By Jessie Haas
Levi’s is cutting carbon emissions, with a goal of using 100% renewable energy in its own facilities by 2025. They plan to cut emissions in those facilities by 90%, compared to 2016 figures, and to cut emissions in their supply chain by 40%.
Though a smaller percentage, the supply chain improvements could have the biggest impact. Levi’s-owned facilities comprise only 1% of the company’s carbon footprint. Sewing accounts for 9%, growing cotton 10%, making fabric 31%.
Levi’s believes their goal is achievable. In a pilot project with the Partnership for Cleaner Textiles, Levi’s worked with five Asian plants in 2016. Focusing on “low-hanging fruit,” the plants reduced emissions by an average of 20%, and collectively saved $1.1 million.
Farmers are not included in the supply chain program, but Levi’s is working with the Better Cotton Initiative, which helps farmers use less chemical fertilizer and switch to methods like cover cropping. Cotton is a notoriously heavy feeder. It depleted the soils of the south and led to the westward expansion in the 19th century. Better cotton is a win for the planet.
The consumer is also part of the equation. Actions taken by consumers comprise one third of Levi’s total carbon footprint. The company now prints on clothing labels, “wash less, wash cold, line dry, donate when no longer needed.” Additionally, tailors in retail stores offer repairs, to make garments last longer.
That faded look that contributes to Levi’s chic? It was once supplied by work, wear, and dirt. Of late, textile workers used toxic chemicals to fade the jeans. The process took many hours and resulted in toxic dyes and chemicals flushed into the waterways. New laser technology allows Levi’s to design ‘wear patterns’ and essentially shave them off the outer surface of the fabric. The new process takes 90 seconds, allowing manufacturers to practice just-in-time delivery, and avoid producing styles that do not prove popular. These practices have recently beome widespread in the denim industry, with the processes being made available in an open source library.
All this means a pair of jeans you can wear with a clear conscience, especially if you do your part. Wear them for a week or so before washing. You don’t have to wait until they’re dirty enough to stand up on their own but go for some owner-customized, do-it-yourself wear patterns. Wash them cold, dry them on a clothes line, and get back to Levi’s roots, and your own.
The Levi’s story is part of something much larger. Four hundred forty-eight global corporations are working with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), a nonprofit-led project helping companies comply with the Paris Climate Accord. Among the corporations that have signed on are many familiar names: Anthem, Ben and Jerry’s, Colgate Palmolive, Honda, IKEA, McDonald’s, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Stanley Black and Decker, Target, Toyota, Unilever, Walmart, and Xerox. (Visit SBTI’s website for a complete list, with many corporations’ targets listed in detail.) These are corporations with global reach, and they are now working on a global initiative to reduce their carbon footprints. It’s safe to say that not every company on the list is currently seen as a climate hero, but each has publicly demonstrated a commitment to change.
The list deserves to be better known; along with washing our jeans less fequently, we could vote with our dollars to support SBTI companies. The list should also grow. Take a look at the list. Who’s not on there that should be? Petition drive, anyone?
Jessie Haas has written 40 books, mainly for children, and has lived in an off-grid cabin in Westminster West, VT since 1984, www.jessiehaas.com.