Dave Maslen, Chief Partnerships and Sustainability Officer of the New Zealand Merino Company (NZM), walks us through the evolution of wool and the qualities that make it increasingly recognized as a superior and sustainable material.
As we journey towards a more sustainable future, the world is waking up to some home truths. While technological innovations have a part to play, sometimes the answer is looking back to how things were done before humans got too clever – and started causing damage at scale.
Global consumers are now more informed and opinionated than ever before. Transparency is the watchword with brands under the microscope to share and substantiate their efforts to improve their impacts on our planet.
Since the rise of polyester in the 1950s, plastic fibres and furnishings have dominated global markets however, consumer attitudes are changing. As the world pivots towards natural fibres, the 10,000-year legacy of wool puts it at the fore of this cultural shift.
Globally, over 50% of consumers say sustainability is one of their top four key purchasing criteria, and the numbers are even higher when focusing solely on millennial and Gen Z consumers. These are the shoppers who will shape the future of retail. This is a wonderful opportunity for fibres to not only meet the demand but to take things a step further – going beyond sustainability to actively cultivate regeneration and help return the planet to its thriving natural state.
Wool is set to play a pivotal role in the years to come as experts worldwide look to nature for the answers.
Nature’s own solution
For decades we have been questioning – why try and replicate something that nature has already perfected? Wool naturally holds properties that synthetics can only mimic – most often with the application of chemistry, and its associated side effects — and that’s not to speak of the microplastics and end-of-life legacy associated with plastic products and textiles.
We all know that wool is breathable, comfortable and warm, but its true value comes into play with the inherent qualities we can’t see.
For many years, wool, and farming in general, have caught a bad rap regarding the environment.
This is changing, and it’s changing fast. Current standards in the works, including the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s draft Land Sector and Removals Guidance, consider carbon removals on farms, not simply emissions, giving brands and consumers a much more accurate picture.
Work is ongoing worldwide to educate brands and consumers about the reality of farming and the benefits of wool. For our part, NZM works in partnership with programs like Land to Market to empower our growers with outcome-based solutions and promote regenerative options to brands.
Of course, not all wool is created equal. At NZM, all of our wool growers commit to the ZQ standard, meeting strict ethical and sustainable requirements.
It is no longer enough for brands to pay lip service to sustainability, consumers – and regulators – require transparency and aren’t afraid to call out greenwashing.
This is why NZM created the ZQRX wool sourcing programme. This was designed for growers who take things a step further, going beyond certification to actively work on improving our world, not simply reducing harm.
ZQRX measures improvement over time giving growers the confidence that employing regenerative farming principles is having a positive impact and giving brands the data they need to meet reporting objectives, paired with the stories their customers want to hear.
True regenerative farming is a collective effort, something our growers need help to achieve. ZQRX brings them together with brands who invest and experts in each of our 15 focus areas encompassing the environment, people and animals. Our partnership with Land to Market is a shining example of this, driving measurable impact on land health by incorporating Savory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification protocol to deliver quantifiable results.
Today’s innovators are working with nature – not against it – and we constantly hear of new uses for wool. This will only continue as the sustainable attributes of wool become more widely known and celebrated.
Thirty years ago, active outdoor clothing was all synthetic, carpet manufacturers had forgotten their roots and babies only wore wool if they had a talented nana that could knit. The tide has turned and with it, wool has come back into focus. No longer just in the realm of fabric, wool can now be found in the likes of kayaks, kitchen knives and even sticking plasters.
After 17 years at The New Zealand Merino Company, it’s a joy to see the wider world catching on to what we, and our nanas, have known all along.