Levi’s to Reduce its Water Footprint With Better Cotton Initiative

Jeans from Levi Strauss & Co. just got greener. The company has had its eye on the CSR ball for several years and, having completed a carbon and water footprint of the jean manufacturing process, has now begun working with suppliers to reduce the impact of its product. The company determined that one pair of jeans consumes a staggaring 919 gallons of water during its lifetime. This includes the water required for irrigating the cotton crop, stitching the jeans together and washing them at home. 

This calculation of the water footprint of its product is part of Levi’s WaterLess Initiative where it is teaching cotton farmers in India, Brazil and other places to conserve water. In order to protect its bottom line, Levi’s is starting to take stringent measures that not only impact their manufacturing but also the way they communicate with their customers. Their new brand of stone-washed denim is manufactured using a technology that requires no water. All of Levi’s jeans now come with tags that urge customers to wash the garment less and to only use cold water.

In addition to all this, the company has also joined the Better Cotton Initiative. BCI was founded in 2005 as a way for retailers like Ikea, the Gap and Adidas as well as nongovernmental and cotton industry organizations to work together. The initiative works towards promoting water conservation, lowering pesticide use as well as child-labour practices in the cotton industry.

BCI harvested its first 2010-11 cotton crop by 68,000 small farmers in India, Parkistan and Mali. These farms yielded 38,000 metric tons of the 27 million metric tons of cotton raised worldwide. They did this by reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as water.

Levi’s says that 5 percent of the cotton that was used in its two million pairs of jeans shipped out this fall was grown using sustainable methods.  They want to increase this to 20 percent by 2015. They intend to do this by engaging directly with their contractors as well as farmers. BCI for Levi’s is not just a way to improve cotton growing and production but to also ensure that their product meets sustainability standards that customers now keenly look for. The company recently disclosed that jeans that were marketed as less water-intensive sold faster than regular Levi’s that were similarly priced.

According to Brianna Wolf, a senior specialist leading the Better Cotton program for Levi’s global environmental sustainability team, Levi’s is partnering with other Fast Track brands, including Adidas, Ikea, Marks & Spencer and H&M, to jumpstart the better cotton fund. Currently, the transition to certified cotton is an investment for any company but due to growing demand, she expects better cotton to compete with the price of non-certified cotton in the near future. This will make a huge impact because presently, conventional cotton occupies only 3 percent of the world’s farmland, but uses 25 percent of the world’s chemical pesticides and fertilizers causing a massive carbon and water footprint.

Image Credit: Top – Levi’s Logo. Bottom – BCI and Levi’s Infograph

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net