Australian Wool Sustainability Scheme launched at IWTO Congress

Australian Wool Sustainability Scheme launched at IWTO Congress

July 01 2024


Emma Gittoes Bunting explains the EU’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) tool that has scored wool worse than synthetics (Photo credit: Urban Safari Photography @international_wool (IWTO)).

Sheep Sustainability Framework (SSF) Steering Group Chair, Dr Scott Williams, attended the 93rd Congress of the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) in Adelaide in May, along with 350 international delegates.

IWTO represents the collected interests of the global wool trade including growers, processors, spinners, designers, and retailers.

Key topics at the Adelaide Congress included a reworked Australian Wool Sustainability Scheme and European legislation comparing the environmental footprint of wool to synthetics, as well as traceability, design trends, retail insights and more.

Dr Williams said the launch of the Australian Wool Sustainability Scheme (AWSS) by the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) was well received by IWTO members.

“There was a fair bit of excitement about the AWSS, especially amongst Italian processors, and plenty of questions from the floor,” Dr Williams said.

“The principal integrity scheme currently is the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), which was developed and is managed by a third party. People have been wanting an Australian-produced integrity framework for Australian wool, one that reflects our growing environment and also incorporates clip quality standards.”

The revamped wool integrity program replaces the SustainaWOOL Integrity Scheme and offers two accreditation types – SustainaWOOL for wool from non-mulesed sheep and ResponsiWOOL for wool from mulesed sheep that are administered appropriate pain relief.

The Scheme is fully aligned to industry commitments, including the Sheep Sustainability Framework and the Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework, and builds on existing industry programs that aim to maintain access to premium markets.

The Scheme’s Grower Standards include four sustainability pillars – caring for the environment, sheep, people and industry – as well as clip preparation and integrity requirements and will be in place from 1 July 2024.

For more information regarding the launch, visit

Concern grows over EU assessment of wool ‘footprint’

Emma Gittoes Bunting, Global Sustainability Manager for Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), updated the IWTO on concerning policy developments in the EU regarding assessment of the environmental footprint of natural versus synthetic fibres.

AWI provides strategic support for the Sheep Sustainability Framework, and market access is a key priority in the SSF theme of ensuring a financially resilient industry.

Ms Bunting said the EU had created the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) to measure environmental impact, and for the first time was looking to apply the PEF to apparel and footwear products.

Based on life-cycle assessment (LCA) principles, the PEF methodology scores apparel products made from wool and other natural fibres poorly compared to synthetic fibre products, because it doesn’t take into account microplastic pollution, the formation of the oil and natural gas from which fossil fuel fibres are made, or the renewability and biodegradability of natural fibres.

In response, AWI joined international fibre organisations and environmental NGOs to launch the Make the Label Count campaign in 2021, to ensure sustainability claims for textiles in the EU are fair and credible.

“Make the Label Count has been engaging with a host of European policy makers and seen some great progress and support,” Ms Bunting said.

In March last year the PEF was omitted from the European Commission’s policy proposal that aims to stop misleading green claims by companies, but Ms Bunting said PEF was currently at risk of being reinserted back into the legislation.

“IWTO delegates are deeply concerned by these policy developments and want to make sure that wool isn’t disadvantaged,” she said.

“We asked delegates to call out the bias of the methodology in the EU’s consultation and saw a great number of submissions from the wool industry.

“The current PEF methodology favours fast fashion products made from synthetic fibres, and it’s a matter of urgency that the PEF doesn’t get reinserted as policy.

“The raft of legislative developments being introduced in the EU affect the entire fashion and textile value chain and will have major impacts on product design, restrictions on marketing claims, and put responsibility on brands for the collection and recycling of clothing after consumers dispose of them.”

Wool’s potential to contribute to booming wellness market

Australian wool is well positioned to take a significant slice of the rapidly growing global health and wellness market, currently valued at US$1.8 trillion and rising.

Monica Ebert, AWI/The Woolmark Company’s Business Development (Sports & Performance) & Sustainability Manager - Americas, who also chairs the IWTO’s Product Wellness Working Group, told delegates the US market was growing at 5-10% each year.

82% of US consumers rate wellness as a top or important priority in their everyday lives, with the figure 87% for consumers in China and 73% for UK residents.

Ms Ebert said AWI/The Woolmark Company continued to invest in research to identify market opportunities for wool in wellness, which included sleep and skin health studies as well as thermal comfort in active environments.

A comprehensive literature review of the benefits of wool to human health and wellbeing is underway to create a single source of information in an accessible format for industry stakeholders, that meets standards for a science literature review.

Australian Wool Traceability Hub provides provenance

IWTO members also saw the first public demonstration of the Australian Wool Traceability Hub (AWTH), designed with input from key industry bodies to trace wool from farm to export.

AWTH showcases practices and provides data to complement wool products and enhance trust in Australian wool. A commercial system is expected to be available by the beginning of the 2024-25 wool selling season.

A vital tool in managing any Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) outbreak is being able to track and locate wool which may have come from contaminated sites, ranging from the farm to the wool store, processor or shipping container, with the goal of re-establishing trade in the shortest possible timeframe.

Preventing and managing disease is a priority of the SSF under the theme “Caring for Our Sheep”.