Wool policy warmly welcomed

A government move to prefer the use of wool in its buildings has been described as "fantastic" by South Otago wool campaigner Amy Blaikie, who is also stressing the need for robust decision-making procedures.

The coalition agreement between National and New Zealand First directed government agencies "where practical and appropriate" to preference the use of woollen fibres rather than artificial fibres in government buildings.

South Otago wool campaigner Amy Blaikie has welcomed the incoming government’s preference for the...
South Otago wool campaigner Amy Blaikie has welcomed the incoming government’s preference for the use of wool. PHOTO: ODT FILES
In 2020, Mrs Blaikie launched a petition calling on the House of Representatives to ensure all publicly funded buildings and KiwiBuild homes were built or refurbished with New Zealand wool carpet and insulation.

"Hopefully my scepticism proves unfounded about the words ‘practical and appropriate’ [and] there is some robust decision-making procedures in place to ensure wool is favoured and open and direct communication if it is not, so the right quality and standard of products can be manufactured in future," Mrs Blaikie said yesterday.

In 2017, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters promised to boost the beleaguered crossbred wool industry by forbidding the use of synthetic carpets and insulation in government-funded buildings if NZ First was part of the next government.

In July, the Otago Daily Times reported a programme being delivered by the Ministry of Education had chosen to install synthetic carpet — manufactured by an American company — in more than 600 rural schools.

At the time, Pūrākaunui School principal Nicky Bell described it as "totally hypocritical"as it went against her school’s ethos as an Enviroschool, a government-funded programme.

Yesterday, Ms Bell said the school was delighted to hear of the new direction.

As a rural school, it taught its pupils about the difference between man-made and natural fibres and the impact they had on the planet.

"Having a sustainable option like wool makes more sense for us," she said.

Pūrākaunui  School principal Nicky Bell.
Pūrākaunui School principal Nicky Bell.

In 2020, carpet manufacturer Bremworth announced it was ditching synthetics in favour of wool and other natural fibres, citing "negative impacts on people’s health and the planet".

After the furore over the synthetic carpet installations, it announced a Wool in Education initiative under which schools could apply for a product subsidy to help make wool carpet more accessible.

Bremworth chief executive Greg Smith said the coalition move had potential to double the price of wool grown in New Zealand, but he warned it could also benefit sheep farmers from the United Kingdom and other countries at the expense of New Zealand farmers.

Greater clarity was needed to understand whether the move was to support the rural economy, reduce the use of plastic materials in construction, or both, he said.

There was a question over where a government-specified product would fit within free trade agreements with other countries.

While New Zealand wool was considered ideally suited for carpet production by international manufacturers, the new policy might result in volumes of cheaper imported options becoming available.

"If Government procurement policies allowed for imported woollen fibre building products to access this market we would see few real benefits for New Zealand, other than a reduction in the use of plastic.

"It would be soul-destroying for farmers in the sector to see one imported product replaced with another in the construction of publicly owned buildings," he said.

While New Zealand-grown wool was prized overseas, it had not received the same recognition domestically.

"We have an unusual situation where New Zealand wool has been woven into the fabrics used on Air Force One, [but] if the US president or any of the numerous other foreign dignitaries who have flown on that aircraft were to enter a government building in this country, they would most likely be walking on imported synthetic carpet."

Wools of New Zealand, which tendered for a wool tiles contract with the Ministry of Education, said the decision was a "significant boost" to wool growers and the industry.




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