Levi Strauss & Co. (LSCO) recently announced its involvement in a new water-action strategy aimed to significantly reduce overall water use and reduce its cumulative water use for manufacturing products for its brands Levi's, Dockers, Signature by Levi Strauss & Co. and Denizen by 50% in water-stressed areas by 2025. Its plan is also designed to increase access to clean, safe drinking water for communities in sourcing locations.

Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co., explained the new strategy’s aims and projects.

Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability
Photo: LSCO
Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability

How exactly does LSCO want to cut 50% of water consumption for producing all brands of its group by 2025?
We will continue to implement and expand programs designed to reduce water use in manufacturing. These include our water Recycle and Reuse program (R&R). Over the past year, we have tripled the number of approved R&R facilities and have recognized five fabric mills in areas of high water stress.

It also includes our partnerships with the International Finance Corporation Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (IFC PaCT) and the Apparel Impact Institute’s Clean by Design program. For example, after piloting the PaCT approach with a select number of suppliers and seeing that they were able to reduce their emissions by an average of nearly 20%, we recently announced the beginning of an expansion of the IFC PaCT partnership to 42 facilities in ten counties across our supply chain.

Part of our strategy is also our existing Water Less, which will remain key to reducing the amount of water needed to finish denim garments. Water Less techniques significantly reduce the amount of water that we use to wash or finish jeans, which saves not only water, but also energy. 

 

How can the holding make sure that companies producing for its brands fulfill the commitment?This strategy was developed with our supplier partners in mind. As we developed this strategy, we consulted various suppliers, each of whom supported the idea of establishing contextual water targets that respond to local water stress. Going forward, our technical experts in the field will continue to work with vendors to drive efficiency, as they have been to date.

What’s more, suppliers are already engaged–and deeply invested–in the effort to reduce water use. In water-stressed regions, suppliers have begun to install water-efficient machinery and recycle water because these represent strong and necessary investments for their businesses. Through our commitment, we want to help our suppliers identify worthwhile investments in water projects and, in doing so, help them be successful over the long term. We also want to help them gain recognition for the innovative steps they are taking towards more effective water stewardship.

 

How will you inform the consumer and the industry about this project?

We will continue to be vocal about the issues and our efforts. Already we have the Care Tag for the Planet sewn into our jeans, instructing consumers to wash their garments in cold water, line dry them when they do and donate them when no longer needed. There will also be more consumer-facing and in-store information provided to consumers in the year ahead. In addition, we participate in a host of industry coalitions and are vocal about our water use programming and the need to work together across companies–and across industries–to truly achieve the necessary impact.

 

I remember that when the first Levi’s Water Less collection and project was started the consumer was completely uninterested and didn’t bring the expected sales results. Why could it be successful now?
We believe the consumer is very much interested in these issues, and that more and more people are today–and will be in the future–making purchasing decisions with sustainability in mind. This is part of a much broader effort on our part to demonstrate our commitments to the planet and the communities in which we operate, which also encompasses efforts focused on chemicals, climate, cotton cultivation and workers. But these are not merely sales pitches. They are material issues for the business and our industry, and we are heartened to see more recognition of the fact that sustainability and good business go hand in hand.

 

By focusing on more environmentally friendly items the prices of the final product may rise. Will that also be a consequence of making this strategy effective?
We do not anticipate price rises based on these policies. On the contrary, we believe that suppliers can reduce their costs by reducing their water and energy use and becoming more efficient and sustainable in general. For example, with the IFC/PaCT program mentioned above, the suppliers that took part in the pilot program cut their emissions by an average of roughly 20% and cut costs collectively by more than $1 million–even as they made capital improvements in their facilities (utilizing low-cost funding from the IFC). And suppliers that have instituted our Worker Well-being programs have similarly reported excellent ROI based on reduced rates of attrition and absenteeism. Again, this is part of the mounting body of evidence demonstrating that sustainability is not apart from or adjunct to good business practice, but is good business practice.


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