The typical “carbon negative” product involves a manufacturer buying carbon offsets to, say, protect forests—something that can be tricky to get right and that doesn’t eliminate the fact that making the product added CO2 to the atmosphere. A new carbon-negative wool hoodie is different: The process of making the hoodie is actually beneficial, removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it creates.
It starts on three farms in New Zealand, where the company making the hoodie, U.K.-based startup Sheep Inc., sources its wool. By using regenerative agriculture practices—things like managing how the sheep graze so that plants growing on the farms can help capture the maximum amount of carbon in the soil—producing the wool captures more carbon than the farms emit. “Over the last two years, we’ve been running a research project with the farms to really figure out what that final number is—how much impact does a kilogram of wool coming from a particular farm [have]?” says CEO and cofounder Edzard van der Wyck. The farms sequester enough carbon, it turns out, to more than cover the emissions in the other stages of the hoodie’s life cycle.
The yarn travels by ship to a mill in Germany that spins it using renewable energy and applies a treatment, free of harmful chemicals, that can help make the wool more durable so that the final product lasts longer. At another factory in Portugal, a knitter uses 3D knitting machines—running on solar power—to make the garment without waste. Because the machines make the hoodie without seams, and no other material is used for thread, the clothing is fully biodegradable when it eventually wears out. “You put our sweaters in the ground, and they’re gone within 6 to 12 months,” van der Wyck says.