Two-thirds of the wool produced by a flock of sheep at Bare Ranch, a large ranch in Northern California, is now going to The North Face.
The ranch was the first to adopt a so-called “carbon farm plan” to change its practices to help reverse its own emissions, sequestering more carbon in the soil than it produces. Last year, The North Face used the “climate beneficial” wool to launch a knit hat that quickly sold out on its website. The company is now adding men’s and women’s jackets made from the wool to the line, along with a new climate-beneficial scarf.
“We’re doing this because it aligns very well with our strategy to reduce our environmental impact and to protect our outdoor playground,” says James Rogers, director of sustainability at The North Face. “The more that we can expand and scale these types of programs, the more good we’re doing. The other [reason] is that we hope it influences the industry as a whole, so the more we can keep programs like this visible to consumers and visible to the industry, the more it can help scale this type of climate-beneficial wool in general.”
The ranch worked with a nonprofit called Fibershed to create a carbon plan, which calls for several changes to the way standard ranches work now. Bare Ranch is applying a layer of compost to its grazed grassland and its cropland, which is predicted to sequester tens of thousands of metric tons of carbon over the next 20 years. Sheep and cattle will graze in rotation, so grass can regrow to keep sucking up carbon. Trees will be planted on more than 100 acres of treeless pasture, giving animals shade and absorbing more carbon. Native plants and trees are being planted to restore the ecosystem around a stream. In total, all of the changes are estimated to help the ranch sequester more than 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, or the equivalent of taking 800 cars off the road.
The North Face is hoping to spur more demand across the apparel industry for wool produced this way. “Part of our strategy is to encourage adoption by the entire industry because that’s really how you make change at scale,” Rogers says. More than 100 other wool producers in the U.S. are also now working on or have completed carbon farm plans. Rogers says that what’s needed now is a shift in other major wool-producing regions, such as China, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. “In order to really scale, I think you need adoption on a global level instead of just a regional level.”