Fibershed’s Climate Beneficial Wool project is an effort to engage textile and fabric producers and consumers in using (and advocating for) farming techniques that produce products with a negative carbon and/or CO2 footprint.
Problems and Purpose
The carbon cycle is a natural process that moves carbon “through Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, pedosphere, lithosphere and oceans” (Fibershed). When we talk about climate change as an increasing danger, many studies root that change back to too much carbon and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (too much as in more than the planet can feasibly re-absorb). It traps heat from the sun, and forces changes in the carbon cycle and in the way the planet changes with those levels as they rise. The processes involved in the Climate Beneficial Wool project work to heighten the functions of the carbon cycle, and enable the planet to absorb much more carbon than any current practices allow.
Background History and Context
In 2010, initially hoping only to reduce her own ecological footprint, Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess made a commitment to develop and wear a wardrobe whose materials and labor could be sourced within a 150-mile radius from her own home. She worked with local farmers and makers to create her clothing by hand, as the equipment (and the technical skills required to use that equipment) necessary had long been lost from the area. The goal, to prove “that regionally grown fibers, natural dyes, and local talent was still in great enough existence to provide...our clothes” (Fibershed), was met, and Burgess’s work turned into a movement that resonated with communities around the globe.
Fibershed is now involved with several important projects of which Climate Beneficial Wool is one, and is perhaps the most well-known. The program works with fiber farmers to encourage Carbon Farming, which entails practices that if followed, pull more carbon into the ground than is released by the process of creating a garment. Climate Beneficial Wool is a participatory process because, as an organization that is independent from any governmental entity, it was important to engage citizens to get anything done about this issue.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Fibershed developed their techniques based on a variety of scientific studies, including research by UC Berkeley’s Silver Lab and Dr. Marcia deLonge. Fibershed is a 501c3 non-profit organization and funds the Climate Beneficial Wool project through donation agreements with farmers that are part of their producer program, and through grants and fundraising efforts.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants apply to be part of Fibershed’s Producer Program, which includes a variety of services put forth by the organization. If a farmer is farming their fiber within Northern California (specifically from San Luis Obispo to the Oregon border), uses dyes that are farmed or sourced within Northern California, and all labor is sourced within Northern California, that farmer is included as a participant. Fibershed encourages applications, and reaches out through community events and education opportunities.
Methods and Tools Used
Fibershed encourages participant applications and reaches out to potential recruits through community events and education opportunities. Members of the Producer Program also speak at these events and discuss climate change and economic systems change in terms of textile economies with their communities.
Fibershed is an instance of ecosystem-based management and community engagement takes various forms using a number of methods and tools, such as photovoice, civic education, people’s lobby, open access, roundtable discussion, participatory arts, panel discussions, and community committees.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Fibershed says they are “working to advance Climate Beneficial status” (Fibershed) in the following ways:
- Educating our producers on how to take baseline carbon samples using our Citizen Science Protocol.
- Engaging our producer community in Carbon Farm planning processes in partnership with Resource Conservation Districts to develop whole-farm ranch & farm plans, that exist as a roadmap for the producer to assess the potential carbon sequestering impact of implementing a suite of new practices.
- Covering a portion of costs of the implementation of carbon farm practices through generating early stage financial support from brands, philanthropy, and engaged citizens.
- Engaging on-going implementation of Carbon Farming Practices through the dissemination of a Carbon Farm Fund that grows through the collection of a percentage of the total sale of Climate Beneficial Goods. (Fibershed)
Fibershed hosts a yearly symposium, called the Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium, that discusses topics that have important implications for both their producers and their community (Fibershed). For example, in 2018, they will discuss fiber ecology, fostering animal integration, fiber systems, and functional use of garments (Fibershed). At these symposiums, they gather their producers to learn and speak, and bring in experts in the fields and on the community to discuss what the program and community are doing well, and how both might change to better serve all involved. This might look like photovoice, civic education, people’s lobby, open access, roundtable discussion, ecosystem-based management, participatory arts, panel discussions, and/or community committees.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Fibershed as a concept has spread through the textile and maker communities quickly and with influential impact. The organization has begun conversations within these particular communities as well as in the larger fashion and textile communities (and within producer communities across the globe) on responsible sourcing and ethical practices.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In regards to wool-specific programs, Fibershed has seen significant positive benefits for wool producers in subscribing to this program (see media link), and the science already exists that proves the climate benefits of the practices required to belong to the producer program. Sourcing and operations, though different processes, both show promise, though the component of “creating value-added products like fabric and bedding” (Fibershed, 2017), provide higher economic benefits for the producer, which merits mention because it is more expensive to follow Carbon Farming practices than it is to not.
Fibershed. (n.d.a). 2018 wool & fine fiber symposium. Retrieved from http://www.fibershed.com/programs/education/symposia-presentations/2018-wool-fine-fiber- symposium/
Fibershed. (n.d.b). Carbon farming. Retrieved from http://www.fibershed.com/programs/education/carbon-farming/
Fibershed. (n.d.c). Climate beneficial wool. Retrieved from http://www.fibershed.com/programs/fiber-systems-research/climate-beneficial-wool/
Fibershed. (n.d.d). Producer program. Retrieved from http://www.fibershed.com/programs/producer-program/
Wilkes, S. (2017). Growing value for wool growers. Accessed at http://www.fibershed.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Fibershed-USDA-VAPG-Economic-Feasibility-Study-1.pdf
The original submission of this case entry was written by Shelby Morrow, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.