Australia is the largest supplier of fine apparel wool in the world, produced from diverse sheep production systems. To date, broad scale analyses of the environmental credentials of Australian wool have not used detailed farm-scale data, resulting in a knowledge gap regarding the performance of this product. This study is the first multiple impact life cycle assessment (LCA) investigation of three wool types, produced in three geographically defined regions of Australia: the high rainfall zone located in New South Wales (NSW HRZ) producing super-fine Merino wool, the Western Australian wheat-sheep zone (WA WSZ) producing fine Merino wool, and the southern pastoral zone (SA SPZ) of central South Australia, producing medium Merino wool. Inventory data were collected from both case study farms and regional datasets. Life cycle inventory and impact assessment methods were applied to determine resource use (energy and water use, and land occupation) and GHG emissions, including emissions and removal associated with land use (LU) and direct land use change (dLUC). Land occupation was divided into use of arable and non-arable land resources. A comparison of biophysical allocation and system expansion methods for handling co-production of greasy wool and live weight (for meat) was included.Based on the regional analysis results, GHG emissions (excluding LU and dLUC) were 20.1 ± 3.1 (WA WSZ, mean ± 2 S.D) to 21.3 ± 3.4 kg CO2-e/kg wool in the NSW HRZ, with no significant difference between regions or wool type. Accounting for LU and dLUC emissions and removals resulted in either very modest increases in emissions (0.3%) or reduced net emissions by 0–11% depending on pasture management and revegetation activities, though a higher degree of uncertainty was observed in these results. Fossil fuel energy demand ranged from 12.5 ± 4.1 in the SA SPZ to 22.5 ± 6.2 MJ/kg wool (WA WSZ) in response to differences in grazing intensity. Fresh water consumption ranged from 204.3 ± 59.1 in the NSW HRZ to 393.7 ± 123.8 L/kg wool in the WA WSZ, with differences primarily relating to climate. Stress-weighted water use ranged from 11.0 ± 3.0 (SA SPZ) to 74.6 ± 119.5 L H2O-e/kg wool (NSW HRZ) and followed an opposite trend to water consumption in response to the different levels of water stress across the regions. Non-arable grazing land was found to range from 55% to almost 100% of total land occupation. Different methods for handling co-production of greasy wool and live weight changed estimated total GHG emissions by a factor of three, highlighting the sensitivity to this methodological choice and the significance of meat production in the wool supply chain. The results presented improve the understanding of environmental impacts and resource use in these wool production regions as a basis for more detailed full supply chain analysis.
Journal of Cleaner Production – Elsevier
Published: May 20, 2016
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