Levi’s Quietly Announces Climate Change Strategy

By Mike Bellamente

When an iconic figure makes a bold statement, conventional wisdom suggests that the statement is meant to be heard.  Lady Gaga didn’t don a meat dress to the 2010 MTV music awards because it was high fashion, just as Iran isn’t necessarily enriching uranium to advance their stock in nuclear energy.

So earlier this month, when Levi Strauss & Company (LS&CO) released their 2012 Climate Change Strategy (view announcement or download the PDF), it seems counter-intuitive that so little media fanfare accompanied the launch. (Ed. note: except, of course, on TriplePundit.) Shouldn’t Chip Bergh, LS&CO’s CEO, be out seeking airtime with Good Morning America and the talk show circuit for recognition?

The unfortunate reality is that climate change remains such a high voltage issue for people that addressing it as a corporation can no longer be effectively marketed as a benefit to consumers.  If “green” is the darling of eco-marketing, then “climate-friendly” is the egghead sister that no one wants to date. People don’t want to be saddled with the world’s problems when they are out buying jeans. In fact, consumer brands are more likely to risk alienating politically conservative consumers (53% of whom deny global warming) than they stand to gain in boosting sales for demonstrating leadership in corporate responsibility.

Why then, if not for publicity, would an iconic American denim company even bother to publish a climate change strategy?   As Chip points out in his opening message, LS&CO. faces “significant business risks, ranging from disruptions to our operations, to the availability of water, and to potential impacts to cotton supply, our core raw material.”  This sounds very little like leftist hippie hyper-alarmism and more like an even-tempered, inward-facing business decision aimed at protecting the long-term interests of the company.

But wait; isn’t sound corporate management generally aligned with conservative values? Ironically, the country has become so intensely blinded by political ideals that many have not recognized that the business community–which drives more than a few of the big-ticket items central to the November elections (jobs, economic prosperity, etc.)–has already moved on to the solutions piece of the climate change puzzle, while more than a third of the country continues to denounce climate science altogether.

For its part, Levi Strauss and Co aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions tied to offices, retail stores and distribution centers 25 percent by 2020, while increasing renewable energy purchases by 20 percent during that same time frame. Similarly, consumer products giant Reckitt-Benckiser, with over a 100 brands including Clearasil, Frank’s Red Hot and Lysol, has committed to reducing its overall carbon impact by one-third by 2020 as part of its “better business” initiative.

Even companies normally seen as competitors (Nike, Adidas, and Puma for starters) are banding together to form alliances like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, or, in the case of the beverage industry, the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER).  More explicitly related to climate change is the BICEP coalition – Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy – led by Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit.  And, just to drive the point home, major oil companies like Shell and Conoco Phillips are even developing corporate strategies tied to climate change.

Companies the world over are assessing climate change risks and costs in manners that are material to their business. If severe weather threatens to disrupt distribution channels, companies need to ensure against such risks in the same manner that rising energy costs would drive the business case for maximizing energy efficiency.

But again, while multi-billion dollar, multi-national players are increasingly addressing climate impacts that may affect their bottom line, there is little motivation to shout their progress from the rooftops.  In a world where the customer is king, demand for low-carbon products and corporate climate leadership is trumped mightily by traditional demand drivers like price, product quality and brand image.

If climate change were considered hip, companies would be tripping over themselves to share their climate change strategies with consumers as a way to sell product.  Until that happens, though, companies will rightfully go only as far as good business dictates, while we, the consumer, continue to be spoon-fed a more marketable and more attractive version of eco-friendliness: more green.

Mike Bellamente is the director of Climate Counts, a national nonprofit aimed at bringing consumers and corporations together on climate change.  Bellamente has written extensively on environmental sustainability in the private sector and has appeared on Huffington Post and GreenBiz.com.  In February 2012, Bellamente was named to Ethisphere’s list of 100 most influential people in business ethics. 

[Image credit: Dark Botxy, Flickr]

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10 responses

  1. Really!!!

    *In three debates so far, Obama hasn’t planned to mention
    climate change once.

    *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of
    the Unions addresses.

    *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of
    demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by

    *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.

    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change
    denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists
    warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    Want to lose an election for sure? Then just keep
    threatening the voter’s kids with CO2 deaths.

    1. Thanks for weighing in MeMeMine, but I fear your misinterpreting my message here. It is not my intent to threaten voters or their poor defenseless children. I’m merely drawing attention to the fact that members of the corporate community are taking progressive action on climate change — not because it’s popular, but because it stands to impact their business.

      Also, I wouldn’t consider Julian Assange and Stephen Harper (prime minister of Canada) as barometers of good judgement. In terms of the presidential election, I believe deep down that both Obama and Romney realize that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon, but again, they realize that the risk of alienating folks is greater than the potential benefits of coming off as a pragmatic leader.


      1. You don’t get it. Climate change was exaggerated and therefore not a crisis and not real and nothing to worry about. My proof is the fact that there are millions in the global scientific community who don’t act like a climate crisis is real. You can’t have a little climate crisis!
        However, pollution is real but fear mongering my kids with a climate crisis is a war crime and I promise history will call it another Reefer Madness.
        So let’s drop the CO2 mistake and let’s all work together to be good stewards of the planet. Being a climate blame believer isn’t helping anyone or the planet.

        1. Woah woah woah mememine… isnt the Arctic ice cap melting in the next decade enough? What further proof do you need? The exponential increase of carbon gas in the atmosphere in the last hundred years? 90% of the united states in drought for most of the summer? Denial is the first step…its time to move on to step 2…

  2. Pretty much all companies are looking to reduce their energy costs, its just good business. At the same time they can sell it to the public as a climate change strategy.

    They are also looking to reduce union labor costs as well, perhaps they can sell layoffs to the public as a climate change strategy as well.

  3. One or two companies in the west is just the tip of the iceberg, with Chinese building over nearly 700 coal fired power stations a year what chance does this planet stand?

  4. Great article Mike. It is unfortunate, however, that there continues to be a need to write it…

    Origin of Sustainability Movement Leads to Current Challenges

    “Individual components of sustainability have come together, but were initiated and promoted by separate advocates and frames of reference.”

    Sustainable Land Development Initiative
    Going Carbon Negative – http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/09/sldi-project-carbon-negative/

  5. The point of this is independent of one’s belief in climate science or one’s position on climate politics. Its good business sense to avoid waste, reduce resouce use, promote energy diversity and assure supply chain resilience. Kudos to Levi’s initiative.

  6. What are we so afraid of? We have the biggest environmental crisis of our times and it’s become an untouchable topic? How is this one different than acid rain, we talked about that and it had costs associated with it. I just don’t understand how a threat to humanity has become a debate and now a silenced topic. It’s so sad.

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