Concerns are mounting in the wool industry surrounding the European Union's plans to introduce a labelling legislation to provide information on a product's environmental credentials.
And according to wool industry specialists, instead of creating an opportunity, the labels have the potential to significantly disadvantage all natural fibres, including wool, if released in its current state.
Within a couple of years, it is EU's intent to include the environmental label on all saleable products.
But Australian Wool Innovation's program manager for fibre advocacy and eco-credentials Angus Ireland said the labels, although intended to disclose to customers the size of the environmental footprint through a scheme called PEF (Product Environmental Footprint), is not working on a level playing field.
"The EU are pretty confident if consumers are well informed, they will make the call in favour of the planet and purchase, or preference, products with a lighter environmental footprint," Mr Ireland said.
"But we have serous concerns that it won't represent a level playing field for all fibre types.
We have serous concerns that it won't represent a level playing field for all fibre types......and a fibre like wool will be disadvantaged- Angus Ireland, AWI
"And a fibre like wool will be disadvantaged compared to fossil fuel based fibres like polyester and nylon."
Mr Ireland said although there are some good points to the EU system, the problem lies within the methodology PEF are using to rate wool against the other fibres.
PEF attempts to measure the footprint of textiles across the whole life-cycle of a fibre.
This would includes growing the wool in countries like Australia; early stage processing of the wool in places like India and China; then later stage processing into fabrics or garments which might occur in Europe.
It intends to measure the 'use phase' and recycling of clothing as well as the end of life - a comprehensive assessment of the environmental harm that occurs at each stage along the supply chain.
"It has a comprehensive list of things it looks at," Mr Ireland said.
"In fact, 16 different impact areas such as climate change, land use, water use, and pollution of waterways.
"The system amalgamates all of those impacts together into a single score that it puts in front of consumers at point of sale.
"But it doesn't weigh them up equally - it gives a lot more weight to climate change than other characteristics."
The major concern with this system, Mr Ireland said, is it only measures harmful impacts, and is completely blind to the positives of a natural fibre like wool.
"The current PEF system can't positively reward natural and renewable fibres that are biodegradable," he said.
"It doesn't assess those positive impacts on the environment so wool and other natural fibres don't get any positive scoring for those traits."
And he said it also doesn't present a level playing field in terms of individual stages measured.
"Everything a farmer does is fully accounted for by the PEF system - all the land use water use, greenhouse gasses emitted," Mr Ireland said.
"But for clothing made from synthetic fibres, they actually get a free raw material, in the form of oil, that bubbles out of the ground - free of any environmental footprint.
"Farmers don't get that when they grow wool or cotton or anything else.
"It is often the farming stages which is one of the most impactful stages in the supply chain.
"So this difference between natural fibres and fossil fuel based fibres is a big problem that is not being addressed in Europe."
Through the life of apparel and footwear technical secretariat, AWI have been participating in the EU's process for the last three years, continually pointing out the limitations and seeking and providing solutions as to how those issues can be fixed
Mr Ireland said they hope to engage with the EU to change and resolve some of the methodology around the environmental footprint.
"But it is not an easy ask for the EU because their system is designed for all types of products," Mr Ireland said.
"It works relatively well on things like white goods and products that are entirely man made.
"But the textile area is somewhat unique in that there are man-made products competing with naturally grown products - and that is where the PEF system falls down."
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