Key Points:

From making sure the sheep dogs are cared for and the sheep are free from distress, a New Zealand outdoor clothing company is covering all its bases when it claims the ethical edge.

Jeremy Moon, the founder of Icebreaker, described how the company could justify its clean green image at a conference in Auckland that explored environmental issues around rural land use.

In its marketing, Icebreaker takes advantage of the iconic international image of New Zealand as a natural paradise.

Mr Moon said transparency to its consumers was important in supporting that "pure" message.

On the company's website anyone around the world could see videos of some of the high-country sheep stations that supplied the merino wool used in its garments, and read about the commitment to sustainability.

That was encouraged through the clothing featuring a "baa code", with a number that retailers and consumers could input at Icebreaker.com to see how the garment was made from start to finish.

The sheep that grow the merino fibre in the Southern Alps graze on pasture in free-range conditions all year long and are given extra feed at times of slow pasture growth.

The farmers have to meet basic animal welfare requirements such as freedom from thirst and hunger and appropriate comfort and shelter.

All of Icebreaker's merino fibre is sourced from sheep that have not been mulesed - the removal of strips of wool-bearing wrinkle skin from around the tail to prevent flystrike, Mr Moon said.

The supplier farmers were even required to meet minimum standards of care of sheep dogs.

He said consumers wanted products that made them feel good about how they were made.

"They want integrity," Mr Moon said. Flaws in environmental or ethical performance could create hugely destructive negative publicity.

He defended Icebreaker manufacturing its product in China, saying the technology there was far better than what was available in New Zealand for large-scale production.