Sustainability performance of wool

achievements and challenges

Referent: Sigurdur Gunnarsson

CEO Istex hf

more about Siggi Gunnarsson

Siggi Gunnarsson (M.Sc, MBA, PRINCE2) has been the CEO of Istex from 2017. Istex processes about 98-99% of all Icelandic wool, into Lopi yarn, blankets, duvets, Lopifur, Lopiloft, and washed wool. Employees of Istex are about 65. Istex commitment with Lopi is to offer high quality products from Icelandic wool to customers that choose natural, sustainable and eco-friendly living. Icelandic wool and yarn is certified STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®. Istex has a spinning plant in Mosfellsbær, Iceland and a wool washing plant in Blönduós, Iceland. Istex is a shareholding company which is in ownership of Icelandic sheep farmers or retired framers. Before Istex, Siggi Gunnarsson gathered a wide international experience within various industrial segments including industrial coatings, consulting, innovation, and investment banking
Siggi Gunnarsson was one of founding partner of Arctic Pyro renewable energy advisory. Here he was involved in various sustainability projects both in the US and Europe.
He was the general manager of Cor-Pro Systems, which is an ISO certified coating company in Houston Texas. Here he was responsible for revenue about $15 million and 150 persons. Cor-Pro Systems specialized in coating critical equipment for the oil & gas industry.
Siggi Gunnarsson has been involved in several successful bids for European Commission innovation projects. His focus was on project strategy, financial, and markets. He managed several European Commission projects with partners from 11 different European countries.
He was responsible during his investment banking days for managing risk of clients’ portfolios worth $3 billion, this included strategizing changes and optimizing cash flows, debt & assets exposure for hedge funds, private investors, municipalities, and companies. He has also extensive working background in engineering regarding coatings and metals.
Siggi Gunnarsson is a master in business administration in global management from Thunderbird, USA and master in science in chemical engineering from DTU, Denmark.

The sustainability of sheep farming in Iceland is ensured with hard work, respect for nature and close cooperation between farmers and the authority. Wool processing plays a vital role to support the economy of this cycle. The Icelandic arctic climate has shaped the unique characteristics of the free-spirited Icelandic sheep and its wool. Clean environment, an abundance of living space, and respectful treatment define the conditions of sheep farming.


Sheep farming has been in an intrinsic part of life in Iceland for centuries or since the island was settled. Geographical isolation is a big challenge. However, combined with strict restrictions on all livestock imports the isolation has protected the Icelandic sheep as a unique breed, Ovis aries borealis.


Sheep farming is practiced throughout Iceland. It is most common in sparsely populated areas, where the air is clean and there is an abundance of prosperous living space. A typical Icelandic sheep farm is family-owned with 2-300 animals. A long tradition of sheep farming spanning generations has led to high standards of sustainable flock management and natural grazing methods. One of the greatest challenges is to find innovative ways to ensure farmers financial livelihood and the future of their community.


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The majority of sheep graze freely on wild rangeland in the spring. They roam in remote, untouched mountainous highlands and tundra not destined for food production. Some parts of Iceland have sensitive vegetation for example near glaciers and arctic deserts. However, most of the country has resilient vegetation.

Given that Iceland is located just below the Arctic circle,sheep are kept indoors during the winter months. They feed on hay that farmers grow locally during the summer. Indoor farming requires effective farm management and good housing. Sheep need close contact to ensure warmth and comfort but also need space for movement.

The sheep welfare standards and surveillance are highly strict in Iceland with the five freedoms as cornerstones. Taking advantage of the island’s isolation, it has been managed through a joint effort to eliminate many deceases and pests. In addition, the harsh climate naturally regulates the occurrence of insects and pests. Thus, Icelandic sheep are rarely exposed to antibiotics, hormones, or chemical treatments  Pesticides and herbicides are rarely used in Icelandic farming. Governmental strictness can pose challenges as it can limit and delay opportunities and cause confusion. Thus, it is important to find that balance between conservatism and a safe progress.

Ístex is the biggest wool company in Iceland with the mission to create value from wool. It collects and processes about 98-99% of all Icelandic wool at its local wool washing plant and spinning mill. Ístex is a shareholding company with about 90% of the 2471 shareholders farmers or retired farmers. The environment is a critical factor in Iceland. The washing plant uniquely uses geothermal heated water, APEO free detergents and electricity generated from renewable sources.

Icelandic wool is one of the pillars of Icelandic sheep farming. It comes from a unique animal shaped by Iceland and synergy between dedicated farmers and tradition. The challenges of tomorrow are to maintain its sustainability.