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In the past 18 months, the Peruvian authorities have commissioned research into the carbon footprint of alpaca fibres, and further studies on this issue are in the pipeline.

Alpaca Fiesta 2021 was one of the highlights of last year’s textile conferences and events calendar. Organised and sponsored by the International Alpaca Association (IAA) and Promperú (Peruvian Government Agency), for the first time the event was carried out in a digital format due to the pandemic.

The event included testimonies of breeders, videos of alpacas and high Andean landscapes, fashion shows and forums/seminars with various topics of interest related to the sustainability and circularity of the alpaca value chain.

Alpaca is a huge economic success story for Peru and a provider of livelihoods and incomes for families which might otherwise face poverty and hardship.

The Peruvian Andes account for around 80 per cent of global alpaca production, and there are around 4.5 million alpacas in Peru, according to government figures.

Peru’s alpaca value chain involves more than 120,000 Peruvian families, linked to breeding, processing, clothing and textile crafts. Notably, the links of breeding and crafts are concentrated in the areas of greatest poverty of the country; accordingly, these activities are vital for the subsistence of these populations.

What makes the alpaca value chain unique is the level of vertical integration. Peru currently concentrates 80 per cent of the world’s population of alpacas and has a textile cluster focused mainly on the cities of Lima and Arequipa, where a highly competitive processing and clothing industry with an international presence has developed.

Vertical integration of the alpaca value chain in Peru includes the stages of breeding, industrial transformation, clothing, textile design and brand development.

Recent years have seen heavy debate around the environmental impact of all textile fibres,
including alpaca. Much of this has focused on the debatable score given to alpaca (and other naturel fibres) by the Higg Index of the US-based Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

The alpaca value chain has always maintained that its Higg score is not truly reflective of alpaca’s environmental impact because it only covers production stages up to the factory gate rather than the full fibre lifecycle. This means the many positive aspects of alpaca – its longevity during the garment use phase, the fact that clothing made from alpaca regularly gets a second life because it is of such high quality and wears so well – are not factored in.

Higg also does not factor in the social benefits associated with the alpaca value chain. For instance, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 8 is about “decent work and economic growth.” SDG number 1 is about “no poverty.”

The alpaca value chain has pertinence where both these goals are concerned, as well as broader relevance to the CSR strategies of progressive fashion brands where there is a huge focus on the social impact of their supply chains.

At the Alpaca Summit of Alpaca Fiesta 2021, Walter Antezana from San Antonio Abad del Cusco University, Peru presented results on research into alpaca’s carbon footprint. The (partial) results indicate that alpacas are more efficient in the use of energy than
other ruminants. The study also indicated that alpaca breeding in traditional production systems at the Andes can be considered a carbon sink in the short and medium term.

Further studies have also been carried out in Peru to redress some of the imbalances presented by Higg. Last year, an LCA was prepared by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú-PUCP and published by the Commission for the Promotion of Peru Export and Tourism-PROMPERÚ. The researchers used LCA methodology which adhered to ISO 14040 and 14044 standards.

This was a preliminary study and further work will be done to build a broader, more complete picture of alpaca’s environmental footprint. It should also be noted that this study was carried out in the middle of the pandemic, from August – December 2020, with many limitations applied in terms of carrying out detailed fieldwork on the reality and conditions of the high Andean ecosystems. For this reason, more studies are needed.

Nonetheless, some findings can be noted. The goal was to calculate the environmental impacts of alpaca fibre at each stage of the life cycle, as well as evaluating drivers of these impacts. This included pastures, breeding, shearing, spinning, dyeing, manufacturing,
distribution, use and the end of life of the garment.

Data was gathered from all stages of the alpaca value chain in the regions of Puno, Arequipa, Pasco, and Huancavelica. These regions provide alpaca fibre that serves as raw material for spinning mills in Peru, in what is a vertically integrated industry.

The researchers found that, in the impact categories global warming and eutrophication, most of the impacts are generated in the pastures, breeding and shearing stage. 70 per cent of the impact in the global warming category and 65 per cent of the impact in the eutrophication category correspond to this stage.

In addition, they observed a large variation in CO2-eq emissions per kg fleece in regions that produce it (between 45 and 109 kg CO2- eq/kg fleece). These variations are mainly due to the differences in the percentage of alpacas shorn in the herds of each region.

On water consumption, the LCA notes that the processing stage (spinning, dyeing, and manufacturing) dominates with 83 per cent of total consumption.

Water consumption in this stage occurs indirectly through the use of electricity and natural gas.

In the depletion of abiotic resources impact category, fossil fuels and the processing stages (spinning, dyeing, and manufacturing) dominate with 62 per cent of the impact and the distribution stage, with 31 per cent of the impact.

Finally, the LCA notes the impacts in the use and end-of-life phases are generally small and even negative due to the energy recovered in the incineration of waste.

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