Levi Strauss & Co. has a history of “quiet leadership.”
The company has been involved in sustainability commitments since 1991 when it developed its “Terms of Engagement,” a questionnaire it requires all its suppliers to complete about their labor and environmental health standards.
And in the process, Levi’s has set a tone for how brands select their supply chain partners.
At the Sustainable Fashion Forum in Los Angeles earlier this month, hosted by Fashiondex and LA Textile, Liza Schillo, Levi Strauss manager of sustainability, shared the next sustainable steps for the globally recognized denim brand and how it plans to reach its “aggressive” goals for 2025.
Levi Strauss & Co.’s mission is to be a catalyst for positive impact on the world. While reducing water, chemical and energy consumption is crucial for every apparel business, the company isn’t focused on just reducing negative impacts.
Schillo said Levi’s also challenges itself to be a “source of good” and generating positive impacts for the world.
The company aims to “do good” by replenishing water supplies, growing green chemistry that it has identified as being safe and non-toxic, and by generating its own clean energy.
This year, Levi’s achieved its 2020 climate goals across its own operations, including 25 percent emissions reduction across its properties, transitioning to 20 percent renewable energy and a 5 percent carbon intensity reduction per product made.
But before the company could celebrate—with recycled confetti, of course—it released new commitments.
Levi’s is working toward 90 percent carbon emissions reduction, 100 percent renewables across its properties and a 40 percent carbon emissions reduction across its supply chain by 2025.
“It’s very aggressive, and its driven by a lot of scientific insight we didn’t have at the time when we made our prior commitment,” Schillo said. “And to be honest, that 40 percent [carbon emissions reduction] commitment is going to be a challenge. We have plans and we’re getting close to achieving it but its aggressive, and it’s going to be a real push.”
Schillo said the way Levi Strauss is working toward reducing carbon emissions is by prioritizing energy efficiency across it’s owned and operated facilities. “Because the less energy you’re using, the better,” she quipped.
Recently, the company’s sustainability team was given the green light from its president and CEO Chip Bergh to get into some solar projects. The company also plans to supplement the efforts with the purchase of renewable energy credits.
“We are also looking for ways that we can contract green energy with our utility providers,” Schillo said.
However, it’s a complicated process because for some locations, like stores inside shopping malls, Levi’s can’t identify the utilities providers. “It can be a bit of a challenge to make that direct connection when we are one tenant among many,” she added.
The key to actualizing sustainable goals, Schillo said, is to make a strong case for a financial payback for the business.
For example, Levi’s could purchase a set number of renewable energy credits, or the company could invest in onsite solar production.
“Solar is going to be more expensive. It will be more upfront, but then we own our facilities and that has its own payback,” she said.
Achieving 40 percent carbon emissions reduction across its supply chain won’t be an easy task for Levi’s, but the company is putting forth plans to support each supplier.
Schillo said the company developed a program called the Partnership for Cleaner Textiles, which will allow Levi’s to go into suppliers’ facilities and help them identify opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy installation.
“It will vary widely by facility and by country,” she said. “We’re really going to be getting our hands dirty, getting into the field and working with suppliers to come up with solutions that will ultimately help them save money and stabilize their own energy supply because some of the facilities are located in places where there isn’t a steady supply of grid energy.”
“So there is a real business care for renewable energy on site,” she added.