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Sustainable wool: Baacodes with a backstory
Julia Levitt, 17 Oct 08
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Happy Friday, everyone. We have a quick bit of good news … for sheep, in particular. And also for ethical types who enjoy their warm woolens.

As most of us know, shopping to match your values can be a headache-inducing endeavor. At Worldchanging, we've always been major advocates of the backstory principle. In a sentence: be aware of the story behind your stuff. When companies are transparent about their principles and processes, shoppers can be more confident that they don't need to scrutinize the fine print every time they need shampoo or socks. (If you'd like to read more in-depth on the topic, dive into the Worldchanging archives.)

icebreaker%20scarf_small.jpgSo we applaud our friends at Icebreaker, an outdoor clothing company based in Wellington, New Zealand, for their new adorably-named "Baacode" program. Each of the merino wool garments they make is tagged with a code, which the customer can enter on the Icebreaker website to check out the product's backstory. According to Icebreaker, "customers will see the living conditions of the sheep, meet the high country farmers who run the sheep stations, and follow through the production process." Icebreaker is confident that its policies for ethical and environmentally sound manufacturing will hold up under inspection.

We hope that Icebreaker, the largest manufacturer of merino wool clothing in the world, raises the industry bar a little higher with its new transparency effort. And we hope that one day, we live in a world where corporate social and environmental responsibility are so common that special tags will be a thing of the past.

Top photo credit: flickr/James@NZ, Creative Commons license.
Bottom photo courtesy of Icebreaker.

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All very nice I'm sure...but New Zealand's main emitter of greenhouse gases is agriculture and sheep -- being enteric fermenters of methane -- are a major source of such emissions.

In NZ there are 60 million sheep. In Australia there are close to 100 million.

So whether the sheep gets treated Ok and is considered with the touch of human kindness -- it's hardly ipso facto "sustainable" agriculture.

So the sustainability question is rather what's being done to plug those farts and burps rather than how good a time of it the sheep have while alive.

You're mixing up the issues and getting caught up in ethics rather than climate science while New Zealand wool growers find a niche market with a bit of PR to spin cash their way in the shops.

Good on them for that -- but let's not obscure the main sustainability issues.

So here's a tip: be aware of the story behind your stuff.

Posted by: Dave Riley on 18 Oct 08

Choose your poison - synthetics from oil or some other fiber. If you live in a northern clime wool is a very efficient and long lasting choice. Especially if, after use, it is recycled into a blanket, slippers or some other usable item. The cost of emissions for the lifecycle is pretty darned low.

On another note: I own two icebreaker pieces and LOVE them. They are worn regularly and need washing less often than any other item in my closet as they can air out instead of needing to be washed when they begin to smell. Oh and they don't need to be dry cleaned - they can be washed replacing some other nasty fabrics in my work wardrobe.

I hope they're very successful as they're offering an excellent product. You only need one or two of an item and you're good for years to come.

Posted by: mud on 20 Oct 08

Dave Riley wrote: "New Zealand's main emitter of greenhouse gases is agriculture and sheep -- being enteric fermenters of methane -- are a major source of such emissions."

My understanding (please provide references if you think I'm wrong) is that a large amount of the "ruminant methane problem" is from feeding grain to cows, which is an unnatural diet for them, not from feeding ruminants their natural food.

Domesting ruminants in the developed world produce about 60% more methane per unit body weight, due to high-quality feed. Grains are high in sugar and starch, and produce a lot of methane. Poor-quality forage also produces high methane. Well-managed, rotational grazing is not only best for the animals, it also produces the lowest methane.


Also, it seems that all domestic ruminant methane production is still only 20% of the total, according to the same reference. This doesn't disagree with Dave's "major source" assertion, but it does appear that putting efforts into reducing the other 80% might be more fruitful.

If ruminants are such a problem, we'd better start getting rid of the deer, which where I live, at least, outnumber domestic ruminants by a considerable margin.

Posted by: Jan Steinman on 27 Oct 08



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