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A New Report Takes Aim at Levi’s Policies on Air Pollution

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Activist group Stand.earth is pushing the apparel industry toward reducing its impact on air pollution and climate change with a new report that takes aim at the world’s largest manufacturer of denim, Levi Strauss & Co.

The international environmental organization released its “Too Deadly to Wear” report Wednesday, detailing the environmental impacts of the apparel industry. The group attributes 8 percent of global climate pollution to apparel and footwear companies and claims it is responsible for 38,000 climate change deaths a year. The deaths, the report states, are primarily in developing countries and regions from which global brands like Levi’s source their production.

On Thursday, protesters will gather outside of the Levi’s store in Times Square in New York City with banners that read “Levi’s are made from coal.” Activists plan on removing their jeans in protest and will pose for photos with passersby.

“The report findings are incredibly clear: the fashion industry’s fossil fuel addiction contributes to deadly air pollution and climate change,” Todd Paglia, executive director of Stand.earth, said. “The fashion industry doesn’t have the luxury to stand on the sidelines—climate solutions are readily available, but immediate action is required, and Levi’s can lead the way.”

The group is calling on Levi’s to take action and help set new industry-wide standards to control air pollution. From fiber and cloth production and manufacturing, to transport, packaging and retail, Stand.earth said Levi’s global supply chain produces the climate pollution footprint equivalent to 1.1. million cars a year. While 99 percent of Levi’s climate pollution comes from its supply chain, Stand.earth said Levi’s has not taken “meaningful action” to address impacts outside of its own operations.

“Right now, by all indications (given the limited data the industry puts out) pound for pound, Levi’s is at the front of the pack on climate pollution,” Liz McDowell, Stand.earth strategic digital and campaign director, told Rivet. “Our campaign is focusing on Levi’s because the company is a huge polluter, and because although it talks a big talk about environmental measures, so far it has done strikingly little to address the climate pollution in its supply chain. We also know that Levi’s is a respected brand in the industry—and if it takes meaningful action to curb its huge climate pollution, it could catalyze industry-wide change.”

Though Stand.earth recognizes Levi’s as the first in its industry to set global guidelines for water quality standards for its suppliers and was the first to provide financial incentives for garment suppliers in developing countries to upgrade environmental, health, safety and labor standards, it said the company is “dragging its feet” on comprehensive climate action.

Last year Levi’s joined the “We Are Still In” letter, reinforcing its commitment to meet the clean energy goals in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. As a company, Levi’s said it is taking steps to reduce its offices, retail and distribution greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. Additionally, it’s working toward 5 percent annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per product shipped from company owned and operated plants. However, given Levi’s “big talk on sustainability,” McDowell said Stand.earth would like for Levi’s to extend these efforts across its entire supply chain.

The group is calling for the denim maker to meet or beat the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement on climate change with a 40 percent absolute reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 for its entire supply chain. Additionally, Stand.earth wants Levi’s to transition its entire supply chain to renewable energy with a minimum of 50 percent of energy sourced through renewables by 2035 and to commit to long-term carbon emission reduction of at least 66 percent by 2050 for the entire supply chain.

“Levi’s has been talking about climate action for years. Back in 2012, the company made a commitment to reducing climate pollution throughout its global operations, but this hasn’t happened yet,” McDowell said. “So far it’s only tackled reducing the climate impact of its direct operations, which pale in comparison to the impact of it supply chain (direct operations, like head offices and retail stores, make up just 1 percent of its total climate footprint). These actions, and others like advocating for the U.S. to continuing participating in the Paris Climate Agreement, are commendable, but only address a small fraction of Levi’s climate pollution overall.”

On Thursday, a Levi Strauss & Co. spokesperson wrote to Rivet, “Levi Strauss & Co. has a long-standing commitment to taking action on climate change. In line with our history of advocacy, we’ve been vocal in our support for the Paris Climate Agreement and in urging world leaders to protect our environment. We’re committed to reducing our emissions by 25 percent and using 20 percent renewable energy by 2020—and we are on track to exceeding this goal. We also partner with organizations such as the National Resources Defense Council and the International Finance Corporation on innovative and scalable approaches to reduce factory emissions across the global supply chain. In September 2017, we joined more than 300 global companies in committing to set science-based targets to reduce emissions across our entire supply chain.”

The spokesperson encouraged readers to read more about Levi’s work to address climate change by visiting the company’s sustainability section on its website.

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