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International Wool Textile Organization presents the sustainability of wool textiles

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The American Sheep Industry Association podcast hosted International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO) Secretary General Dalena White on Dec. 15, 2023, where she discussed the sustainability of wool textiles with Host Dr. Jake Thorne, sheep and goat program specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. 

IWTO is the recognized global authority for standards in the wool industry, representing the interests of the wool textile trade since 1930 including 60 percent of the total wool production pipeline. 

White has 20 years of experience in textile manufacturing and sourcing and began her career with IWTO in 2016.

She works closely with retail operations and has been involved with brand development and product design in wool, finding sustainable solutions for designers who want to work with wool in South Africa. 

“The wool industry is dedicated to making wool’s environmental qualities more understandable and accessible,” White says. “IWTO’s membership encompasses all stages of the wool textile pipeline. From farm to retail, through research, education and knowledge sharing, IWTO ensures a sustainable future for wool.”

Today, IWTO continues to play a vital role in promoting wool sustainability and sheep welfare.

Benefits of wool

Wool can be used for different purposes, depending on the coarseness of the fiber and on other characteristics such as fiber length and crimp. 

Very fine wool is primarily used for clothing, while coarser wool is used in carpets and furnishings.

“Wool’s smart structure has evolved along with sheep to produce an active fiber that naturally wicks moisture, resists odor and reacts to changes in the body’s temperature so individuals stay comfortable in all temperatures,” White says.

Wool garments often last longer than those of other fibers due to garment quality and, potentially, because of its lower washing frequency.

“Wool has many natural properties proven to be beneficial for health, wellness and comfort,” she points out. “These range from ultraviolet protection to sound reduction and the absorption of toxic chemicals in living spaces. There is also wool’s natural breathability and amazing technical ability to control humidity levels. This is all due to the unique design of wool fiber.”

IWTO research supports wool garments work with the layer of air between skin and garment to manage humidity and keep wearers comfortable.

Wool fibers are the most hygroscopic of common apparel fibers and can absorb and release 50 percent more moisture vapor than cotton and 30 times as much as polyester.

Wool facts

According to IWTO, individuals interested in sustainability naturally want to understand how wool affects the world and how to make informed choices accordingly when purchasing wool textiles.

White says, “Wool is a clear and simple example of the circular economy in action, both in terms of raw material production and its use in the textile industry.”

White further notes this perfect circular economy was originally designed thousands of years ago and it is as robust today as ever. 

“In the apparel industry, many eco-friendly initiatives focus on very similar sustainability strategies, and recent data demonstrates wool brings multiple environmental benefits through the post-use phase of apparel, which is very relevant to today’s society,” she states. 

“Therefore, wool should be at the top of a list of materials representing best practice for a circular economy, and IWTO works hard to promote its benefits and positive contribution to policy makers, industry and the general public,” she adds.

White notes when a wool item finally reaches the end of its useful life, it can be recycled to make new yarn or be discarded onto the compost heap, where it naturally biodegrades, putting nutrients back into the soil.

She further notes, “Wool does not contribute to microplastic pollution. If it’s synthetic, the microfiber breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments and is called microplastic.”

“As a naturally durable fiber, wool offers many opportunities to keep a wool product in circulation for a relatively long period of time, thereby reducing the product’s environmental footprint,” she describes.

Traceability is of high importance along the wool supply chain as brands, retailers and consumers want to know where their wool comes from and all major wool growing countries offer different traceability systems.

The benefits continue

The most widely accepted tool for evaluating the environmental impacts of a product is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

Developed in the 1980s, LCA has become the most widely used tool to estimate the environmental performance of a product, measuring the use of natural resources, greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts made during a product’s lifespan and plays an important role in establishing comprehensive environmental measurements for products and materials. 

In evaluating wool, LCAs typically assess four lifecycle stages – on farm, processing and manufacturing, use phase and end of life.

“The LCA method aims to avoid a narrow approach by taking into account all of the stages of a product’s life from cradle-to-grave and evaluating all important categories of environmental impact relating to resource use and emissions to air, water and land,” White says. “LCA is a valuable tool for identifying ‘hotspots,’ monitoring changes in impacts over time and reporting the effectiveness of actions taken to improve environmental outcomes.”

The wool industry is a strong supporter of using robust LCA methodology as a key part of the environment assessment process, and the IWTO has developed guidelines for those who wish to conduct an LCA.

White concludes, “Whether they are focused on growing, processing, brokering, spinning, weaving or retailing, wool businesses are welcomed at IWTO.”

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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