Sheep’s wool on the wall
Company founder Horst Philipp brings the best of sheep into the home. No - it's not about the food. It's about the wool.
The Tyrolean company Whisperwool uses it to make pressed panels that work wonders as wall panels in terms of room climate and acoustics. Philipp uses sheep’s wool, which would otherwise end up in the rubbish by the ton. But this way, it becomes a product that takes interiors by storm and beats the competition from plasterboard by a long way in terms of environmental compatibility.
48 million tonnes of sheep’s wool are simply thrown away in the EU – every year. Low prices and high costs for processing make the processing of sheep’s wool a bad business in the eyes of many farmers. For Horst Philipp, founder of the design agency Tante Lotte in Innsbruck, sheep’s wool on the rubbish tip is pure waste of a valuable resource. Because Philipp was already convinced in 2006 that sheep’s wool has great potential in interiors. What emerged was Whisperwool. With the refinement of a natural and ecologically harmless waste product, sustainability is firmly anchored in the company’s DNA. And it is still the guiding principle for thinking and acting today.
Wool as a multi-talent
In the beginning, there were many experiments – in the end, all the positive properties of sheep’s wool are in Whisperwool’s products. Gernot Wurm, head of marketing, explains what wool can do indoors with two examples: ‘Sheep’s wool regulates moisture in rooms naturally by absorbing it and slowly releasing it again. This ensures a pleasant indoor climate. In addition, sheep’s wool binds pollutants from the air – such as formaldehyde – and is antibacterial and allergen-free.‘ And when it comes to good acoustics and sound insulation in rooms, Whisperwool panels can easily keep up with conventional perforated boards and plasterboard products. With one difference: while these materials are hardly recyclable, the sheep’s wool could be reprocessed and reused at any time.
Horst Philip was and is convinced that sheep’s wool can do more than plaster or wood. Today, this wool is pressed into boards measuring 90 x 90 cm and 12 mm thick using a proprietary process. Sheep’s wool and a binding fibre are used in the process. With a top layer, a wide variety of designs can be realised. Moth protection and a flame-retardant impregnation are always included. The latter was specially developed using biodegradable products. This creates all the certificates for use in interiors and still remains ecological. Recycling would therefore not be a problem: used panels would be shredded, washed and, mixed with said wool and binding fibre, 100 % recycled virgin material would be created.
Whisperwool panels can be used as room dividers, wall panels or ceiling elements – as in the Innsbruck City Library, at the airport and in many hotels or even schools. In principle, there is no limit to the lifespan of sheep’s wool panels. ‘The oldest carpet in the world is 4,000 years old,‘ says marketing boss Gernot Wurm, ‘it’s also made of sheep’s wool and still looks good.’
No wonder more and more architects, interior designers and planners are turning to the woolly alternative from Tirol. They are thus reinforcing a vision of Whisperwool: at some point, the hazardous waste in this sector is to be replaced by the sustainable idea from Tirol. That will be a long road – but the steps towards it are getting faster and faster.
Even though sustainability is a central concern of Whisperwool: without economic success, the founders would have long since dreamed their dreams away. ‘A product has to work,‘ says Gernot Wurm, ‘otherwise you don’t stand a chance on the market.‘ Word has already spread that the sheep’s wool panels meet the highest demands when it comes to acoustics and room climate. ‘We are also noticing that more and more building owners are attaching importance to resource conservation, regionality and ecology. For many, this is a reason to look for alternatives to conventional plasterboard.‘ Customers explicitly ask which region the sheep’s wool comes from and what the environmental compatibility is like. Away from chemicals, towards nature in the home – this trend more than suits sheep’s wool.
‘Sometimes there are questions, for example about the smell or cleaning,‘ explains Wurm, ‘but the worry that the seminar room smells like a sheep pen is completely unfounded, of course that’s not the case.‘ Cleaning is also easy because the wool is greasy and brushing it out is usually enough.
Gernot Wurm, like founder Horst Philipp, is convinced that sustainability and living ecology will become increasingly important on the market in the future. And then it is important to have authentically manufactured products and not just ‘greenwashing’.
Whisperwool currently processes 10 to 15 tonnes of sheep’s wool per year. If the market share in Europe could be stabilised at just 1.5 %, that would help avoid 12 million tonnes of gypsum waste, according to Philipp. That is still a vision. A vision that also stood at the beginning of Whisperwool: to change the world a little bit with sustainable thinking, smart innovation and sheep’s wool from Tirol.
Whisperwool is a Tyrolean success story. Lebensraum Tirol Holding, in cooperation with its subsidiaries (Tirol Tourist Board, Standortagentur Tirol and Agrarmarketing Tirol), brings special companies, projects, initiatives and people before the curtain. What they all have in common is that they play a pioneering role and act as role models for sustainability and responsible business. They contribute to the sustainability of the Tyrolean economy, society and environment and encourage the dissemination of sustainable change concepts. You can find more success stories here (in German only).