At Levi Strauss & Company, our goal is to become the world’s most sustainable apparel company by transforming the way we do business.
Water is critical to our business, the planet and people around the globe. We know that water is the most precious resource we have, and that our planet’s usable water is becoming increasingly scarce. Today, one in ten people in the world do not have access to clean water and one in every three people do not have access to a proper toilet. As a society, we’re continuing to draw from the planet’s limited groundwater supply at record rates – faster than it can be replenished.
Apparel production depends heavily on water availability—from growing cotton to manufacturing to consumer care at home. For decades we have worked to reduce our water impact, change how the industry uses and thinks about water and educate consumers about the important role they play.
But we recognize that it is not enough for us to be good stewards of Earth’s most precious resource. It is our responsibility as a leading apparel company to be a catalyst for change – within and beyond our industry. We’re committed more than ever to reducing water use and ensuring that the water we do use is returned to the environment even cleaner than we found it.
To make this vision a reality, LS&Co. has created a holistic, integrated approach focused on the three areas we can have the most impact: the planet, production and people.
We know these are the areas where we can make the greatest impact around water because we’ve studied it. In 2007 and again in 2015, we conducted the industry’s first comprehensive lifecycle assessment of our core products with a focus on a pair of Levi’s® 501 jeans. The result? A pair of 501® jeans uses 3,781 liters of water in its full lifecycle – from growing cotton, through manufacturing, consumer care at home and end of life disposal. And these are the areas we are focused on when it comes to creating meaningful and lasting change.
Water + the Planet
It can’t be ignored that apparel production uses a significant amount of water. Through our LCA, we discovered that nearly 70 percent of the water used during the lifecycle of a pair of jeans is used solely for cotton agriculture. Knowing that 95 percent of LS&Co. products are cotton-based, this meant re-evaluating the sustainability of our cotton supply and finding new solutions to address this raw material’s impact—from irrigation and runoff to pesticides and farmer education.
The solution: the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) – an initiative that LS&Co. co-founded in 2005 to fundamentally change how one of the world’s largest commodities is grown. BCI focuses on decreasing the environmental impact of cotton, improving labor standards and increasing the economic livelihood for farmers. The program also requires farmers to use water efficiently and care for its availability. BCI farmers use up to 18 percent less water than non-BCI farmers in comparable locations.
In 2015, we sourced 12 percent of our total cotton through BCI – up from 7 percent in 2014. By 2020, our goal is to use 100 percent sustainable cotton through sources such as Better Cotton and recycled cotton, significantly reducing our total water footprint. We are asking other apparel companies to join BCI and source more sustainable cotton as an industry overall.
We’re also exploring innovative approaches to use recycled cotton in our garments. Jeans crafted with at least 15 percent recycled cotton save as much water as the entire manufacturing process consumes.
Cotton is grown in some of the most arid regions in the world. This is why we’re also looking beyond the factory walls to address the issues facing our world’s most strained water basins. We’re proud to be working with the World Wildlife Fund to assess our supply chain operations and identify hot-spot locations facing water pollution, scarcity and ecosystem damage. Based on these findings, we plan to raise awareness and implement solutions to reduce the water impact of apparel factories located in the water basins of some of the most high-risk areas, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mexico and China.
Water + Production
While manufacturing a pair of jeans only consumes nine percent of the water used in the jean’s entire lifecycle, it’s the area we control most directly and where we see a big opportunity to drive change in the apparel industry. We’re looking at all areas in our supply chain – from fabric mills to laundries – to identify ways to reduce our water use and eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals from our production.
To minimize water use in production overall, our designers challenged themselves to create the same great styles our consumers love with far less water. The result was a series of innovative finishing techniques we call Water<Less™, which can save up to 96% of the water in the denim finishing process. Since launching the Water<Less™ processes in 2011, we have saved more than 1 billion liters of water in the manufacturing of LS&Co. products. 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 these techniques with other vendors in hopes to see similar water savings.
Most recently, we’ve taken our commitment to reducing water use in the apparel industry a step further by making our water reduction standards and tools, including our Water<Less™ innovations, publicly available to others within and outside our industry, and encouraging other denim companies – large and small – to use them in their production.
By utilizing our Water<Less™ innovations, we believe the apparel industry can save at least 50 billion liters of water by 2020. Our goal is to increase the percentage of our own products made with Water<Less™ techniques to 80 percent by 2020.
Outside of product finishing, we’re working to extend our wastewater guidelines to textile mills in our supply chain to ensure they are focused on reducing their water impact. We’ve seen that many of our mills are already meeting our strict environmental standards, but there is more work to be done.
We’re also partnering with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) as part of their Clean by Design program to reduce water, energy and chemical use at the textile mill level.
When it comes to hazardous chemicals, we were one of the first companies in our industry to establish a Restricted Substances List. In 2014 we launched the Restricted Substances Stewardship Program (RSSP), which takes this commitment a step further creating the foundation to eliminate priority substances from supplier’s production processes (including production for other brands) by supporting our product focused RSL with a Manufacturing RSL (MRSL). Through our RSL and RSSP, we have taken specific action to address the elimination of APEOs, PFCs (completely banned in 2015) and phthalates in our products and supply chain. And we are committed to doing our part to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020 through our participation in the Joint Roadmap Towards Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC).
Water + People
Water is essential to our business and to every person who touches our products. Because of this, LS&Co. is addressing water at every step in the lifecycle.
Through our Worker Well-being initiative, we’ve identified Water Access, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) as a critical need for workers who make our products, their families and their communities. Through factory and community-based programs, we are helping to educate workers and their families about safe drinking water and hygiene – both within and outside the factory walls.
With between 60 and 75 million people employed in the apparel sector around the world, we believe that, if other companies implement and scale similar programs, we can improve the lives of over three million workers.
Since water is core to our business at all levels, LS&Co. has also prioritized educating corporate and retail employees about water conservation.
We partnered with the Project WET Foundation to develop a curriculum to increase awareness around the social and environmental impacts of apparel. We’re training our employees across the globe to become water conservation ambassadors and to share what they learn in the communities where they live and work. Through these trainings, LS&Co. employees and local communities will become educated about the impact their clothing has on the planet and how to change daily behavior to conserve water.
By 2020, our goal is for 100 percent of our company’s corporate employees to receive the Levi Strauss & Co. Project WET water education training.
And with consumers we’re working hard to educate them about reducing their impact through care labels, awareness campaigns including the “Are You Ready to Come Clean” consumer quiz and “Don’t Be a Drip” water education program as well as through ecommerce sales channels.
RELATED RESOURCES — WATER-
- 2014 – CEO Water Mandate Communication on Progress
- The Lifecycle of a Jean (2015 Lifecycle Assessment Study)
Other Materials & Documents