*This story first appeared on GreenBiz
Sustainability for retailers is a particularly slippery slope. While some are lauded for campaigns that make a significant impact, others are cited for hyperbole or greenwashing.
Regardless, having an environmentally friendly ethos is important to consumers — a Nielsen study found that 75 percent of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings — and brands have taken note. It’s not enough to just sell run-of-the-mill goods, brands need to have a defined social and societal impact.
We took a look at some of the recent efforts by eight major retail brands and assigned them letter grades based on genuine transparency ventures, reception by consumers and industry leaders, and commentary from outside experts.
Patagonia has long been the frontrunner when it comes to sustainability in retail. In November, it pulled an unprecedented move and donated 100 percent of its global Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations. Patagonia also has a robust repair program that helps consumers maintain longevity of their products, in addition to selling used branded clothingfrom its Portland retail store. (And no one has forgotten its watershed “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign in 2011, which asked consumers to think twice before making a purchase in an effort to prevent waste.)
“Patagonia has done a tremendous amount of innovation for people and the planet. It’s been in their DNA from the beginning,” said Rebecca Mallard, founder of Maven Women, a sustainable women’s wear company.
Levi Strauss and Co. recognized it had to do something to cut its abundant water usage, so in 2011, it implemented its Water<Less program, which streamlines its production process to reduce water used to make denim. However, what really sets Levi’s apart is its focus on inter-industry collaboration when it comes to environmental efforts. It hosts an annual “collaboratory” that convenes retailers from around the world to glean insight and tips about more sustainable operations. It also expanded its worker well-being program last year to benefit more countries.
“They’re taking their role seriously in supporting innovation,” Ballard said. “It’s open source and about creating a cohesive network, rather than having a clutched fist attitude. Partnership is an essential element of ethics and sustainability.”
Gap, Inc.: B
Earlier this week, Athleta, part of the Gap, Inc., announced that it is launching its first line of athletic wear fully certified by Fair Trade USA, which is focused on supporting global factory workers. For every garment sold in the collection, factory workers are given an additional financial premium to use to benefit their community in areas like childcare, transportation and education. With its Fair Trade line, Athleta primarily aims to support female factory workers — the new styles are made by a factory in Sri Lanka where more than 80 percent of employees are female.
The move by Athleta follows Gap, Inc.’s announcement last year that it has begun disclosing global factor lists in a push for transparency, taking a cue from companies like UK-based Marks & Spencer and Belgium-based C&A. While it’s an important move, it only serves as the initial step before making tangible improvements to working conditions and Gap has yet to launch a program like Levi’s worker well-being efforts.
“It’s a really great first step in transparency and accountability, saying ‘these are our factories and we’re going to own up,’” said Natalie Grillon, co-founder of Project Just, a informational platform focused on sustainable fashion and beauty.
Kering Group: C+
Kering came under fire in December when it received low marks in the Apparel & Footwear Benchmark Findings Report, developed by watchdog organization KnowTheChain. Kering was positioned fourth-to-last on the report, which ranked mass retailers in several categories, including risk assessment, recruitment, monitoring and governance.
Kering claims the score was a result of issues around its information disclosure practices and that information highlighting its most recent sustainability efforts was not considered. Among these ventures is Kering’s environmental profits and loss app, which launched in October as an educational tool to track the environmental cost of fashion design. In response, Kering launched a “next generation” sustainability strategy at the end of January, a comprehensive plans to curb emissions and increase working conditions.
Though H&M launched its Conscious Collection in 2012 and has since worked with organizations to help improve transparency standards, the actual level of transparency from H&M is minimal, with sporadic posts on social media alluding to improved working conditions. Additionally, the company has been caught in several troubling incidents, like the revelation that it had used refugee workers in Europe.
“The issue with H&M is they brand themselves as better than they actually are,” Ballard said. “When you find Syrian refugee children working in factories in Turkey, which happened, and a recycling campaign that has a greenwashing component, it makes me pause.”
Like H&M, Zara has been plagued with similar challenges falling upon fast-fashion retailers. However, it took four years longer than H&M to launch its first eco-friendly line. As part of its new effort, launched late last year, the Spanish company began offering recycled packaging and boxes and also started a clothing donation program (modeled largely off of H&M’s existing program).
“As any retailer is planning for the next generation of customers, and its business in general, sustainability and social impact have to be a top consideration, and it’s positive to see Zara take a step to improve its supply chain,” Brooke Blashill, svp and director at Boutique@Ogilvy, told Glossy in a previous interview.
Despite operating on a mantra of “radical transparency,” Everlane has shown this notion is particularly elusive. Even with its push to share “Transparency Tuesday” Q&As on social media and its efforts to take customers on tours of factories, it is prohibited from disclosing its factory list and has unspecified compliance guidelines for locating new factories. However, the company audits every facility each quarter and avoids at-risk countries so there is no compliance risk, according to CEO Michael Preysman.
Preysman told Glossy in a previous article that the lack of information about its factories is an attempt to protect other brands that operate out of the same spaces. “Everlane makes products in the same factories as luxury brands,” he said. “We make the same quality product as these other brands, pay the same cost, but charge a much lower markup. We may jeopardize their business.”
In September 2016, an investigative report by BuzzFeed found that Asos workers were subjected to particularly brutal conditions, including being discouraged from taking bathroom and water breaks and getting fired for taking sick time. Despite numerous reports, the brand denied that it was complicit in the allegations. “There have been a number of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out-of-date information,” it said in a statement.
*This story first appeared on Glossy
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
Benita Singh: Founder and CEO of Le Souk, the first online global textiles marketplace.
Tell us about your business and the work you do.
Le Souk is the first online textiles marketplace where designers can search, sample and source directly from leading mills and tanneries around the world. Our mission is to provide unparalleled transparency to designers and brands looking to build direct relationships with trusted suppliers.
We started the platform to provide market access for suppliers who could not afford the high cost of attending trade shows. As the model began to prove itself, established suppliers, many of whom do attend trade shows, began to approach us to showcase their latest collections as well. Four years later, we’re hosting the online showrooms for suppliers in over 19 countries – from repurposed salmon leather from Iceland to vegetable dyed cotton from India.
What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?
For us at Le Souk, it means bringing transparency to the sourcing supply chain. Too many designers don’t know where their materials come from, not because they don’t want to know, but because it’s simply impossible for them to trace where their fabric comes from. By working exclusively with textile mills and leather tanneries, we work only with suppliers who spin and weave (or tan) their materials.
This model means that designers can communicate directly with a representative at the source of production. This facilitates greater ease of access to information and certifications. And for suppliers , they’re closer to the market (and can increase their gross margins.)
How important is water to what you do?
It needs to become more important, which is why we’re thrilled to be a part of the Collaboratory. Water usage is largely overlooked when it comes to fabric sourcing, and it needs to become top of mind for more designers. Through the fellowship, we want to inspire and challenge our suppliers to re-think their modes of production while at the same time, bringing those materials that use less water to the forefront of Le Souk in a way that educates designers.
What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?
More knowledge on water impact from industry thought leaders will better position Le Souk to be an even greater resource for our 18,000+ active designers – both in terms of content but also in terms of materials that are water efficient. It’s our job to communicate the importance of this issue to designers, and by participating in the fellowship with both brands and companies that interface with brands, we look forward to coming up with creative ways to inspire the industry to take a hard look at how it uses water.
What’s your Levi’s® story?
My relationship with Levi’s® goes back to 2006 when the non-profit that I co-founded, Mercado Global, was fortunate enough to receive one of its first grants to advance its work with artisans in Guatemala from the Levi Strauss Foundation. Ten years later, it’s a thrill and honor to be collaborating with Levi Strauss & Co. again.
Jesus Ciriza Larraona: Founder and executive director of The Colours of Nature, a natural dye company specializing in indigo.
Tell us about your business and the work you do.
In 1992, I spent time in Kashmir, India, designing Persian silk carpets and exploring manufacturing approaches. It was during this time, by the beautiful lakes around Srinagar, that I became aware of the environmental impact of the dyes and finishing processes used to make the carpets.
As I had also seen industries destroy rivers where I grew up in Spain, at this point I decided to try to find alternatives for the chemical dyes being used. Naturally, I looked to the ancient traditions of natural dyes, for craftsmen and industries alike. I founded The Colours of Nature (TCoN) in Auroville, India. TCoN is a company exclusively dedicated to the use of eco-friendly natural dyes. Over the years we have been dyeing organic cotton yarns and fabrics, as well as making fabrics, including batik and shibori fabrics, and garments. Last year we started to dye cotton fiber, which is relevant as dyeing at this stage, before yarn- or fabric-making, can really help reduce water.
What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?
For me, both go hand in hand, as the pollution of the industry also, in many cases, affects those who work in it, by polluting local aquifers.
Whilst protecting the environment is the reason we are in business, we are also focused on improving conditions for workers. Exploitation of workers in the textile industry in developing countries can make it impossible for workers to lead dignified lives, in turn limiting their choices and power to create a sustainable future. So again, for us, social and environmental responsibilities go hand in hand.
How important is water to what you do?
It is well known that good drinking water is becoming increasingly harder to come by in many countries and that many industries all over the world do not pay enough attention to the environmental impact of their activities.
In 1993, working with dyers from a small village in India (Guledagudd), we recovered an ancient natural indigo dye fermentation process which was almost forgotten. This biological process works for many years using the same dyeing water. In fact, the natural indigo fermentation dyeing water currently in use at TCoN has been in use since 1993. We have a working prototype to up-scale this natural indigo fermentation process for industrial purposes at our premises. It’s a process that can be used by craftsmen or industries!
What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?
Our aim is to share our learning with regard to natural dyes, and to learn from the other Collaboratory participants.
*This story first appeared on Levi Strauss
If they told us more, would we listen?
Consider the clothing label. Not fashion label, as in Chanel or Gucci, but the itchy, annoying little tag hiding inside every single piece of clothing you’ve ever worn.
That tag is the closest thing we’ve got to a legend, a guide to whatever it is we’re wearing. In many cases, it tells us what the item is made from and how to wash it. Unfortunately, labels leave out some pretty important information about our clothes and how they’re produced. In their understated way, clothing tags keep some of the garment industry’s most troubling secrets.
You may not have a burning desire to know your turtleneck’s or your favorite jeans’ life story ― fair enough. But a number of label-obsessed clothing industry players want labels to be more informative and even empowering, to tell us more about how our clothes are made and help us discard them responsibly when we’re done with them.
“The label is a place where we already to go access information, but we don’t get what we want,” Marianne Caroline Hughes, a United Kingdom-based sustainable fashion advocate and entrepreneur, told The Huffington Post. “It’s hugely underutilized as a place to access information and act upon information as well.”
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission enforces labeling requirements. That’s why the tag on your shirt tells you its country of origin, fiber content and the name of the manufacturer or dealer.
Still, in many places, it’s optional to include the country of origin. For example, Hong Kong, home to one of the world’s largest textile industries, doesn’t require it. Same for the U.K., Sweden, Germany and several other European nations.
Wherever they’re based, clothing companies certainly aren’t in the business of oversharing (if they even know all the details of their own supply chains, which they often don’t).
Christina Dean, founder of the fashion waste reduction organization Redress, says that, ideally, every label would include information about an item’s environmental impact. And since garments aren’t necessarily made in just one place, labels should say where the garment was manufactured and where the fabric comes from.
She’s not optimistic that brands would voluntarily offer this. Her more modest wish is for some kind of global standard, requiring every garment to state its country of origin. “It’s like a 101 of transparency,” she told HuffPost.
Others believe clothing tags should acknowledge the people who toil unseen to make our clothes. The garment industry employs at least 60 million people worldwide ― from Bangladesh and Cambodia, to Europe and Los Angeles ― most of them women. In countries where poverty is rampant, companies involved in various stages of garment production have been known to employ young children and subject them to dangerous and unfair working conditions.
After more than 1,100 garment workers died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, Sean McHugh and his colleagues at the Canadian Fair Trade Network set out to raise awareness about garment workers’ lives, using clothing tags to tell their stories.
The group’s 2015 ad campaign, “The Label Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story,” featured sweaters and jackets with oversized tags crammed with information, based on the group’s research abroad. Each tag aimed to capture the experiences of a person who might have made the garment pictured. Here’s one of those stories:
The label reads:
100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, 9 years old. He gets up at 5:00 am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works reaches 30 degrees [86 degrees Fahrenheit]. The dust in the room fills his nose and mouth. He will make less than a dollar, for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents.
The label doesn’t tell the whole story.
McHugh, the Canadian Fair Trade Network’s executive director, said the labels campaign was one of the group’s most successful ever. Facebook followers doubled, website traffic tripled and the campaign was covered in 15 countries and in eight languages.
But the Network struggled to move from awareness to action. “The part that was lacking, the challenging bit, was the tangible next step for consumers to take,” McHugh told HuffPost.
The nonprofit Fashion Revolution also sees clothing labels as a gateway to more accountability. Its signature campaign, “Who Made My Clothes,” asks people to photograph labels on their clothing and post them on social media, to pressure brands into sharing the human stories behind the items they make ― stories that would otherwise never be told.
During the group’s annual awareness event in April, more than 1,200 brands, including Zara, American Apparel and Levi’s, responded to the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes, according to a Fashion Revolution spokeswoman. Some replies even included photos and names of actual garment workers.
And if labels were to tell us the best way to get rid of our old clothes, what would that look like?
Levi’s has been doing this since 2009. Its “Care Tag for Our Planet” label, in partnership with Goodwill, is now sewn into every Levi’s product. This tag tells you not only how to properly wash and dry items, but also suggests you donate them at the end of their life cycle, instead of throwing them out.
“This is the first major step to begin to engage consumers in their environmental impact and what they can do reduce it,” Michael Kobori, a vice president of sustainability at Levi’s, said at the time of the Care Tag’s launch.
As HuffPost has reported, Goodwill takes in millions of pounds of used clothing a year and makes a monumental effort to keep them out of landfills, even though every donated item doesn’t necessarily make it to needy people.
By suggesting people donate their old items, Levi’s is taking a step toward encouraging customers to treat their clothes in an environmentally responsible way. It’s good advice, considering the clothes we as Americans throw out ― dozens of pounds a year, per person ― end up breaking down in landfills and polluting the atmosphere in dangerous and preventable ways.
Since ordinary people can’t just tell brands what to do, they understandably feel powerless, said Hughes, the U.K. entrepreneur. That’s why she and her label-loving counterparts see informative tags as a useful tool ― even a weapon ― in the quest for more transparency about the things we wear.
“I think the label, and making products a source of information, is the key to it all, really,” she said.
*This story first appeared on Huffington Post
What’s in your jeans? A rogue’s gallery of unpronounceable chemicals whose effects on humans are suspect.
Perfluorochemicals , phthalates and azo dyes are among the substances that are widespread in making clothes. Under pressure from consumers demanding safer alternatives to harmful chemicals, American companies including Levi Strauss & Co. are taking a more European approach. The European Union has banned or restricted more than 1,000 chemicals; in the U.S., fewer than 50.
Consumer demand for safe products has global companies scrambling for greener ingredients, but obstacles are daunting.Suppliers are often reluctant to share their formulations, buyers balk at higher costs, and in some cases cost-effective safer substitutes simply aren’t available.
Levi’s has prohibited certain chemicals since 2000, but this is different. The jeans maker and other companies are asking suppliers to use materials generated from bacteria, fungus, yeast and methane gas to replace the petroleum-based substances that make up more than 95 percent of U.S. products’ inventory of chemicals.
There are plenty of incentives to change. A Pike Research report estimates that the global market for green chemistry will increase to almost $100 billion by 2020, from $11 billion last year. Millennials are overwhelmingly interested in sustainable investing, according to Morgan Stanley. And innovating can give companies a competitive advantage, said Monica Becker, co-director of the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council , which works with companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Companies can make false promises that a product is consistent with green-chemistry practices, Becker said, but guarding against that are assessment methods used by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program.
Rules can also confound the efforts of U.S. companies. To approve chemicals and processes, the European Union uses a so-called hazard-based approach that the Chinese government is also considering. Manufacturers need to prove their products meet safety standards before they bring them to market. The U.S. method is risk-based. It involves weighing metrics, such as quantity and duration of exposure, to assess the danger in an existing product — if data exist.
Proponents of a hazard-based approach argue that exposure to even tiny amounts of some chemicals correlate with learning disabilities, asthma, allergies and cancer.
“Shouldn’t it be that chemicals are guilty until research proves them innocent?”
“Shouldn’t it be that chemicals are guilty until research proves them innocent?” said Amy Ziff, founder and executive director of Made Safe , a new hazard-based certification program. Levi’s said its goal is to use only chemicals that pass hazard-based screens by 2020.
Even as some suppliers push back, “we wouldn’t give up on hazard-based,” said Bart Sights, Levi’s director of global development.
Levi’s already uses some green methods to make its signature blue jeans. To give them a worn look, Levi’s uses an enzyme derived from fungus and tumbles the jeans in ozone gas instead of bleach — a process that Sights estimated has had the added benefit of saving the company a billion gallons of water in the past three years.
“Some companies are spending the same amount on environmental compliance as they are on research and development,” said John Warner, president and chief technology officer of Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry , who created the first green-chemistry Ph.D. program in the U.S., at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Companies can be roiled by the use of non-green chemicals. Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. was beset by lawsuits last year after a “60 Minutes” investigation said it used unsafe levels of formaldehyde. Shares plunged before a government probe ended without a product recall. The company no longer sells the flooring.
Such problems have investors taking notice, said Mark Rossi, whose company, Clean Production Action , created the Chemical Footprint, modeled on the carbon footprint, that investors can use to measure risk and costs. It also developed and licenses a chemical-screening method used by Levi’s and others.
Rossi has signed on firms including BNP Paribas, Calvert Investments and Trillium Asset Management, while companies like Johnson & Johnson and Clorox Co. participated in the first survey to assess their footprint. Gojo Industries Inc., maker of Purell hand sanitizer, has pledged to cut its chemical footprint in half by 2020.
In the five years since it launched a campaign to spur clothing makers and sellers to get rid of toxic substances, Greenpeace International has signed on 78 brands, said Kirsten Brodde, head of the organization’s Detox My Fashion campaign.
At the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry , across the Bay Bridge from Levi’s San Francisco headquarters, students have worked with the jeans maker and companies such as outfitter Patagonia Inc., office-furniture maker Steelcase Inc. and Mango Materials Inc., which manufactures plastics out of methane gas, to develop safer materials, including a non-toxic resin for Autodesk’s 3D printers.
But an overnight change for the greener just isn’t possible.
“When it comes to materials, we’re at the very initial step, which is figuring out what the heck is actually in our products,” said Marty Mulvihill, a founder of the Berkeley Center and its former executive director. “A lot of companies are just completing that first step.”
A comprehensive replacement for formaldehyde, for example, hasn’t been developed, Mulvihill said.
Mulvihill is now a partner at Safer Made, a new venture-capital firm he co-founded that’s seeking investments in companies that use green chemistry. It’s looked at more than 100 companies, with plans to invest in 10 to 15 firms in the next five years, he said.
Patagonia has also invested in green chemical companies. A Levi’supplier, Beyond Surface Technologies , is one of a dozen the Ventura, California-based clothing maker has seeded out of 1,400 prospects it’s looked at since 2013.
“Ultimately, some of these companies that we fund could be able to help us clean up our own supply chain,” said Phil Graves, Patagonia’s director of corporate development.
There are 20 environmentally friendly chemicals available for the company’s textile finishes, compared with 200 to 300 that contain non-green chemicals, said Matthias Foessel, Beyond Surface’s founder and chief executive officer.
Developing safer alternatives can take years, while acceptable green substitutes for some substances used in waterproofing and stain protectants, such as perfluorocarbons, don’t exist, Foessel said.
New chemicals often behave differently than expected. Beyond Surface had been trying to create a water repellent when it developed a fabric that absorbs sweat instead.
Still, Foessel’s eight-year-old firm, based near Basel, Switzerland, now has more than 100 customers, including Adidas AG.
“Ten years ago, people wouldn’t have even talked to us,” Foessel said. “People accepted that you had to use chemicals that pose a risk.”
*This story first appeared on Bloomberg
Partnering with children’s book publisher Scholastic and the Project WET Foundation, Levi Strauss & Co. has created an educational program about water preservation reaching approximately 1.5 million American students through classroom-based lessons and a conservation-themed sweepstakes.
Project WET, a foundation that works towards teaching children about water conservation, has worked with Levi’s since 2015 when they first partnered to create a water preservation program to train Levi’s employees.
Scholastic has helped adapt Our Watery World, a program created by the Project WET Foundation with Levi’s for students grades 3–5 to learn how to reduce their water footprint at home and in school.
Consisting of three in-classroom lessons, the program gives students a deeper understanding of how their daily actions affect the limited resources of the planet. The lesson plan also teaches students how much water is used every day by common appliances.
“Water is one of the planet’s most precious resources, and it’s going to take more than just one company or individual to ensure its future. The Our Watery World program will help shape the future generations to not only be aware of water’s scarcity, but their role in changing it,” said Levi’s Sustainability VP Michael Kobori.
In addition to distributing the lesson plan, students will have the opportunity to submit their water saving solutions for the Conserve Water at Your School Sweepstakes. Supported by Levi’s, the students who provide the best idea for conserving water at their school will receive a $10,000 grant to enact their proposal.
*This story first appeared on Rivet and Jeans