Wool production is a key contributor to biodiversity loss and climate change, according to a new report titled Shear Destruction: Wool, Fashion and the Biodiversity Crisis produced by the Center for Biological Diversity and Collective Fashion Justice’s CIRCUMFAUNA initiative.

The report found that, compared to other materials used in similar types of clothing, the average climate cost of sheep’s wool is three times greater than acrylic and more than five times greater than conventionally grown cotton. Wool uses 367 times more land per bale than cotton, and the chemically intensive process of cleaning shorn wool pollutes waterways and kills aquatic life.

The wool industry destroys habitats and heats the planet due to the CO2 and methane emissions it emits, but the report found that 87% of consumers still perceive wool production as environmentally safe, which shows how the industry’s propaganda mislead them. 

Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity and co-author of the report, said: “Wool clothing comes with a heavy price tag of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, biodiversity loss and pollution. Nothing about wool is sustainable.”

The authors used data from the Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Australian and U.S. government agency reports, industry sources and scientific papers.

Another co-author, Emma Hakansson, Collective Fashion Justice founding director, stated: “Sheep grazing pasture land may seem innocent and natural, but sheep are introduced, bred and eventually slaughtered while the grazed lands are degraded and prevented from thriving.”

A third co-author, Joshua Katcher, the founder of the CIRCUMFAUNA initiative, said: “We need to have an honest discussion about wool’s outsized impact on biodiversity loss and climate change and transition to plant-derived and high-tech innovative materials that don’t take such a big toll on native species and the climate.”

The Center for Biological Diversity and Collective Fashion Justice is calling on fashion industry associations, brands and designers to commit to phasing out or reducing wool use by at least 50% by 2025. Most vegans — including me — would like this to happen sooner. A commitment of 100% reduction right now. Committing to something doesn’t require much time to prepare, so there are no excuses. Either they care about the animals and the environment, or they don’t.

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.