The Environment

Is Wool Bad for the Environment?

If we consider the whole life cycle of a garment made from wool there are various points we can make as to whether it is bad for the environment. Picking you way through online resources is tricky. Many people have an angle. Vegans are dogmatcicaly anything anything to do with animals, whilst many information sources are sponsored by the wool industry. I have tried to pick my way through. When reading up on this it is clear that many authors do not stick to one country. For example export of live sheep, may be common in Australia, but not so much in the UK.

Growing of Wool & Grazing of Sheep - Conclusion: Quite Bad

If we consider that wool grows on sheep there are two angles to view this: If the sheep kept specifically for wool. Or is the wool effectively a by-product of growing sheep for meat? Typically a breeding flow of sheep would be kept for lambing, and these ewes are kept year after year to give a lamb or two every spring. They are also sheared once a year.

Lamb (the meat of a sheep) is one of the most carbon intensive meats you can eat. But is wool a bi-product that would otherwise be wasted? Or is it the other way around, wool demand drives meat production. . . if the meat were a bi-product of wool I think it would be some what less expensive. As it is lamb is one of the most expensive meats you can buy.

Grazing of sheep can and does cause problems. Sheep are often kept on "poor" land. Poor for the farmer, but perhaps good for nature. Sheep can therefore damage sites such as moorland, and other "wild areas". The thing to remember is that is crowded European countries there is very little "wild" all but ancient woodlands have had some anthropogenic influence. 

Carbon Foot Print of Wool Compared to Other Fabrics - Conclusion: We Don't Know

The single most pressing challenge facing people on this planet is climate change. So how much CO2 does wool production create? Well estimates vary by a large amount! There are not many studies available, that give value.


Foot Print


co2 fottprint of fabrics
Wool 24.9 kg CO 2 -e per kg
Wool 14 kgCO2e/kg
Wool Polyester Blend 13.55 kgCO2e/kg as above
Cotton 5.34 kgCO2e/kg as above

So deepening which value you use from above wool is twice as bad as artificial fibers and cotton . . . .  or about the same. . . or about 5 times worse than cotton. It is clear we need more carbon foot printing of wool, before we can be clear on its true impact.

Wool in Use - Quite Bad

I have several cotton and acrylic jumpers that I hate which have lasted forever, I still have a rugby shirt from school which is 20 years old, and still strong as ever. My oldest wool jumper that I regularly wear is perhaps 3 years old. Wool is not as durable as cotton or synthetic fibers. It shrink when you wash it incorrectly, sometimes it shrinks even when it is washed at the correct temperature. It shrinks when you put it in a tumble drier.

Over time wool degrades and the fibers are prone to breaking, it is also prone to bobbling. I like old stuff, holes and bobbles rock, but many do not and so the life span of their jumper is short.

In the fashion scene this matters little many will swap clothes before they are worn out. But for practical work wear and the likes wool may not last as well.

The Washing of Wool - Good

Micro plastics, were banded in shampoos some time ago, but we dump tons of these in the ocean every year . . how? We when we wash our clothes the fibres get washed from the clothing and then in to sewers and then in to rivers and then the sea.  Synthetic fibers will not degrade for many years, but wool being made keratin will degrade much quicker.

Disposal of Wool - Depends

The fact that wool degrades is a bonus when it comes to disposal you could even throw your old jumper on the compost heap. It does not get a lot more sustainable than that! However, how many people will compost their jumper? Not many, so in landfill your jumper will degrade and become methane. Sometimes this is recovered for energy generation, other times not.

Is Wool Bad for the Environment? - Conclusions

Whilst wool has some advantages in terms of disposal and laundry impacts over synthetics, it is clear that it does not stack up very well against cotton, and other natural fibers such as hemp. I wrote this piece because I am in the market for a jumper and wanted to make a review of available information. My primary concern is global warming ergo carbon footprint of fabric choices, it is clear that wool not only has a high or comparable carbon footprint to synthetics, but will not last as long either, and for me this means that environmentally wool is not a good choice.


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