
- The fleece is collected from merino sheep in Argentina and processed in the US before selling to consumers worldwide.
- Merino wool manufacturers source fibers in Australia and turn them into woolen products in Italy, which are sold mainly in Europe.
You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing merino wool fabrics that travel shorter distances.
The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Merino Wool Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation
During its life-cycle, a piece of merino wool clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including:
- Large container ships
- Freight trains
- Long-distance trucks
- Short-distance delivering vans
And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts:
- Large container ships are generally the most carbon-efficient option for international transportation of goods, while planes are the heaviest carbon emitter.
Large container ships emit, per unit of weight and distance, half as much carbon dioxide as a train and one-fifth and one-fiftieth as much as a truck and a plane (respectively).
- Deliveries made by planes – for example, to fulfill fast shipping options for clothing – are the mode of transportation with the highest carbon footprint.
For example, as a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering merino wool clothing items and accessories to reduce the carbon footprint of your order.
According to a life-cycle assessment of a merino sweater, the shares of transportation in several impact categories across the whole value chain (cradle-to-grave) are as followings:
- Transportation accounts for 12.6% of the total fossil fuel requirement
- Transportation accounts for 5.2% of the total global warming impact
- Transportation accounts for 3.6 % of the total freshwater usage
How Sustainable Is the Usage of Merino Wool Fabrics
The usage of merino wool is generally sustainable. Merino wool requires less frequent washes because it is a breathable, odor-resistant, quick-to-dry material.
Usage phase is a main source of energy consumption in the life cycle of clothing, due to washing, drying, and ironing. Compared to many other textile materials, using merino wool fabrics would be more sustainable because of the less frequent need for washing, low washing temperature requirements, and suitability for air drying practices.
Wool fabrics, the merino variety included, are odor-resistance. Thus, wool clothing requires fewer washes than many other textile materials. (Also, the fabrics are supposed to wash in cold water, further saving energy for heating)
Typically, woolen socks can be worn 2.5 times per wash and woolen sweaters can be worn 10 times per wash. In comparison, cotton socks and cotton sweaters are generally washed after 1,5 and 5 wears, respectively.
Additionally, merino wool fabrics dry quickly on the line thanks to its very fine fibers. This property helps further reduce energy requirements, either for running drying appliances or heating the drying space.
As a consumer, you can reduce the environmental impact of your usage by maximizing the number of wears between washes, avoid unnecessary hot washes or machining drying. You can avoid full washing with airing and spot-cleaning merino garments.
Also, the longer you use a piece of clothing, the lesser the environmental impact of each wear.
- Wool garments thrown out after only 15 wears were responsible for nearly six times the amount of pollution than garments with just over 100 lifetime wears.
- On top of that, if the garment lifetime were to increase to 400 lifetime wears, it would reduce total emissions by 49 – 68%.
According to the life-cycle assessment of a merino sweater, the use phase was a significant contributor to its environmental impacts across the whole value chain (cradle-to-grave:
- Usage accounts for 30.4% of the total fossil fuel requirement
- Usage accounts for 13.4% of the total global warming impact
- Usage accounts for 37.1 % of the total freshwater usage
How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Merino Wool Fabrics
The end-of-life stage for merino wool is generally sustainable because untreated merino wool is fully biodegradable and compostable.
As a natural textile material, merino wool can be left to degrade naturally in a landfill or be composted. Decomposing time depends on many environmental factors and if the fabrics are treated and blended.
According to a study by researchers in New Zealand, when burial in soil, merino wool fabrics degrade quickly:
- After two months, merino wool fabrics would lose around 36% of their mass
- After nine months, merino fabrics would almost completely degrade (99% of their mass).
In comparison, a polyester knitted fabric did not degrade at all after the nine-month burial period.
Merino wool is made up of keratin – the same protein in human hair. Bacteria and fungi break down this protein and return essential plant nutrients, including nitrogen, magnesium, and sulfur, back into the soil. Thus, merino wool makes a great garden compost.
Merino wool has also been found to readily biodegrade in a marine environment, whereas synthetic fibers do not.
A study comparing the biodegradability rate of untreated and machine-washable merino wool with nylon, polyester, and polypropylene in a marine environment pointed out the outstanding rate at which merino wool degrades.
Following are the specific rate of biodegradability for all four materials:
- Merino wool: 67.3%
- Polyester: 6.3%
- Polypropylene: 1.8%
- Nylon: 0.8%
It is important to note that merino wool is sometimes blended with other materials for durability and performance. Mixing materials would normally hinder biodegradability and the opportunities for recycling.
How Circular Are Products Made of Merino Wool Fabrics
In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.
“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Recycling merino wool fabrics involves putting merino wool waste, both pre-and post-consumer, back into the supply chain, either as standalone garments or materials serving other purposes like insulation.
It reduces the drain on natural resources, leading to stabilized flock numbers, diminishing methane emissions, and lessening the grazing pressure on pasture lands so they can regenerate.
How Can You Buy Merino Wool Fabrics More Sustainably
The key to sustainably buying merino wool products is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): A globally-recognized certification system that ensures a certain threshold of organic content has been met. It covers manufacturing, packaging, labeling, transportation, and distribution (but not what happens in the grasslands where sheeps are raised).
- The Responsible Wool Standard (RWS): An all-encompassing wool certification that ensures all facilities and aspects of Merino production are held to the highest standards. It covers everything from farms, top makers, spinners, fabric mills, garment makers, and even the retailers themselves.
- Woolmark Certification: Woolmark certification is for merino wool products that were made using sustainable and cruelty-free methods.
- ZQ Merino: This certification system focuses on the quality, sustainability, and ethics of Merino wool from farm to fashion. They have five core principles they abide by in each step of the wool process: Animal Welfare, Environmental Sustainability, Quality Fiber, Traceable to Source, and Social Responsibility
- Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. (For recycled merino wool fabrics)
- The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material.(For recycled merino wool fabrics)
Some certifications are signaling brands’ efforts toward lowered environmental impacts and a circular economy are:
- B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts.
- Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
Where to Buy Sustainable Merino Wool Fabrics
We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that merino wool fabrics are generally sustainable. However, there remains issues of overgrazing, climate change, and unethical practices in the supply chain of merino wool fabrics.
However, some merino wool producers and clothing manufacturers address the above challenges in their sourcing and production and/or opt for recycling materials instead of strain on natural resources. Here, we compile for you a list of such sustainable brands selling (recycled) merino wool fabrics (in alphabetic order):
- Armadillo Merino
- Helly Hansen
- Unbound Merino
Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics
It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint
The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management
The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).
Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,
- Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
- In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are newly extracted.
When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown.
Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:
- Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often.
- Thus, you help reduce the pressure to extract more resources for making new items.
Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Sustainable Management of Forests
Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards.
When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals
The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like merino wool or merino wool. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.
Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives.
Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, merino wool or wool; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry.
Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers
Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child labors worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours.
When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.
Merino wool fabrics are generally considered sustainable, although their ethical side is much murkier. This biodegradable, renewable material is breathable and odor-resistant, leading to a low-impact usage phase.
Also, it is possible to produce merino wool sustainably and ethically, with controlled grazing, animal wellbeing considerations, and less fossil fuel dependency.
To make it even more sustainable:
- Buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled merino wool clothing items and accessories.
- While using merino wool products, maximize the number of wear between washes, and keep the items as long as possible.
- At the end of merino wool products, upcycle the material to extend its usage, and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.
- Science Direct: Life-cycle assessment (LCA)
- MIT SMR: Strategic Sustainability Uses of Life-Cycle Analysis
- European Environment Agency: Cradle-to-Grave
- Science Direct: Cradle-to-Gate Assessment
- Britannica: merino| breed of sheep
- Sewport: What is Merino Wool Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where
- AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATION OF STUD MERINO BREEDERS: Evolution of the Australian Merino
- SOUTH AFRICAN JOURNAL OF SCIENCE: SKIN FOLDS IN THE MERINO SHEEP.
- Your Sustainable Guide: What is Merino Wool? Is it Really Sustainable?
- Sheep101: Home
- Merino Wool Gear: The Ultimate Merino Wool Sustainability Guide
- Nature: Revisiting enteric methane emissions from domestic ruminants and their δ13CCH4 source signature
- Science Direct: Global warming potential
- European Commission: Methane emissions
- CIRCUMFAUNA: Australia is the leading wool exporter, and a leading cotton exporter. So which fibre is more climate friendly?
- Research Gate: Greenhouse gas emissions profile for 1 kg of wool produced in the Yass Region, New South Wales: A Life Cycle Assessment approach
- Science Direct: Journal of Cleaner Production: Resource use and greenhouse gas emissions from three wool production regions in Australia
- CIRCUMFAUNA: Australia is the leading wool exporter, and a leading cotton exporter. So which fibre is more land friendly?
- Science Direct: Journal of Cleaner Production: Aquatic eutrophication indicators in LCA: Methodological challenges illustrated using a case study in New Zealand
- THE RANGELAND JOURNAL: Building Grass Castles: Integrating Ecology and Management of Australia’s Tropical Tallgrass Rangelands.
- Woolmark: Regenerative agriculture
- Springer Link: Environmental impacts associated with the production, use, and end-of-life of a woollen garment
- The Nature Conservancy: Wool: Patagonia’s White Gold
- The Guardian: Can sheep restore Patagonia’s grasslands?
- Collective Fashion Justice: Shear Destruction Wool, Fashion and the Biodiversity Crisis
- DEFEND THE WILD: Misguided and lethal dingo ‘control’
- Scientific.Net: Publisher in Materials Science & Engineering: The Water Footprint of Wool Scouring
- WoolWise: Wool Scouring Principles and Methods
- MAKE FASHION BETTER: Is Merino Wool Sustainable?
- Wiley Online Library: AUSTRALIAN VETERINARY JOURNAL: Control of sheep flystrike: what’s been tried in the past and where to from here
- PETA: Victory! New Zealand Bans Mulesing Mutilations of Sheep
- Collective Fashion Justice: Issues in the wool supply chain
- The World in Data: Renewable Energy
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Renewable Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Solar Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Wind Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Hydropower Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Geothermal Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: What Is the Carbon Footprint of Biomass Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment
- Time for Change: CO2 emissions for shipping of goods
- Innovation in Textiles: Research shows merino fabrics biodegrade rapidly
- Road: Is merino wool really the ultimate sustainable choice for cycling kit?
- IWTO: Bioproduct and Fibre Technology Research Case Study: Microfibre Pollution and the Marine Biodegradation of Wool
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY IN DETAIL
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy
- MERINO WOOL GEAR: Smartwool Review and Company Profile
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Home
- Textile Exchange: The Responsible Wool Standard aims to improve the welfare of sheep and the land they graze on.
- Woolmark Certification: Home
- TEXTILE STANDARDS & LEGISLATION: ZQ Merino
- Textile Exchange: The RCS and GRS are designed to boost the use of recycled materials.
- B Corp Certification: Home
- C2CCertified: Home
- Armadillo Merino
- Helly Hansen
- Unbound Merino
- Good on You: Greenwashing Examples: 8 Notorious Fast Fashion Claims and Campaigns
- The Guardian: Pulp fabric: everything you need to know about lyocell
- European Parliament: The impact of textile production and waste on the environment (infographic)
- Science Direct: The challenge of “Depeche Mode” in the fashion industry – Does the industry have the capacity to become sustainable through circular economic principles, a scoping review
- Science Direct: Carbon Footprint of Textile and Clothing Products
- European Parliament: Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry
- European Parliament: What if fashion were good for the planet?
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future
- McKinsey: Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula
- Our World in Data: Deforestation and Forest Loss
- Peta: Animals Used For Clothing