Fast forward to the 2020’s, and we are still as dedicated as ever to researching, developing and promoting the benefits of sustainable, natural materials and in particular, 100% pure wool for insulated packaging. As a certified B Corp, we at Woolcool® have pledged to always consider the impact of our business decisions on the planet and the community around us, and that includes transparency in sharing the rationale behind how we reach those decisions. To achieve B Corp certification, you need to go through a pretty intensive, in depth and somewhat intrusive independent assessment to ensure what you are saying is actually what you are doing. As an independent certification body, B Corp hold any company using their logo to the highest of standards.
The power and reach of the internet and social media means information is readily available in ways we’ve never experienced before. This includes everything from the useful and factual to misinformation, fiction, myths, and to add into that mix, opinions, on every subject. Complexity is often replaced with 280 characters which can sometimes render the facts indeterminate. A ‘headline’ mentality means that research into the reality of a statement is quite often neglected in favour of a quick answer.
Sustainability is a complex and multi-faceted topic. Here at Woolcool®, we are open and transparent. This ethos allows our clients, customers, colleagues, partners, supporters and friends to make informed decisions about our product, its benefits and the motivations behind our company’s actions. In this blog we want to openly address some of those questions and in particular those raised by individuals with concern around animal welfare and sustainability.
First of all, we recognise that there are pros and cons to any business model and that we are by no means perfect. Yet we are always striving to improve our impact, with ultimate perfection as our end of the rainbow goal.
Any consumption and more importantly, where that tips into over-consumption or overuse of any material, including plastic, cardboard, paper, wool or cotton, is a potential problem and will ultimately have an impact. Whether the impact is upon on ancient forests with trees felled for paper and cardboard, plastic in the sea, intensive farming or use of water for cotton fields, there is no silver bullet solution. Our focus is on the right material, for the right application, fully researched from beginning to end of life. We build strong, trusted and structured relationships with our chosen partners rather than just chasing profit at any cost. We ensure that we fully understand the beginning, middle and end of our supply chains and continually review and improve them.
We appreciate that many of the people who share our environmental outlook also have passionate ethical values about animals and their treatment, as do we, which is why we think it is important to talk about our research and the facts and reasoning behind the use of our wool.
Why do we believe Wool is the right material for this application?
After almost 20 years of research and development into insulative materials, we are certain of the core principle behind Woolcool® – that when creating insulated packaging, using natural, easily renewable and abundant materials instead of non-renewable, finite or polluting options, 100% pure wool is demonstrably and factually better. We have invested heavily in exploring the science behind our product, not just in the way it works, but right down to the inherent properties of the fibre, and we continue to do so, to learn more about this amazing natural material.
Often, when analysing any material, the focus tends to be on one aspect of its impact, such as origin or end of life recycling potential, rather than taking into account the whole life cycle. In contrast, we have taken time to analyse every area of wool’s impact; from the sheep and their carbon footprint at beginning of life, through to the positive environmental benefits Wool can bring when used for this application, to what happens when wool ends up in the soil. The full bio-economy analysis of Wool. This modern Woolcool® research, combined with a foundation of decades of independent academic research, further cements the facts underlying the true sustainability of wool.
In terms of environmental impact when compared to other materials, wool comes out on top as one of the most sustainable materials known to man. Outlined below is a selection of those aspects.
Beginning of Life:
Wool is a completely renewable fibre resource. Every year, after shearing, sheep produce a new fleece, which can be shorn off again the following year. Natural fibres, such as wool, are totally biodegradable. Wool is made of a natural protein, similar to that found in human hair. When disposed of, pure wool decomposes in the soil in a matter of months, releasing valuable nutrients back into the earth, acting like a fertiliser.
Millions of tons of pure sheared fleece are available annually both in the UK and globally. Currently, there is even an oversupply of wool, with warehouses sat full. The material is there, whether we use it or not.
Like human hair, sheep will always re-grow their fleece. So as long as we have sheep, we will have wool.
Ease of sourcing
Woolcool® sources a good percentage of its wool from the UK, with other elements of our mix coming from Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. We do not and will not source Chinese Wool.
Sheep have a carbon footprint and whilst carbon is a widely discussed topic in relation to farming, there are many benefits to wool, particularly for regenerative farming. Sheep and their wool are in fact part of the natural (biogenic) carbon cycle and have been for 1000’s of years. Wool contains carbon; this is derived from grazing in green pastures, consuming the organic carbon stored in plants and converting it to wool, thus sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. One (1) kilogram of clean wool equates to 1.8kg of CO2 stored. By comparison, the carbon in major synthetic materials and fibres is extracted from fossil fuels, thus de-sequestering carbon stored from millions of years ago.
Middle of Life:
Wool is easily and efficiently cleaned; it doesn’t need to go through harsh processes to achieve international hygiene accreditation standards.
Wool is a superior insulator, it outperforms all other materials when compared like for like. This means temperature sensitive foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals can be kept cooler for longer in transit.
The natural cushioning effect of wool means that delicate items such as vaccines can be delivered safely and intact. The inherent elasticity, or ‘crimp’, of wool fibres, enables them to withstand being bent 20,000 times without breaking.
Absorption of Toxins
Wool can absorb smells and harmful chemicals. This is not necessarily relevant in our industry, but just another amazing characteristic of wool as a ‘smart technical fibre’.
Historically, non-woven felts were one of the oldest textiles to be used for human apparel. As they were constructed of wool, and fairly thick, they were important protective garments throughout history, providing much needed insulation in many climates. Today, this simple process is employed in the manufacture of Woolcool® products for insulated packaging applications instead of clothing.
Reduction in material usage
The superior insulative performance of wool means that less is needed when compared to other materials. Compared to some cardboard insulation solutions, for example, Woolcool® needs only one third (33%) of the material and half (50%) of the amount of icepacks to achieve the same insulation performance over the same defined period.
Delivery & Storage
Woolcool® is flat-packed and light, meaning greater efficiencies and cost savings in transport, warehousing and ease of handling. As a rule of thumb, one truckload of Woolcool® is the approximate equivalent of 5 truckloads of polystyrene boxes.
ISO 14001 & B Corp Status
Woolcool® is committed to reducing its environmental and social impact. We believe that business should be used as a force for good and not purely for profit.
End of Life:
Recyclability & Reusability
Wool is recyclable and can be re-used in many ways. It is a durable and surprising strong material. Check out our social media links to see just how many different ways our packaging gets reused. Some of our customers get their Woolcool® liners back from consumers and reuse them several times.
Compostability & Biodegradability
Pure wool is 100% biodegradable and compostable. When returned to the ground it breaks down into nitrates which add nutrients back into the soil. It is a true bioeconomy, circle of life product.
Woolcool® can easily be made into new Woolcool® liners or new wool products without going through intensive or energy consumptive processes.
Want to return your packaging? Check out our Pioneering Circular Economy Scheme! – www.woolcool.com/pioneers
‘Just how sustainable is Wool?’
Our 100% pure wool is washed and scoured in the UK according to stringent ISO 14001 environmental standards. Woolcool® products are also made in the UK; the methods we employ are not heavily processed or mechanised and use only a fraction of the heat and energy required to create poly-plastics, or synthetically ‘blended’ or ‘bonded’ textile alternatives. Our wool is simply loosely felted; a traditional manufacturing process that is almost as much hand-crafted as it is industrialised.
The wider supply chain is predominantly UK based and we work to continually simplify this. Woolcool® uses a majority British & Irish wool mix, with elements of European, Mediterranean and Turkish wool. This ensures continuity of supply in case of any unforeseen restriction. Our supply chain relationships are set up to be secure, consistent and capable of matching future growth in demand. We strive to keep the travel miles of any materials to a minimum, whilst maintaining a sustainable business. There are areas where we will never purchase Wool from, due to reputation, animal welfare issues and/or ethics, even if much of the Wool from these sources is significantly cheaper.
The advantages of wool are not only environmental, but they are also supported by rafts of scientific data proving that wool, in like for like testing, outperforms manmade and other materials such as polystyrene, foil bubble-wrap, cardboard and cotton. This independent data reinforces the sustainable credentials of wool.
Wool’s superior performance means a reduction in the amount of insulative material needed and also a reduction in the requirement for icepacks. This, in turn, has a positive knock-on effect in reducing the energy required to freeze icepacks, for lower water, plastic and other packaging material usage, including lighter finished parcels. Our clients also see their own carbon footprint shrink, as Woolcool® insulated packaging takes up less space in their delivery and storage chains – leading to lower tares, fewer delivery runs, and less fuel used. Wool’s exceptionally efficient insulative qualities has allowed many of our customers to switch away from heavily fuel consumptive temperature-controlled vehicles, or indeed never to have to consider them in the first place!
An updated and in-depth analysis of our carbon footprint is currently underway; where areas of environmental impact are identified, we commit to offset or adapt processes to reduce them.
‘Do sheep need to be sheared and is it humane?’
The vast majority of sheep breeds need to be sheared; there are a few which will shed their wool naturally, however those that do not, need to be sheared. Advice on Sheep Welfare from the RSCPA states that sheep need to be sheared as part of the instruction of how to keep them safely. Without shearing, sheep risk external parasites and overheating in the warmer months. In the same way you may take your dog to the groomers, give them de-wormer, bathe them after a long muddy walk or even take yourself to get your hair cut. In fact, not only is shearing good hygiene practice for sheep, but is absolutely and fundamentally vital for their wellbeing.
Wool grown by sheep during the year is called a fleece, this is then trimmed by highly skilled practitioners called shearers. In the UK, the British Wool organisation trains around 800 shearers every year to ensure they are correctly educated in handling the sheep whilst shearing, keeping the sheep safe and comfortable when having their hair cut.
People have kept sheep since the Stone Age, and across the world today there are more than 200 different breeds. Many countries, including the UK & Europe have extremely high animal welfare standards, with regular checks on farms and the practices of farmers. The International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) is a body set up to unify and set standards in the Wool industry and to provide research and education about wool. In the early 2010s, IWTO published its own set of more in-depth guidelines for sheep welfare, which is ever evolving and ensures that the welfare of the animal is at the forefront of practices of all of its members globally. These guidelines are in addition to each individual countries’ own Governmental Animal Welfare regulations.
Sheep are important contributors to landscape preservation and biodiversity; this is particularly evident in the UK – just look out of a car window on most journeys to see evidence of this! Along with stringent checks, measures and international rules around sheep welfare to adhere to, speak to any farmer and they will tell you the benefits of sheep as naturally grazing pasture animals. Our experience of these farmers is that they genuinely look after their animals and care deeply about their welfare.
We work closely with British Wool and our merchants to ensure we have as much control as possible over the type and quality of wool that goes into making Woolcool®.
The sheep from which our wool comes are not killed for their wool. In fact, no sheep are killed just for their wool. The wool we use is not the kind that is used in textiles and clothing – it’s too coarse and would make a very itchy woolly jumper! Historically, it has had very few applications for which it could be used once sheared. For farmers with this type of sheep, the process of shearing is actually a welfare necessity and one that often costs the farmers more than they gain from it. If farmers had a choice and cost were the only deciding factor, they wouldn’t choose to shear the sheep. However, as explained above, they need to and choose to, in order to keep their flocks fit and healthy.
We do not use lamb’s wool and the sheep that provide our wool are, generally speaking, kept for rearing and flock preservation. Until Woolcool®, the coarse wool we use would often go to waste or be burnt by farmers. Today, we make very good use of thousands of tons of it each year.
As we have said, sheep need to be sheared, for whatever the reason they are kept, whether it’s as a pet or commercially on a farm, and as a result, there is an annually renewed supply of wool. Due to the acceleration of online purchases in both the Food and Pharmaceutical sectors, demand for insulated and protective packaging is growing. Wool is sustainable, abundant and available; so why not use it, instead of creating even more over-processed materials?
Most of us have seen the damage inflicted on our marine life and the eco-system from man-made materials. A measurable benefit of using wool is that, in the last year alone, customers using Woolcool® instead of man-made alternatives saved the equivalent weight of 416 elephants of polystyrene from eventually going to landfill. At the end of the wool’s life, it will break down, whether in water or land. It will add nutrients to the soil, it can also be safely used by birds and other animals for nesting material or reused by everyone for a vast number of other applications.
There is plenty of misunderstanding about wool and its origin. We hope that above has provided a factual and informative overview, and help understanding of the values that drive Woolcool®. As a family business, Woolcool® is a company with a strong ethical base, founded on environmental values and an objective to be genuinely sustainable. We believe Mother Nature knows best. That’s why, after thousands of years of evolution Nature has created wool – its very own technical ‘smart fibre’ to protect and preserve sheep. In our own small way, we have proven time, and again that wool does indeed outperform less sustainable, manmade alternatives in the world of insulated packaging.
The Woolcool® team is very proud of its B Corp status, environmental stance and core values. Although this piece has its main focus on the material we use, we are also conscious about our social impact. Our belief is that environmental and social impact are intrinsically linked, which is why we are committed to investing in and supporting our team and also the local community. By adopting a genuinely progressive outlook, we want to ensure that our decisions and practices have a positive impact. As an innovator in the use of wool we are able to ask challenging questions of accepted practice and lobby for changes in attitude towards the use of natural and sustainable materials wherever we can. As Woolcool® grows and becomes more influential, we commit to using this platform as a force for good.
There is a lot to be learnt from debate and open dialogue, and that is why we encourage conversations with anyone interested to find out more about what we do, our product, its impact and most importantly why we do it. We are passionate about Woolcool®, both as a company and a product. Together, we hope to build a legacy which, in its own tiny way, will contribute to the futureproofing of our planet and its communities for generations to come.
Please do get in touch and ask as many questions as you like – anyone who knows us knows we can talk and talk and talk…