Within a couple of years, products for sale in the European Union could be required to include a label that provides consumers with an assessment of the product's environmental credentials, and this could provide both risks and opportunities for wool.
The EU has become the driving force of environmental footprinting for all product types, through its Product Environmental Footprinting (PEF) project.
The project is expected to supersede previous environmental rating systems such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition system.
It is anticipated that the PEF project will become the most influential market-facing reporting system for environmental credentials, with point of scale collateral, such as labels, communicating the EU's assessment of products' environmental credentials.
It is predicted to be market ready in the EU by late 2022 and may then be mandated in countries like France soon after.
But Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) fibre advocacy program manager Angus Ireland said this could be an issue for the wool industry as environmental ratings agencies don't yet account for factors such as natural, renewable and biodegradability in their ratings tools.
Mr Ireland that this had meant historically, wool had been rated poorly against synthetic fibres, putting wool at a disadvantage.
The EU's PEF has some advantages over previous systems, such as being government-initiated and led.
It also is more comprehensive than most others, including 16 impact categories from toxicity to climate change.
Importantly for wool, it does include the 'use phase' and 'end-of-life' of the garment.
However the risk for wool is that the EU will provide a product with a single rating, rather than providing separate ratings for all 16 impact categories.
Mr Ireland said at this stage, it was not clear how wool would be scored by the EU, however initial modelling suggested wool's environmental impacts rating may be higher than some competitor fibres because of, for instance, a high weighting for on-farm greenhouse gas production.
He said it was important the Australian wool industry continued to research and market the environmental benefits of the product.
"AWI continues to be dedicated to generating scientific evidence of wool's true environmental credentials," he said.
"It is only by undertaking and publishing technically-sound scientific studies that wool's true environmental credentials will be established, leading to improved environmental ratings for wool."
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He said there were many ways to assess environmental sustainability, but one popular and effective method was the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
LCA is a tool that attempts to tell in technical terms the environmental story of products across the entire supply chain, from raw material production, through to processing, manufacturing and distribution, to a product's use, repair and recycling, and finally to its end-of-life disposal.
Over the past 10 years, AWI has been funding research to improve the body of LCA studies and provide a more accurate analysis of wool's environmental benefits.
And a new study has just been published; it is the first cradle-to-grave LCA of a textile fibre to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The study demonstrates that consideration of the length of time a garment stays in active use is critical in LCA.
"The study brings together the last decade of AWI's eco-credentials research across all life stages, from farm to end-of-life, and contributes to our strategy of positioning wool as a forward-looking industry, carefully stewarding the environment," Mr Ireland said.
"By undertaking the study, we are now in a 'knowledge-powerful' position regarding wool's supply chain and understanding its impacts.
"The work is especially timely as it will assist the wool industry's engagement with the EU's PEF."
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