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Pressrelease | 2023-06-22
handmade manufacturing yarns from natural sheep wool, female hands closeup

Study reveals sustainability benefits of Swedish wool

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute has analysed the sustainability of Swedish wool. The results indicate that Swedish wool production can have lower climate impact and several other positive effects compared to wool production in other countries. The study has been carried out within The Swedish Wool Initiative led by Axfoundation.

“Swedish wool can offer both lower climate impact and water usage than imports. Additionally, Sweden’s animal welfare regulations are often stricter than those of other countries, resulting in lower antibiotic usage as a positive outcome. Swedish wool has great potential to contribute to the transition towards a sustainable textile industry,” says Elvira Molin, lifecycle expert at IVL.

Today, the textile industry consumes significant resources and has a large environmental and climate footprint. One necessary change in production is to use, or rather return to using, sustainable raw materials for textiles. Wool is a prime example of such material since it is natural and renewable, and can be reused, or broken down in nature, thereby reducing the material’s environmental impact.

Demand for wool is increasing in Sweden, but most of the need is currently met through imported wool, while over half of the wool produced in Sweden is discarded or incinerated.

“Swedish wool comes from animals in sheep and lamb meat production, where wool is a byproduct. These sheep are bred for meat rather than wool quality, which means that the wool doesn’t always lend itself to the finest textile manufacturing. So far, it has been challenging to find a market for wool in other qualities,” says Elvira Molin.

However, there is now a noticeable change in the market, with more and more Swedish brands in fashion, outdoor, and home textiles expressing interest in purchasing Swedish wool. According to the project The Swedish Wool Initiative External link, opens in new window., which is behind the sustainability analysis, there is interest in expanding its use in everything from fine textiles to lining in jackets and use in woven carpets.

“To strengthen the expansion of the Swedish wool industry, we need to address issues such as quality assurance, pricing, and infrastructure for wool processing. These are challenges that the entire industry are tackling through the Swedish Wool Initiative. This study is an important step in understanding the overall sustainability impact of wool,” says Johan Sidenmark, project manager at Axfoundation.

The results from the sustainability analysis suggest that Swedish wool production can offer lower climate impact and more positive effects compared to wool production in other countries. One advantage is that water usage in Swedish agriculture is lower than in other countries, reducing the water footprint of domestic feed production.

Swedish farms also generally allocate more land for grazing than for crop cultivation, contributing to increased biodiversity by preserving diverse landscapes and habitats. Another advantage is that Swedish animal welfare regulations are stricter than in other countries, resulting in lower antibiotic usage and fewer medical interventions for animals. However, one factor that increases the climate impact of Swedish wool production is that sheep in Sweden are almost always fed supplemental feed during the winter, which is not necessary for countries where grazing is available year-round.

“In the next step, we hope to conduct a comprehensive life cycle analysis where we can manipulate different parameters to see which factors have the greatest effect, such as the number of uses of a garment, washing, or solely feed in primary production,” says Elvira Molin.

Download the report here (report in English) Opens in new window.

For more information, please contact:
Elvira Molin, elvira.molin@ivl.se, +46 (0)10-788 67 39
Johan Sidenmark, johan.sidenmark@axfoundation.se, +46 (0)76-140 91 20

Facts: Wool and Textile Production

In Sweden, approximately 1,000 metric tons of wool are produced annually, but over 50 per cent of the wool is discarded, burned, or destroyed. Swedish wool is rarely considered a marketable resource and is instead disposed of as a byproduct of the meat industry.

At the same time, Sweden imports around 1,650 metric tons of wool each year in the form of raw wool, carded wool, and yarn to meet the growing demand for wool in the country. Most of the wool used in the textile industry is imported, primarily from Australia, China, and New Zealand.

Global demand for new textile fibers is projected to increase by 150% by 2050, placing greater pressure on both climate and the environment.

Swedish brands in the fashion, outdoor and home textile industry are increasingly seeking regionally produced, bio-based, and recyclable materials with circular potential. Wool is an example of such material.

Facts: The Swedish Wool Initiative

The sustainability analysis is part of the project The Swedish Wool Initiative External link, opens in new window. led by Axfoundation and funded by Vinnova, as well as “Ull som resurs 2.0” led by Hushållningssällskapet Halland and financed by the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

The Swedish Wool Initiative is a collaboration among around 20 organizations: Axfoundation, Filippa K, Fjällräven, Tiger of Sweden, Klippan Yllefabrik, Smart Textiles/Borås Science Center, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Chalmers Industriteknik, Circularista, LE Ullkonsult, Norrby gård, Västkustens Ullinsamling/CC Wool, Ullcentrum, Ullkontoret, Svenska Fårklipparförbundet, LRF, and TrusTrace, among others.

The project’s expert group includes Animalia, Norilia, Hushållningssällskapet Halland, and the Swedish Sheep Breeding Association. The project is carried out with support from Vinnova’s Sustainable Industry program.

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