At Levi Strauss & Co., our business depends on water. From cotton to manufacturing to consumer care, this precious resource plays a vital role over the life of our products. We’ve studied this in great depth, including two comprehensive lifecycle assessments. We know exactly how much water a pair of Levi’s® 501® jeans traditionally uses over its lifetime — and where.
That knowledge helped us make a lot of changes in our business to reduce our own water impact. And it’s helped us educate consumers about the impact of their laundering habits through care labels and awareness campaigns. But this World Water Day we’re taking it to the next level.
Open-Sourcing Our Water<Less™ Techniques
Today, on World Water Day, we’re taking a cue from our neighbors in the tech industry and publicly disclosing our innovative Water<Less™, which can save up to 96 percent of the water used in the denim finishing process.
Water scarcity is too important for us to keep these techniques to ourselves. Just as tech companies open their APIs in order to accelerate change, LS&Co. is open sourcing what we have learned and welcoming our competitors to build upon this to accelerate water conservation throughout the industry.
Since 2011, we have saved more than 1 billion liters of water in our own manufacturing, and we’ve set a goal to use Water<Less™ techniques for 80 percent of our products by 2020. We believe our Water<Less™ innovations could save the apparel industry at least 50 billion liters of water by 2020 — enough to supply every family in New Orleans for a year.
This isn’t the first time we’ve joined with others to address water issues. In 2005, we co-founded the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), aimed at fundamentally changing how cotton is grown. Seventy percent of the water used by a pair of jeans is from cotton agriculture. BCI farmers use up to 18 percent less water than non-BCI farmers in comparable locations. We’ve also saved 30 million liters of fresh water through the industry’s first Water Recycling and Reuse Standard, which we piloted with one of our vendors in China; we’re sharing that standard across our industry as well.
As you can see, we’ve put a pretty big stake in the ground. But as a leading apparel company, we have a responsibility to be a catalyst for change — because time and again we’ve found that where we lead, others follow.
In this fight to preserve our most precious natural resource, our employees are one of our greatest assets. Imagine if each one of us were empowered to spread the message of conservation. As a 163-year-old company with an established reputation of social and environmental responsibility, we have an influential voice. But as individuals, our chorus has the power to reach even more people.
That’s why we committed to the White House that we would train 100 percent of LS&Co.’s corporate employees in our Project WET curriculum by 2020. The goal is to increase employee awareness of the social and environmental impacts of apparel, and to train you to become water conservation ambassadors so you can share what you’ve learned in your community.
This sounds like a lot of work – and it is. But it’s absolutely vital, to our business, our employees, workers in our supply chain, their communities – and our entire planet. We want to use our leadership position in the apparel industry to spur even more innovative ways we can all work together to preserve this scarce, vital resource.
So, today, on World Water Day, which, perhaps appropriately, is also my birthday, please join me in celebrating our accomplishments as well as mobilizing as a company to lead the industry on these actions on water, one of our most precious resources on the earth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Kobori is the Vice President of Social and Environmental Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co. He leads the development of LS&Co.’s environmental vision and strategy, our efforts to collaborate with other brands on sustainability, and extend our standards throughout the supply chain, including mills and sundry suppliers. Follow him on Twitter @KoboriGrillsCSR.
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