Er, something’s wrong with this picture

Andy Caughey considers the wool in schools debate. 

When New Zealand wool, produced in New Zealand’s extensive farming system to the highest international standards of quality and welfare, is overlooked by New Zealand’s Ministry of Education in favour of imported synthetic carpets for rural classrooms, wool farmers are going to be…a little upset.  

In July it was announced that a government-funded initiative will install synthetic carpet in more than 600 rural schools throughout New Zealand. This caused quite a stir and brought out supporters of wool from across the country and the political spectrum. 

The Ministry of Education said it was the right decision, meeting the Ministry’s product requirements and fulfilling its performance, recycling and carbon footprint goals. We know that a wool product is the better option so where did this “right” decision go so wrong?  

Simply put, we live in a world where logic doesn’t prevail without evidence. Wool products compete in a global market that requires proof of performance; both of aesthetic and functional performance, and contribution to the wellbeing of our health (hands up who wants to play on plastic?), our communities and the environment.  

In order to be considered and selected, the virtues of wool need to be evidenced for decision-makers of carpeting and interior products, be it for schools, offices or for individuals.  

Sadly, there has been a lack of investment in New Zealand strong wool over the past three decades to evidence its performance, develop new products, and promote its use.   

Wool Impact is adding weight to their work through investment in environmental impact measurement, evidencing the performance benefits of wool products, and ensuring the broader positive and negative impacts (such as microplastics) of all fibres are considered.  

Collectively, we’ll work with brands to help them present the information that’s needed and provide evidence to specifiers (architects, government) to support the evolution of procurement criteria where they unnecessarily disadvantage wool or are not encompassing enough to properly consider wool.  

The Ministry of Education’s procurement team has been working with us to clarify their flooring standards, procurement criteria, and what’s important to them, from both a user and an asset owner perspective, to support the development of wool products suitable for flooring applications in schools and provision of the right information to support their consideration in future tenders.  

The tenders were assessed on performance, safety, contributing to a healthy internal environment, durability, moisture retention, environmental impact, ongoing supply and maintenance, and sustainability (including recyclability).  

Wool’s not perfect, nothing is, but for a country that’s economy was built on the sheep’s back, that has made a scene of removing plastic bags, and that’s considered amongst the most environmentally progressive in the world, it’s a jolly good option and we need to prove it.  

State schools have the option to install carpets of their choice using other capital funding they receive for property improvements. Bremworth, a leader in New Zealand wool flooring, was quick to the party offering discounts to schools that chose this approach with their Wool in Education initiative. We believe they shouldn’t have to forgo other educational priorities to fork out for sensible flooring.  

Collectively, we’re rallying for a future for wool in Aotearoa New Zealand’s public spaces.