U.S Cotton Trust Protocol

LS&Co. Joins U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol

Phil Zabriskie, Unzipped Staff
Levi Strauss & Co.
July 7, 2021

More than 90% of Levi Strauss & Co. products are cotton-based, which makes it critically important that we find more sustainable, more resilient sources for that cotton while at the same time continuing to investigate the possibilities around alternative fibers. This effort cuts across many pillars in our sustainability strategy, including our efforts to address climate change and water stress. It also goes hand in hand with our broader commitment to being more transparent about how we make our products.

As a positive step in this direction, we have joined the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a farm level, science-based program that is setting a new standard for more sustainably grown cotton in the U.S. Here, Jeff Hogue, LS&Co. Chief Sustainability Officer, talks about why we’ve made this move and how it plays into our broader materials strategy.

Jeff, can you tell us more about the Trust Protocol and our decision to join it?

Jeff: At its core, the Trust Protocol provides critical assurances about the sustainability of cotton cultivated in the U.S. by participating growers. In its words, the program “brings quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to sustainable cotton production and drives continuous improvement in key sustainability metrics.”

The Trust Protocol offers three crucial opportunities for us to drive more sustainable and transparent cotton cultivation: First, it focuses on ongoing efforts to make U.S. cotton production more sustainable. Second, it offers measurable, verified data for brands and retailers in six key sustainability metrics, such as carbon emissions and water use. And third, it provides a fully transparent cotton supply chain for all members. This promises to help us track progress toward our water and climate targets and communicate the impact of this work to consumers and key accounts.

We’ll start the pilot with a number of mills we work with in the Americas. We are also participating in the pilot phase of the Protocol Credit Management System, which uses blockchain technology to record and verify the movement of U.S. cotton fiber along the entire supply chain.

I know that all sounds kind of wonky, but it’s so important to our efforts here because it all starts with cotton for us. And what happens with the cotton in our supply chain impacts the progress we make on our emissions and water use targets, and even some of the equity work we’re trying to seed, no pun intended, throughout our operations. We really can’t meet our sustainability goals — including the push for greater transparency — if we’re not making progress on cotton.

Can you say more about how this fits with our broader goals around cotton and materials?

This is really important for U.S. cotton, which at present makes up about 10% of the cotton in our supply chain. And it definitely fits with our broader approach to cotton, which involves working with partners to drive more sustainable methods of cotton cultivation around the world, along with greater traceability and a clearer sense of its impacts where it’s grown. The Trust Protocol is of course U.S. focused, but the ideas behind it dovetail with our priorities globally. Most importantly, it will allow us to further diversify our more sustainable cotton portfolio, which is both necessary and prudent given how much cotton we use.

At the same time, we continue to look at other programs involving more sustainable cotton sources, including organic and recycled. And we are, as we’ve talked about before, also working to scale the use of alternative fibers such as cottonized hemp, that incredible innovation that came out of the WellThread® line and is now being used across much of our mainline product.

So, joining the Trust Protocol is one step in a larger process, but it’s a very important step. It shows meaningful action in and of itself while also serving to reiterate our larger commitment to drive more sustainable and traceable cotton sourcing in pursuit of our goals.