Ok, ok, I admit it. I’m a cheap date. Levi Strauss invited me and some other writers to an intimate dinner at Fish and Farm last night to talk about their new partnership with Goodwill. We had a wonderful and real conversation about the lifecycle of a pair of jeans and now I love Levi Strauss. It doesn’t take much to please me. PR people, please note: If you ply me with sustainable meat and biodynamic wine, I will probably say nice things about you!
All joking aside, the event was an opportunity to talk candidly about the challenges of greening a carbon intensive industry like clothing manufacture. The people at Levi Strauss were pretty upfront about what they were doing well and what they want to do better and that in itself is commendable. It is rare that a company will let you behind the reception desk to see the execs in action- trying to make the best decisions for the company that they can, wrangling with difficult trade-offs in cost, meeting consumer demand, and limitations in a global supply chain. We got to see a little bit of that last night.
Despite the surroundings, the Levi Strauss folks came across as down to earth and honest. We talked about the sweatshop labor that plagued their press coverage in years past and how it started the company on the road to sustainability: first socially, with safe working conditions and fair labor practices, and now environmentally, rolling out EPA wastewater standards for all their international factories, life cycle analysis and energy reduction plans. Those of you who follow my writing know that I totally geek out about factories and the challenge of greening the supply chain.
Who knows what is the most carbon/energy intensive part of the jean supply chain?
I do! It’s ‘U’ shaped- the most intensive parts come at the beginning and the end of the life of your pants. Cotton is an incredibly environmentally intensive industry, with 25% of the worlds insecticide use going to keep this crop bug free, not to mention a whole mess of other nasty problematic problems with land use, water runoff, and worker health. Levi Strauss has some plans in the works to increase the use of organic cotton across their product lines. But the bulk of last night’s announcement had to do with the other point on the U – customer use and end of life.
At the other end of your jeans’ life comes you, the customer. You wash them, you dry them, and then you throw them in a landfill. Levi Strauss appears to be authentically approaching supply chain management by addressing this big component of their environmental impact. Significantly, they’ve partnered with Goodwill to encourage the owners of Levis to donate their jeans when they are done. Goodwill collects them and will resell them, clothing the hipsters and the poor, and doing it by providing job training programs to at risk populations.
It’s a genius partnership, and I have to say it felt like an authentic and effective effort to develop and market the partnership. Can I have some free pants now?