Thursday, November 30, 2023

School wool lessons pile up for sector, government

Neal Wallace
Wool industry meets with officials to push for use of homegrown fibre.
Sam Fowler, the Ministry of Education’s head of property, infrastructure and digital, says further discussions are planned with wool sector representatives.
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The wool industry is lobbying government officials to avoid a repeat of the situation where the Ministry of Education chose synthetic floor coverings over wool.

One result of those discussions in that the ministry has promised to look at using wool in school areas other than classrooms.

News that the ministry chose a United States-based synthetic manufacturer to supply 300,000sqm of floor coverings in classrooms jolted the domestic wool industry, which has had members meeting with government officials to push the use of wool.

The ministry is replacing floor coverings in 800 small and remote schools over the next three years, and its decision to go with synthetics provoked an uproar and claims of hypocrisy given the government has been advocating the use of wool.

Sam Fowler, the Ministry of Education’s head of property, infrastructure and digital, said further discussions are planned with wool sector representatives.

“In these discussions we have clarified what our flooring standards are and explained why they are important to us, from both user and asset owner perspectives.

“We also discussed the challenges and benefits of wool flooring.”

Fowler said the ministry will work with the sector to support its development of wool products suitable for flooring applications in schools.

“We will also continue to discuss possibilities for using wool in other areas of our school buildings.”

National Council of NZ Wool Interests chair Rosstan Macey said the council is taking an apolitical and constructive position – and the wool sector is learning from the ministry’s decision.

One lesson is the need to update the carbon footprint of wool, which he said is based on outdated information.

This is happening.

The second lesson is to ensure wool manufacturers have the right commercial products available of the right specifications at the right time.

Macey said this will change in the next six to 12 months as development and scaling up of production happens.

“That pipeline will be a bit more populated, which will be more helpful.”

Fowler said that carpets in primary schools endure heavy use, wear and dirt, and the dyed nylon pile carpet option was considered a practical choice given these requirements.

“It is materially less expensive than other options, meaning it’s a more cost-effective use of public funds.”

The tenders were assessed on performance, safety, contributing to a healthy internal environment, durability, moisture retention, environmental impact, ongoing supply and maintenance, and sustainability.

“In the wool carpet tile offered, only the pile is made of wool yarn. All submissions we received for this tender, including the wool carpet tile option, had a significant proportion of synthetic material, with most of the carpet tile’s mass being a synthetic backing.”

The successful tenderer’s product is recyclable and expected to last at least 15 years before needing to be removed and recycled. 

Some rural schools have suggested fundraising to top up the carpet funding allocation so they can buy a wool product, a decision Fowler said rests with individual schools.

“State schools have the option to install carpets of their choice using other capital funding they receive for property improvements.” 

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