According to Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.), it’s up to everyone to reverse the effects of climate change.
“Climate is the existential crisis of our time—a threat to commerce and communities around the globe—and we all have a responsibility to act,” he said in the company’s first-ever standalone sustainability report.
One of the first companies to commit to emissions reductions consistent with the 1.5°C limit stated in the Paris Agreement, the company says its targets remain among the most ambitious in the apparel industry. By 2025, the parent company of Levi’s, Dockers and now Beyond Yoga, plans to reduce water usage in manufacturing areas of high water stress by 50 percent, reduce GHG emissions across its global supply chain by 40 percent and cut GHG emissions in all owned and operated facilities by 90 percent.
It also pledges to incorporate 100 percent renewable electricity in all owned-and-operated facilities and ensure all fabric and garment suppliers are up to par with the company’s Water<Less goals, which it set in 2011 to maximize water efficiency in apparel production.
In the report, the company noted that it’s on track to meet its science-based targets, and mapped out the steps it’s taking to reduce its climate impact and focus on water stewardship and biodiversity.
LS&Co. developed its Climate Action Strategy in 2017 to reduce its environmental impact across its direct operations and global supply chain—and much of that involves working with suppliers to set their own sustainable goals. Its key suppliers—those representing approximately 80 percent of final product volume—are now committed to reducing their own emissions by 40 percent, through both equipment changes and renewable energy investments.
Other partnerships include those with organizations dedicated to producing cleaner energy at scale. LS&Co. partnered with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to support mills and manufacturers in their energy and water efficiency investments. Moving forward, LS&Co. will expand on this partnership to get more participation across its supply chain.
Shipping is also a major area of focus for the company. While ocean shipping makes up 85 percent of the company’s shipments from country of origin to distribution centers, it also uses other methods such as rail, trucking, barge transport and air freight when necessary. It works with shipping suppliers that offer eco-friendlier solutions, including one method of using waste-based biofuels to move large containers with net zero CO2 emissions. In 2020, it shipped 500 containers using the method, and will increase that number to 1,000 containers by the end of this year.
It also set up the option of direct shipping, which allows certain shipments to go directly to the retail customer without stopping at a distribution center—a process that requires a close partnership with a third-party logistics provider to ensure the shipment gets to its appropriate destination.
LS&Co.’s owned-and-operated facilities include more than 1,000 retail stores, more than 80 offices, 10 distribution centers and two manufacturing plants. Its systems for energy reduction in each of these spaces have the potential to make a major impact overall.
Of its eight LEED-certified facilities, the most recent to receive the prestigious certification are its distribution center in Henderson, Nev., the largest of its kind to receive the Platinum designation at the time of its certification, and the Levi’s Shanghai Beacon store in Nanjing East, the first Levi’s store in mainland China to be certified LEED Silver when it opened in 2020.
LS&Co. is in the process of designing a new distribution center in Germany complete with building materials that support a circular economy and are net positive on climate and water. The center is expected to meet a majority of its own energy needs, as it will feature solar and geothermal power plus a rooftop garden that will reduce heat island effects and minimize storm water run-off. Construction will begin later this year, with operations scheduled to begin in late 2023.
Retail stores will also get an energy makeover, with small changes that produce big results, such as switching to LED lighting and installing systems that dim lights after hours. Even mannequins are getting an update via 100 percent recycled base stock that blends both post-industrial and post-consumer materials.
LS&Co.’s Water<Less program was originally built on technical innovations that save water compared with traditional methods in fabric development and garment finishing. By the end of 2020, 67 percent of all LS&Co. products were made using Water<Less finishing techniques or in facilities that meet its water recycle and reuse guidelines. To-date, the program is responsible for saving 13 billion liters of water since its launch in 2011.
LS&Co. is working with suppliers to reduce water use and pollution, and ensure facilities adhere to the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Foundation’s wastewater guidelines’ standard and recycle more than 20 percent of the water used in manufacturing. Between 2014 and 2020, suppliers recycled around 8.5 billion liters of water.
Within its owned-and-operated factories in South Africa, the facility uses 100 percent recycled water in manufacturing to offset its reliance on the stressed local freshwater supply. Additionally, by using LS&Co.’s Water<Less finishing techniques, the company reduced water usage in manufacturing by more than 25 percent.
In 2020, 88 percent of the fiber content in LS&Co.’s products was cotton. While it’s committed to bolstering its sourcing of organic and recycled cotton through initiatives with Better Cotton and the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, the company is exploring alternative fabrics, as it states that growing cotton is one of the largest contributors to biodiversity loss within fashion. It’s specifically looking to hemp, which is known to be less water-intensive and require fewer chemicals and less land use. Its most environmentally conscious collection, WellThread, along with its Fashion for Good partnership, will help the company bolster its alternative fiber research.
It’s also committed to preventing fiber sourcing from ancient and endangered forests, and is using more recycled and innovative fibers such as Refibra and Circulose, which also have lower impacts on land use and biodiversity.
But while LS&CO. is committed to reducing its environmental impact across all of these areas across its value chain, the company is conscious of how reducing impacts in one category, such as wastewater treatment, might create adverse secondary effects in others, such as energy use. The company says it will “continue working with suppliers to balance [these areas] for the greatest net benefit.”