Case Studies

An ewe turn on harmful plastic packaging

This year pioneering packaging company Woolcool is celebrating a decade at the forefront of innovative packaging solutions, offering efficiency and cost-effectiveness in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. Find out how ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 underpin their success.

Where the company came from

The success story of Woolcool began, fittingly, on a farm. In 2002, packaging expert Angela Morris was working with the National Trust to find a sustainable packaging solution to help farmers deliver fresh produce to their customers direct. The brief was to find a sustainable solution, which would keep items chilled in an overnight shipment, without using temperature controlled transportation. After substantial research, testing materials and designs, Angela had her ‘eureka’ moment when she realised that wool, traditionally used in keeping things warm, was just as good at keeping things cold. She created a wool insulated box for the National Trust which ticked all the boxes in terms of cost, performance and sustainability and then returned to her day job creating packaging for other, more obviously commercial, enterprises.

Word of her creation spread and finally, led by demand, Angela began developing and refining a 100% sheep wool liner which we now know as Woolcool. And so, The Wool Packaging Company was born.

The challenges it overcame

At that time, although there was some interest in ‘green’ packaging materials, many believed that being environmentally friendly was an expensive luxury and that ‘green’ alternatives to packaging were less efficient than standard options. Angela’s key challenge was to overcome these beliefs and so two strategies – partnering with companies which share the same ethos and innovation – were critical to success.

Its first customers

Abel & Cole, the leading organic food retailer, quickly saw how the Woolcool product complemented its organic food boxes and their partnership continues to this day. Fuelled by word of mouth, the company grew and more big names were added to the customer list.

Finding its niche

By 2010, The Wool Packaging Company had received a wealth of recognition including a Green Business Award, an UK Packaging Award and an Observer Food Monthly Award and it had diversified into providing packaging for the pharmaceutical sector as well as food retailers. However, its new range of insulated pouches for sending chilled items within ambient boxes, would take the company’s success to a whole new level, with Fortnum & Mason being amongst the first retailers to recognise the pouches’ potential for allowing chilled foods and ambient foods to be shipped in the same box. When start-up Gousto approached The Wool Packaging Company with its brief for an eco-friendly yet effective chilled packaging solution, Woolcool was the perfect answer.

ISO in action

Of course, as a company which promotes its products based as much on their environmental credentials as its capabilities, The Wool Packaging Company was also keen to minimise its own environmental footprint. In 2017, Josie Morris, MD, decided to implement ISO 14001, the Environmental Management Standard, alongside ISO 9001, the Quality Management Standard. This integrated management system would give the growing company a framework to reduce its environmental impact whilst ensuring its focus on meeting customers’ needs would remain strong.

Josie explains, “We knew that by running the two ISO standards together, we would make our processes official, giving external kudos to these. Our clients have confidence that really do what we say we do. It almost goes without saying that we have improved our processes as a result of ISO 14001.”

“As well as minimising the environmental impact of the production process, we are also keen to achieve a circular economy. We are investigating how we can encourage customers to return Woolcool to us for recycling. In the meantime, we have reviewed the amount of material we use per pack to ensure there is no wastage and we encourage our clients and end-users to recycle Woolcool themselves.”

Josie comments, “The highlight of the company’s story so far has been our Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation. It’s the culmination of over £1 million worth of R&D investment, including working with a number of UK universities to analyse how wool works at a microscopic level, so we can give our clients detailed scientific information and data to substantiate the product’s superior performance. Woolcool is a natural product – but with real scientific substance behind it.”

Recycling by-products

At Woolcool’s HQ in Stone, Staffordshire, fleeces are washed and scoured in accordance with PPC regulations and its ISO 14001 environmental management system, without the need for extreme temperatures, chemical treatments or additives. Beneficial by-products of the washing and scouring process include a nitrate and mineral rich sludge which is used as natural fertiliser or made into biodegradable slug pellets.

Reducing landfill

In 2018, Woolcool prevented the equivalent of 75 Olympic sized swimming pools full of polystyrene from going to landfill.


Green from end to end

Woolcool has always actively encouraged end-users to re-use liners and to be creative in finding as many ways to do so as possible. Some online fans share tips about how to re-use liners, using #letsboxclever as a means to display the many possibilities.

A quick Google search reveals ideas as varied as pet bedding, mulching plants (great for slow release nitrogen), hanging basket liners, jackets for homebrew kits and draught excluders.


ISO lessons learned

ISO isn’t a tick box exercise, it is a genuinely invaluable tool to implement processes and procedures that, done in the right way, for the right reasons and with the right intentions, will bring vast improvements and benefits to any business.