Decoding Sustainability in the Denim Industry: Interview with Michael Kobori, Vice President of Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co
The denim industry is regarded as having one of the worst environmental and ethical footprints within fashion . According to a Greenpeace report, it takes 1.7 million tons of chemicals to produce two billion pairs of jeans every year and the water consumption needed for production can go as high as 7,000 litres per one pair. Consequently, it is essential that denim brands hold themselves accountable and invest in innovation for the sake of sustainability and curbing environmental and labour abuse further down the supply chain. Michael Kobori, Vice President of Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co, talks to Euromonitor International about Levi’s role as a recognised sustainability leader and the journey towards a sustainable, innovation-driven future.
AMONG LARGE DENIM COMPANIES, LS&CO HAS DEMONSTRATED LEADERSHIP WHEN IT COMES TO SUSTAINABILITY AND PROMOTING CIRCULAR ECONOMY. HOW DOES THE SUSTAINABILITY AGENDA FIT INTO THE OVERALL CORPORATE STRATEGY?
At LS&Co, we believe how we make our products is as important as what we make. This belief is core to our business and means that sustainability is not just an add-on to our corporate strategy, but integrated into everything we do. Running a sustainable company is the right thing to do. It is also good for business.
IS THERE ANY WAY YOU CAN MEASURE THE IMPACT OF THE INVESTMENTS INSUSTAINABILITY ON YOUR SALES REVENUE? WHAT ROLE DOES IT PLAY IN SUPPORTING TOP-LINE GROWTH AND WINNING MARKET SHARE ACROSS KEY MARKETS?
At this point in our sustainability journey, we are not measuring the impact of our investments on sales revenue. That said, we are measuring impacts across our business operations. We look at sustainability from an environmental, social and economic perspective. From our Water Less™ finishing techniques to our Worker Well-being initiative, we have seen reduced costs or improved business throughout our supply chain . We also know that younger consumers increasingly seek out companies that demonstrate social purpose and are more likely to buy from companies that support social and environmental causes.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGES FOR LS&CO AND THE INDUSTRY AS A WHOLE?
When it comes to reducing our environmental footprint, we know what areas to focus on because we’ve studied our impact and have data to drive our decisions. In 2007 and again in 2015, we conducted an environmental lifecycle assessment on a pair of Levi’s® 501’s. One of our biggest areas of impact – and one of the most critical resources on the planet – is water. From this assessment, we realised that the most water use during the lifecycle is during the cotton growing and consumer care phases.
To help reduce our impacts, we joined with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which helps educate farmers on reducing water and pesticide use while increasing yields. Currently, 19% of the cotton we use is from BCI and we aim to increase that number to 95% by 2020.
For consumers, we expanded our “Care Tag for the Planet” to all LS&Co products. It encourages consumers to wash less, wash cold, line dry and donate when done.
And, even though the impact was smaller, we also set out to innovate in our own production. In 2011, our designers launched our Water Less™ finishing techniques, which can reduce water usage up to 96%.
When it comes to our ethical footprint, LS&Co has long been a leader in protecting and ensuring the rights of workers. In 1991, we were the first company to launch a comprehensive code of conduct for our vendors worldwide – called our Terms of Engagement. In 2011, we saw an opportunity to go even further and create a sustainable model to improve the well-being of workers. Called the Worker Well-being initiative, we work with vendors to identify the unmet needs of workers in factories , then work with local partners and NGOs to implement programmes to meet those needs. Since the pilot, we’ve expanded to 12 countries reaching nearly 100,000 workers. Our aim is to reach 300,000 by 2025.
WHAT ADVANCEMENTS HAVE YOU MADE IN THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY SPACE? IS BECOMING 100% CIRCULAR A VIABLE OBJECTIVE TO ACHIEVE FOR A DENIM BRAND?
Creating a truly circular economy is very challenging for any clothing brand. The biggest challenge we face is taking recycled clothing and converting it into new garments without losing product durability or integrity. Traditionally, when cotton is recycled, it is shredded, which reduces cotton fibre staple length. That degrades the stability and strength of the fibre, leaving consumers with a lower quality garment that won’t last.
Another challenge is in the different materials in jeans today. Many jeans are made with cotton-polyester blends. It is difficult to separate out the cotton fibres to recycle.
So what are we doing? R&D is a big area. We are working both internally and with external companies to find solutions. One example is our work with Evrnu, a company we partnered with that is able to melt or dissolve recycled cotton to the cellulosic level, then re-extrude that as a new fibre with improved strength.
We’re also working to change consumer behaviour. To create new products from old jeans, we need the jeans! We’ve partnered with a company called I:CO to put recycling bins in our stores in the US, Canada, the UK, and Japan to collect any brand of old clothing or shoes. I:CO then recycles and upcycles the items. In the US, we also partner with Goodwill, an American non-profit organisation, through a programme called the “Give Back Box .” When consumers buy clothes online from Levi’s® or Dockers®, we give them a free shipping label to send old clothes from any brand to donate to Goodwill.
These steps help start the journey towards creating a circular economy.
IN SWEDEN, THE GOVERNMENT IS PROPOSING A NEW LAW TO REDUCE TAX FOR CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR REPAIRS WITH AN AIM OF TACKLING THE THROWAWAY CULTURE. DO YOU ANTICIPATE A REVIVAL IN FASHION REPAIR SERVICES ON A LARGER SCALE?
We’re already seeing a revival in fashion repair, especially when it comes to some of our classic icons and silhouettes such as the 501® and Trucker Jacket. We’re also known for continuously reinventing those classics ourselves with modern touches and customisations.
To follow that mindset, we launched the Levi’s® Tailor Shop at select retail locations around the world, which offers alterations, hemming, repairs and custom embroidery by in-house denim experts. At most ofour retail locations in Europe, Levi’s® tailors are able to provide customers one-of-a-kind pieces, custom styles, and properly repaired denim.
HOW DO CONSUMERS RESPOND TO YOUR SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS? ARE YOU SEEING ANY SIGNIFICANT SHIFTS IN ATTITUDES TOWARDS BUYING FASHION AND WHAT CHANGES ARE YOU EXPECTING IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
Our CEO, Chip Bergh, often says that millennial customers care about value and values. I think we are starting to see that more and more customers are conscious about how their clothes are made and where they are coming from, and that number will continue to grow in the next five years. Especially as we as a planet continue to face the challenges of climate change and a more connected global economy.
FOSTERING SUSTAINABILITY AND RESPONSIBLE CONSUMERISM IS ON TOP OF THE AGENDA FOR MANY PLAYERS IN THE DENIM INDUSTRY. WHAT OTHER BRANDS DO YOU MOST RESPECT FOR DRIVING SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES?
We collaborate and partner with many brands to drive sustainability in the apparel industry. Some brands I really admire in other sectors are Unilever and Interface Carpets.
*This story first appeared on Euromonitor
Environmental awareness, leading to an emphasis on the value of recycling materials, a green lifestyle and zero emissions is one of the most urgent contemporary issues for fibre producers and final consumers. Fulgar, an Italian company, is the international leader in the production of nylon and coated yarns. Through its Research and Development section the company is constantly developing and implementing cutting edge product solutions with a low environmental impact
The latest sustainable innovation in new products by Fulgar is Q-NOVA® MELANGE RECYCLED, a special fibre created by blending Q-NOVA®, a 6.6 nylon fibre created using regenerated raw materials, with a polyester produced entirely from reused plastic bottles.
Using totally recycled materials in no way affects the performance of the fabrics.
A totally effective synthesis of functionality and aesthetic appeal, Q-NOVA® MELANGE RECYCLED yarns provide outstanding colour resistance for colours with long-lasting brilliance. What’s more, they give the fabric the comfort and easycare performance that is vital in all the sectors they are designed to offer a solution for – total stretch, softness, light weight, quick drying, excellent breathability, resistance to peeling and non-iron fabric care.
Fulgar’s typical Jaspé and Pulsar effects adapt perfectly to new textile technologies, presenting the opportunity to develop multicolour fabrics through a single controlled, continuous one-step process in the dyeing stage. Both effects enable the creation of yarns with different looks – with JESPÉ, the line is short and regular, while with PULSAR the melange feature is longer, with a more pronounced shot effect.
The two types of yarn create bi-colour effects on a perfectly uniform neutral base.
LCA – Life Cycle Assessment
FULGAR completes its path to sustainability by entrusting the environmental impact assessment of the whole process of its product production to the accredited scientific method LCA – Life Cycle Assessment.
Informed environmental conduct, focused on the conservation and enhancement of the ecosystem. This is one of the cardinal principles that defines the philosophy of Fulgar, an outstanding Italian company and leading European manufacturer of nylon and covered yarns.
The company’s philosophy is constantly renewed in its strategic product lines and is clearly reflected by its recent decision to evaluate its individual finished products and indeed the entire production cycle through the rigorous LCA Life Cycle Assessment, an accredited process that is internationally standardized by the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards.
Fulgar’s timely decision to undergo the LCA – Life Cycle Assessment study is consistent with the company’s attention to responsible development. Over the years, the company has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to eco-efficiency with the technological renewal of its production facilities, the construction of new areas and the search for new materials and new processing solutions.
“Today more than ever, a company’s competitiveness is measured by its “reputation”, a complex mix of different factors, in which ethical considerations, such as environmental sustainability, play an increasingly important role. The contemporary consumer is aware and informed. They want to orient their buying decisions around products that are deemed “clean” in every aspect of their life cycle,” explains Alan Garosi, Fulgar’s Marketing Manager. “The data collection and analysis of all the life stages of the product, a process which characterizes the LCA – Life Cycle Assessment study, allows us to consider and improve our strategy, both in terms of the environment and production performance, and also offers us the possibility to give a clear and precise vision of the environmental impact of our yarns to the final brands and large distribution chains.”
Through the impact assessment (LCA – Life Cycle Impact Assessment), it is possible to determine the scale of the impact generated as a result of releases into the environment and the extent of the consumption of resources resulting from production activity.
In particular, for Fulgar, the production stages of three specific products were examined: the Fulgar Nylon 6,6 yarn, a fibre obtained though the standard production cycle and two yarns that represent Fulgar’s innovation and textile research more than any other: Q-NOVA® and EVO®. Subjecting these three types of polyamide fibres to the Analysis of the Lifecycle (from the production of raw materials to the texturing stage), means obtaining an overall assessment of the entire “Fulgar system”, which takes all the variables, such as technologies, materials and processes, into account.
The data examined in the LCA report refers to annual production and considers “inflows” such as the consumption of water, electricity and renewable energy sources and “outflows” such as products and coproducts, waste water, air emissions, waste production and transport.
All the process stages for which it was possible to carry out data collection relate to the production of 1 kg of PA 6.6 textured yarn. The results obtained from the analysis of the three Fulgar products have made it possible to compare the polyamide fibres Nylon 6,6, EVO® and QNOVA® with other categories of fibres and yarns, highlighting the real advantage in terms of reduced environmental impact.
From the study, it emerges that cotton is highly polluting – with percentages of impact between 60 % and 80 % higher compared to other categories of fiber and yarn – due to very high water consumption during the cultivation stage. This is followed by polyester, viscose and acrylic fiber. In fact, one of the fibres with the least environmental impact proves to be polyamide, which can be defined as among the most eco-friendly.
The analysis of the lifecycle of Fulgar Nylon 6,6, EVO® and QNOVA® showed that the polymer with the lowest environmental impact is definitely Q-NOVA® in all impact categories and in terms of consumption of the resources considered (see table below).
Complete list of impact categories included in the LCA study
Below are the final figures relating mainly to air pollution in terms of CO2 x kg produced (or GPW – Global Potential Warming) of the three Fulgar polyamide yarns:
• Q-NOVA® impact of approximately 1.77 kg CO2 eq.
• EVO® impact of approximately 7.36 kg CO2 eq.
• Fulgar nylon 6,6 impact of approximately 9.97 kg CO2 eq.
Italian Fulgar is the international leader in the man-made fibre market with the production and distribution of polyamide 6.6 and covered elastomers in the textile and technical sector. Founded in the 1970s at Castel Goffredo (Mantova) in the heart of Italy’s hosiery district, Fulgar carved out a role as sector leader and now boasts Europe’s largest nylon 6.6 yarn factory. The company’s global attitude is also reflected by the internationalization strategy launched by Fulgar with the opening of new production centers in Sri Lanka in 2003 and Serbia in 2007, as well as being present in Turkey with the official Fulgar distributor FFT. Fulgar is present in all textile sectors, from hosiery to circular knits, corsetry, swimming and sport, with high-quality products that stand out for their excellence and uniqueness, without ever forgetting the Made in Italy textile tradition. The great versatility of the products is the result of Fulgar’s design, development and manufacturing structure, which always remains aware of the look, functionality and comfort clients require. That’s why the company is constantly increasing its investment in R&D, with a significant increase in the last three years, in parallel with a deep commitment to environmental issues that takes the form of projects and initiatives involving the entire production process.
In 2009 Fulgar became an official partner of INVISTA®, owner of the LYCRA® brand, for the exclusive distribution in Europe and Turkey of the Lycra® Fibre, Lycra T400® and Elaspan® Fibre brands. In 2012 Fulgar also became exclusive distributor and producer of Emana® fibre, owned by the Rhodia- Solvay group, for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
If we pause to analyse these results, it is clear that the two eco- innovations significantly contribute to a drop in CO2/kg eq emissions in the atmosphere.
The study confirms that QNOVA®, whose production is characterized by a mechanical, non-chemical recycling system with a zero kilometer supply chain, has a very low environmental impact in terms of C02 emissions. EVO®, though it is based on a natural material, reveals impact levels that are well below average. Finally, polyamide 6.6, which represents Fulgar’s production standard, is shown to have an environmental impact that is lower than other yarns.
To give an immediate example that makes it easier to understand the real meaning of the findings from the LCA study and from the comparison of the data, we can consider the production of a t-shirt. For the creation of a t-shirt, an estimated 250 g of material is required. If it were produced, as a raw material without considering the downstream stages, in virgin Nylon 6.6 produced by Fulgar, at the level of raw material it would have an impact of around 2.49 kg CO2 eq; the same t- shirt made from EVO® yarn would have an impact of 1.84 Kg CO2 eq (-26 % emissions), while the Q-NOVA® fibre would have an impact of only 0.44 Kg CO2 eq. (-82 % emissions).
One very topical and extremely important aspect is water resources. The water consumption involved in cotton production is truly staggering: to produce 1 kg of cotton*, one of the most commonly used materials in the clothing industry, it takes a minimum of 7000 L of water and a maximum of 29000 L, with an average of around 18000 L of water per kg of cotton.
The solutions developed by Fulgar, the eco-innovations EVO® and Q-NOVA® as well as nylon 6.6, greatly reduce water consumption by introducing a substantial difference to the market. Producing the same amount of bio-based EVO® fiber can save up to 52 % litres of water per kg produced, while with nylon 6.6, the total water saving is even greater, equal to approximately 99% L less water per kg produced. Finally, the Q-NOVA® yarn, which is derived from a mechanical recycling system, saves almost the entirety – 99.9 % with a value equal to approximately 17983 litres water per kg produced.
As Alan Garosi reiterates: “for us, the LCA – Life Cycle Impact Assessment study is an eco-innovation tool that will allow us to further improve our environmental and economic performance and will enable us to ensure our customers distinct advantages in terms of transparency and full supply chain traceability.”
*This story first appeared on Textile Future
SAC and Lenzing Join The World Apparel & Footwear Lifecycle Assessment Database Initiative to Build a More Sustainable Fashion Industry
Two key players in the apparel industry become partners of the database project to improve the environmental impact measurements in the apparel and footwear industry
Zürich, Switzerland, October 3, 2016 – The environmental sustainability consulting group Quantis is pleased to announce that the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Austrian fiber company Lenzing have officially joined the World Apparel and Footwear Lifecycle Database (WALDB) as partners. WALDB, a pre-competitive global initiative founded by Quantis, is a to provide a robust and credible database for environmental impact assessment and footprinting in the fashion industry.
SAC and Lenzing join HUGO BOSS, Legero/Think! Shoes, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and BSD Consulting, a group of industry leaders that have come together to collaboratively measure the environmental impacts created by materials used in the apparel and footwear supply chains.
The addition of these two new key players in the apparel industry and leaders in sustainability illustrates the need for more robust and credible data from the industry’s value chains. Data on the environmental impacts in supply chains is sparse, yet it is essential for organizations to drive metrics-based sustainability programs. WALDB will solve this data challenge.
The aim of WALDB is to bring together partners in the industry, in an open and precompetitive dialogue, to address the needs and challenges of environmental data collection and availability. In this initiative, the partners will work together to expand the database with reliable data on the processes along the apparel and footwear value chains.
WALDB enables apparel and footwear companies to identify environmental hotspots along their value chain as well as to quantify the benefits of improvement and reduction measures and to benchmark individual footprints compared with industry averages. Moreover, credible communications and marketing efforts can be built on sound metric-based footprint data, which can be used for sustainability reporting in full compliance with relevant ISO Standards and with the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) initiative.
The interest in calculating LCA in the apparel and footwear industry is rapidly increasing. Companies are looking for reliable data to make informed decisions and to prioritize their sustainability efforts. Furthermore, the development of new public policies like the Green Economy and the EU’s Single Market for Green Products are adding to the demand for credible data.
“I have witnessed a clear shift from the apparel industry – one that is characterized by a sharp increase in interest in developing a more holistic and quantitative approach to environmental sustainability,” Rainer Zah, Quantis Zurich Managing Director and WALDB project lead confirms. “Solid metrics serve as a guide to organizations’ sustainability strategies allowing them to make good decisions, based on hotspots across their operations, to make the most impact. The WALDB database will allow companies to assess their impacts, make strategic decisions, and engage their supply chains based on facts.”
Environmental impacts can range from water consumption for cotton cultivation, to impacts from dyeing and tanning, to greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and transportation.
The WALDB partners work together to collect comprehensive datasets based on primary data from the partners and on existing data from scientific studies. The datasets are released annually, the first release took place in July 2016 and consists of 60 datasets which cover wool, cotton, and leather supply chains for shirts, pullover, trousers and shoes. The datasets will continuously be expanded during the next two years according to the needs of the partners.
Quantis is a global leader in sustainability and (LCA) expertise, services, consulting and tools. Quantis is specialized in supporting companies as they measure, understand and manage the environmental impacts of their products, services and operations.
*This story first appeared on Quantis International
Sustainability – we often hear about this, but what does it really mean? It means changing the way we think about how we use our resources and make small changes that have a big impact on nature and community. To this cause and with a mission ‘to assist the adoption of Green Manufacturing Practices across Indian Manufacturing Companies’, Frost & Sullivan held its 2015 Edition of ‘India Sustainability Summit’ on 22nd May, 2015 at Hyatt Regency, Mumbai.
The summit started with a full day of presentations from eminent speakers across different businesses who spoke about their companies’ initiatives and vision on sustainability. This was followed by an exciting evening of awards where Birla Cellulose was awarded the ‘Challengers Award – Large Business’ in the 2015 Green Manufacturing Excellence Awards (GMEA) category.
Based on the assessments conducted at Birla Cellulose’s Kharach site and subsequently whetted by the Executive Committee of Frost & Sullivan’s Green Manufacturing Excellence Awards 2015, Birla Cellulose was awarded Challengers Award – Large Business. Mr. HK Agarwal (COO for Pulp & Fibre business and Mr. Vinay Bhalerao (Unit Head of Kharach unit) were there on the stage to be felicitated with this prestigious award for Birla Cellulose.
Mr. Gowtham S of Frost & Sullivan welcomed the guests and explained the Assessment Model and Methodology of GMEA 2015. He explained that the assessment model is realigned within four major areas and 13 parameters with each having a weightage of 100 points, totalling to 1300 points. The model also took into consideration global sustainability reporting frameworks such as the UN Global Compact. The assessment for Birla Cellulose that concluded had its basis in their GMEA Assessment Model that in turn derived its inputs from the team’s interaction with unit’s personnel, observations in the plant and documents seen/provided to them. The Kharach unit had a score of 823 for the entire facility. The parameters on which the assessment was done covered business strategy, governance & ethics, waste & emission, biodiversity, energy & water, materials, human capital, sustainability, supply chain, society and customers.
This year’s GMEA 2015 summit had an enhanced coverage of all elements of sustainability and it focused on bringing and promoting awareness among the manufacturing units across industry verticals, through best practices shared by thought leaders who are establishing the ‘Green’ mindset in their business as a means to sustainable growth. Distinguished leaders spoke on diverse topics on sustainability. The keynote speakers from Birla Cellulose were Mr. Ajay Sardana (Vice President & Head – Sustainability) and Mr. Rohan Batra (Special Projects) who spoke about Birla Cellulose’s initiatives regarding its commitment towards a sustainable company.
Mr. Batra presented on ‘Product Life Cycle Management’. He spoke about the company’s efforts regarding sustainability. He said, “By 2017, pulp and fibre business of Aditya Birla Group endeavours to become the industry leader for sustainable business practices across its global operations balancing economic growth with environmental and societal interests.” He further said that sustainable efforts at Birla Cellulose are tested through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which assesses the environmental aspect impact associated with product, process or service. At Birla Cellulose, it is conducted from cradle to factory. He proudly said “Birla Spunshades is the most sustainable product in the market that uses a unique dyeing technique. In this dyeing technique, for 100 kg fabric, water savings are upto 70 lts/kg, effluent load is reduced by 70 per cent, power is saved upto 3.5-4.0 KW and time is saved by 6-8 hrs per batch, ultimately reducing processing costs with better production quality and profits.”
Mr. Ajay Sardana presented on ‘Employee Sustainability Initiatives’. He said, “Employees are a key driver in driving Aditya Birla’s sustainability initiatives. Our company is an exciting world of global opportunities for professional growth with human care. The way we do business is just as important as the business itself.” He concluded by saying, “For a sustainability programme to be credible and successful, the alignment, engagement and enthusiasm of employees – both managers and the workforce – is essential”.
**This post first appeared here.
Dan Schawbel | This post first appeared on Forbes here.
I recently spoke with Chip Bergh, who is the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Levi Strauss & Co, a leading global apparel and consumer goods company with sales in more than 110 countries. In the interview, he talks about the importance of sustainability to Levi Strauss, gives some highlights from their recent sustainability survey, and why he talks about profits through principles.
Bergh is a strategic leader with a proven ability to build and grow brand powerhouses, bring new products to the mass market, develop innovative marketing campaigns, and capitalize on digital platforms to drive brand awareness. Prior to joining Levi Strauss & Co, Bergh was Group President, Global Male Grooming, for The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G). During his twenty-eight year career at P&G, he served in a number of leadership positions with increasing levels of complexity and scope.
Dan Schawbel: How important is sustainability to you and your company?
Chip Bergh: It’s an important pillar for us as a company. It’s an important pillar from an innovation standpoint, but it also goes all the way back to our values as a company. This company’s been around for 162 years, going back to our founder, Levi Strauss; the man, the myth, the legend himself. We invented blue jeans about 142 years ago. He was an entrepreneur—I like to think about us as the original Silicon Valley startup.
He, from the very beginning, was very big into giving back and making sure that the company always operated with principle and doing the right thing. As a result of that, sustainability in the broadest definition of the word—not just environmental sustainability, but social sustainability and everything else—is part of the fabric of this company. It is a very big deal for us, we’re very focused on it. We use sustainability as a constraint to drive our innovation program. It’s part of who we are, and I think more and more consumers are beginning to recognize that.
Schawbel: Can you explain your current sustainability initiatives and how they’ve helped your company while supporting the world at large? Do you have any success metrics you can share?
Bergh: Sure. Just a couple of weeks ago we launched an updated life cycle analysis of a pair of blue jeans. We ran the first life cycle analysis back in 2007, before my time at the company, and it was an industry first. It was the first life cycle analysis done in the apparel industry. It was done based on US data. It was very insightful. It gave us a lot of insight into both water and energy consumption that a pair of jeans actually consumes through their life. We recently updated the life cycle analysis about a month ago. It takes much more of a global look. We studied the life cycle of jeans in the U.S., but also in the U.K., France and also in China, where consumer habits and practices are very, very different. There are differences regionally, but the bottom line is still the same.
A lot of the water and a lot of the energy is consumed before the jeans ever make it into the consumer’s closet, but a significant portion of water and energy consumption happens after the jeans are bought by consumers. So we are focused on every aspect of the life cycle, including what’s within our direct control, which is how the jeans are actually made.
A lot of water is consumed growing the cotton. We work with the Better Cotton Initiative to work with cotton farmers to show them more sustainable ways of growing cotton. That’s becoming a more important source of cotton for us. Making a difference there. We’re very focused on reducing the consumption of water and energy as we manufacture our products. We have a line of products called “Water<Less,” which reducesthe amount of water in the finishing process by up to 96% . That has saved, over the last four years, about one billion liters of water in the actual manufacture of a pair of jeans. Just for perspective, that’s about enough to provide drinking water for the city of New York for more than a month. It’s not inconsequential, that’s a lot of water. Water is one of the most precious commodities on earth these days.
We’ve also committed a lot of energy—no pun intended—a lot of time and effort communicating with consumers about things that they can do to significantly reduce the use of water and energy in the caring of their jeans. I made what is now the quote that’s gone around the world a couple hundred times saying, “Never wash your jeans.” I never actually said, “never,” but it was a comment that I made at a sustainability conference about a year ago to try to wake the consumer up from auto pilot. You don’t need to throw your jeans in the laundry every time you wear them. Encouraging consumers to hand wash, spot clean where possible, and postpone as long as possible throwing their jeans into the washing machine. We have a number of initiatives against every aspect of the supply chain, if you will. From the growing of the cotton, to the manufacturing of a pair of jeans, to really trying to influence and educate consumers on the proper care of their product.
Schawbel: Millennials want to work for a company that is benefiting society. Why are companies starting to emphasize how they are helping the world more today than years ago? Do you think that companies that only focus on profit will have a recruiting dilemma in the future?
Bergh: I’ll tell you what we’ve been doing, but this is not something to just address the Millennials. It goes back to our founder, and it goes back to the values of this company. We actually talk about profits, we are a business. We’re here to make a profit. But we talk about profits through principles. We have a non-profit foundation, called the Levi Strauss Foundation, which has been in existence for more than 60 years. The company, every year, funds that foundation with a percentage of the profits that we make. Through that foundation we have lots of programs in the communities where we live and work. The more successful we are as a company, the more earnings or profits we deliver, the more we’re able to give to the Levi Strauss Foundation, and then give back to the communities. It is a big part of who we are as a company.
Ethisphere just named Levi Strauss & Co. one of the world’s most ethical companies. It’s something that we’re really proud of. It is part of our ethos. It is helpful in attracting and retaining talent, there’s no question about it. Especially today where young people, as you said, are looking for companies that align with their personal values. That’s just the kind of company we are. We didn’t change it to attract Millennials, that’s who we’ve been since the inception of this company. As a result of that, we stand for that, and we’re able to attract a lot of great talent because of what we stand for.
Schawbel: Going back to what you were talking about with the product life cycle assessment study, can you share some interesting findings of the study with us?
Bergh: Sure. We studied only two years of consumption in a consumer’s household. About 25 percent of the water is consumed by consumers once they get the product home. Part of it is just from this auto pilot response of, “After I wear a pair of jeans I’ve got to throw them into the washing machine.” In the US, people wash their jeans every two times they wear it. If everyone delayed or postponed the washing of their jeans and throwing them into the washing machine to every ten wears instead of two, they would save enough water to meet the annual water needs of the city of San Diego for a full year.
This whole notion of not being mindless about throwing your jeans into the washing machine—you really would be amazed how long you can wear a pair of jeans just with spot cleaning them, if you drop a little spaghetti sauce on them, or something. Or hand washing them. The washing machine consumes a ton of water. I think it’s about 9-14 liters in every wash cycle that pair of jeans would consume (depending on efficiency and age of the washing machine).
Dan Schawbel is the Founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory membership service for forward-thinking HR professionals.
Textile Exchange introduces the Organic Cotton Sustainability Assessment Tool (OC-SAT)
What does it do?
– A framework for assessing the environmental, economic and social impacts of organic cotton agriculture.
– Insight into the sustainability status of farmers certified to one or more of the internationally accepted organic agricultural standards.
– Builds on the findings in the recently published Organic Cotton Life Cycle Assessment (download here).
– Shows how farmers are successfully diversifying their crops, organizing their farming communities and supporting female farmers. Also reveals the challenges farmers face including pricing and payment, climate change, and lack of access to non-genetically modified seed.
To download a pdf version of the Organic Cotton Sustainability Assessment Tool, please click here.
**This post first appeared on Textile Exchange.