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Behavior Change
Why Consumer Education Is Vital for Corporate Sustainability Success

More and more, big companies have a growing responsibility, not just to help their bottom line, but to promote significant positive behaviors that contribute to a healthier world. That often means going above and beyond company-wide sustainability initiatives — committing to consumer education programs and encouraging audiences to be a part of the responsibility we all bear for protecting the environment.

As Vice President of Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co., it’s my job to make sure our company acts responsibly when it comes to environmental impact and best practices. I’ve written before about the comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) we performed on a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans, which allowed us to examine the entire production cycle, from start to finish, in order to identify where we can change our behaviors, save resources, and streamline processes.

The LCA also revealed that much of the environmental impact of our products occurs after consumers purchase them. We now know that the care and disposal of our products has a significant impact on the environment — and while it might seem like this is an area that’s beyond our reach, we discovered that there’s an effective way for our company to provoke consumer change beyond the store.

Through consumer-facing education programs, we’ve found that we’re able to connect more deeply with people and encourage them to alter their behaviors in sustainable ways. Our Care Tag for Our Planet Program, for instance, puts concise instructions on all Levi’s and Dockers products so that consumers can learn sustainable ways to launder and care for their LS&Co. clothing. We encourage consumers to “wash less, wash in cold, line dry, and donate when no longer needed.” Why? Because consumer behavior can make a significant impact on the ways our products affect the environment. We don’t view sustainability as an exclusively in-house job — we want to put a serious dent in the 26 billion pounds of textiles that end up in landfills each year in the United States.

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We’ve learned that the best way to achieve that is by doing what we can at a company level, while promoting sustainable behavior in the world our clothing inhabits. If we truly want to make a difference, we need to consider what our fans do with our products even after they no longer need them.

Last month, we launched a project that put that message on a big stage — a football field-sized stage, in fact. Held at Levi’s Stadium, Field of Jeans was a company-wide effort to raise awareness for the big impact that can be made by small consumer acts. That small act was a call to action for Bay Area fans to donate their used denim and other clothing at the November 2nd 49ers game. In just two weeks’ time, more than 18,850 pairs of jeans were collected, which were then turned into an elaborate art installation by San Francisco-based artist Hannah Sitzer.

The end result: A clear and beautiful image of the extraordinary impact donating clothing can have on the environment. The project amassed 12 tons of clothing from the Bay Area alone and resonated broadly with diverse audiences — from the general consumer to sports, sustainability to fashion. In hindsight, the success of the program lies largely in a simple concept that we’ve been dedicated to at LS&Co. for years: consumer education.

Corporate sustainability requires participation from everyone — companies and consumers alike. We have to continue working in partnership with consumers to effect positive change; in doing so, we all benefit.

What corporate sustainability initiatives do you admire? What has been your experience with sustainable consumer education programs? Please share your story in the comments below.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn on December 17, 2014.


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