Levi Strauss and Co. today announced it has saved one billion liters of water since 2011 through its Water<Less™ process, which reduces the water used in garment finishing by up to 96 percent. This announcement coincides with the release of LS&Co.’s new Product Lifecycle Assessment (LCA), an update on the company’s groundbreaking 2007 study on the environmental impact of its products. The new study analyzed the complete product lifecycle, probing deeper into the environmental impacts of cotton in key growing regions, apparel production and distribution in a range of locations, and consumer washing and drying habits in key markets.
The study shows that of the nearly 3,800 liters of water used in a pair of jeans’ lifecycle, cotton cultivation (68 percent) and consumer use (23 percent) continue to have the most significant impact on water consumption. Consumer care also resulted in the most significant energy usage and climate impact, representing 37 percent of the 33.4 kg of CO2 emitted in the lifecycle of a jean. The new LCA expands on previous research to better understand the impact of cotton cultivation and includes data from the world’s primary cotton-producing countries, including the United States, China, Brazil, India, Pakistan and Australia. It also analyzes consumer care data from new markets including China, France and the United Kingdom to understand the costs and benefits of differences in washing habits.
To reduce the impact of cotton consumption, Levi’s has long worked with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to train farmers around the world to grow cotton using less water. Based on the latest BCI harvest data available, in 2013, cotton farmers in China reduced their water use by 23 percent compared to farmers not using BCI techniques. Levi’s says it will continue to work with its global suppliers with the goal of sourcing approximately 75 percent Better Cotton by 2020, up from six percent today.
The new LCA also reveals that Americans use more water and energy to wash their jeans than consumers in China, France and the United Kingdom. It shows that consumers in China wear their jeans, on average, four times before tossing them into the wash — and if American consumers did this, they could reduce the water and climate change impact from washing their jeans by 50 percent.
Last year, Paul Dillinger, Levi’s Head of Global Product Innovation, told the crowd at SB ’14 that the company aims to help its customers start thinking of their cotton clothes as houseplants that “need only a little bit of water and a little bit of sunshine,” instead of water-intensive laundering, to increase their longevity and further reduce the impact of their products.
“It’s time to rethink auto-pilot behaviors like washing your jeans after every wear because in many cases it’s simply not necessary,” said Chip Bergh, CEO and president of LS&Co. “Our LCA findings have pushed us as a company to rethink how we make our jeans and we’re proud that our water stewardship actions to date have saved one billion liters of water. By engaging and educating consumers, we can fundamentally change the environmental impact of apparel and, ideally, how consumers think about the clothes they wear every day.”
Based on the study’s findings, which indicate that consumers are responsible for 23 percent of the water used in the lifecycle of a pair of jeans, Levi’s is launching a new consumer education campaign to ensure consumers understand their environmental impact. By taking the “Are You Ready to Come Clean?” quiz at levi.com/progress, consumers around the world will be able to find out how much water and energy they use compared to average consumers in the U.S., UK, France and China. Between World Water Day and Earth Day, consumers are encouraged to take a pledge to wash their jeans less often.
This latest LCA builds on findings from the assessment LS&Co. conducted in 2007, which led the company to launch Care Tag for the Planet in 2009, sewing tags into every Levi’s product to encourage consumers to adopt care methods that use less energy and water. Innovating around water reduction in denim manufacturing led to the creation of the Water<Less process and the apparel industry’s first 100 percent Water Reuse & Recycling Standard. Combined, these efforts have resulted in one billion liters of water saved in the manufacturing of Levi’s products, including 30 million liters of fresh water saved through reuse or recycling. As they have previously, the latest LCA results will serve as a foundation for the company’s future sustainability efforts.
The Lifecycle of a Pair of Levi’s® 501® Jeans — Summary of Key Findings
- Water Consumption: Nearly 3,800 liters of water are used to make a pair of jeans. Fiber production, predominantly cotton (68 percent), consumes the most water, followed by consumer care (23 percent).
- Climate Change: Of the 33.4kg of CO2 in the jean lifecycle, consumer care (37 percent) and fabric production (27 percent) generate the most significant climate change impact and energy use.
- Expanded Scope: By expanding our scope to include leading cotton producing countries, we’ve seen the water consumption from cotton cultivation increase, since the amount of water used to grow cotton varies significantly across the world. Also, by including new consumer markets we’ve found that washing and drying habits vary by region.
- Impact: By wearing jeans 10 times before washing, American consumers can reduce their water and climate change impact by 77 percent, UK and French consumers by 75 percent and Chinese consumers by 61 percent.
Current average washing frequency:
- In the U.S., consumers wear their jeans 2x before washing them
- In the UK & France, consumers wear their jeans 2.5x before washing them
- In China, consumers wear their jeans 4x before washing them
Consumer jeans-washing habits vary by region:
- Americans use more water and energy to wash and dry their jeans than consumers in the other markets
- Consumers in the UK and France mostly air-dry their jeans and use more hot water than the others
- Consumers in China mostly wash in cold water and air-dry