Sustainability is a catch phrase often tossed about these days among those of us interested in treating the earth well. But what exactly does it mean? For us it means that we are able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
It is an attitude we hold in each decision we make – we call it eco-driven decision making. For example, when choosing the growers for our program, we were particularly interested in the members of the Mountain States Lamb Co-op . Many of our neighbors belong to this group and we were impressed with their commitment to their animals and their land. We have seen them in action first hand at lambing and shearing and in trailing down the mountain on horseback.
The mills commitment to sustainability doesn’t end there. We have identified five issues of sustainability
1. Global Carbon Footprint: Prior to our existence, all wool from Wyoming was shipped overseas for processing. We were surprised to find that transportation costs to China are so low. But think of those shipping containers that bring finished goods to your local Big Box Store. They return to China nearly empty so costs are low when the raw wool is shipped to these mega-industrial mills. No one knows for sure the impact those mills are having on the environment. A news article in the National Livestock Round-up news stated that China had restricted wool scouring (washing) two months prior to the Olympics and one month after. I’m sure this was done so that visitors were unaware of the impact this process is having on the earth. Its not enough to ask where the wool is from…you must find out where and how it is processed as well.
2. Water Conservation and Recycling. We currently have a 60% wastewater reuse system. Water is scarce in Wyoming and is a very valuable resource. We are applying for a Phase II grant from the USDA-SBIR program to build a proto-type system through which we hope to recover the nutrients (manure) and wool grease (lanolin) in the water. The soap we use to clean the wool is a citrus based cleanser and our spinning oil is a non-petroleum based anti-static oil. Harsh chemicals have no business next to our skin.
4. Recycling and Waste Reduction: Our goal is to have zero waste to the landfill by 2013. We’ve established an in-house recycling center and are using wool scraps and our carder waste to create felted mats for industrial use (they are a great oil absorbent). We are down to a once per month garbage pick-up, which is impressive for our 12,500 square foot building. We are always looking for uses for our scrap material. With the addition of plenty of nitrogen, wool fiber waste can be composted. We will be mixing this scrap wool with the seeds, weeds, dirt and gumbo that comes off the dirty wool in order to make a marketable compost product. Also, we try to use re-cycled packaging whenever possible. We’ve found the availability of used cardboard boxes to be abundant. (But that can be tricky. We once shipped yarn to a customer in a Unicorn Books box. She didn’t realize it contained our yarn and called the alarm that it was lost. She discovered the hidden yarn just as we were shipping a replacement order!)
Being sustainable just means thoroughly thinking through (say that 3 x fast) our way of living. It means putting the needs of the whole group ahead of our own convenience and comfort. It really just makes sense.