Levi’s, 49ers Collaborate to Reduce Waste with ‘Field of Jeans’

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Sunday, November 2, was not one of the finer days for the San Francisco 49ers, as the team lost a close game to the St. Louis Rams and fell further behind in the NFL playoff chase. But while the score on the field was disappointing for 49er fans, another event that day offered an example of how professional sports teams can partner with brands to raise awareness on how simple acts can do a lot for social good. On that Sunday afternoon, Levi’s and the 49ers partnered on a “Field of Jeans” initiative to highlight progress on both waste diversion and job training.

In the weeks leading up to that game, both Levi’s and the 49ers ran a campaign asking fans to donate their used jeans to Bay Area Goodwill stores or at the November 2 game. The goal of the drive was to round up 13,000 pairs of jeans, enough to cover a football field. At last count according to Levi’s, around 15,500 pairs of jeans were donated to Goodwill — preventing approximately 10 tons of cotton denim from final disposal in landfills.

The Field of Jeans donation drive has its origins in a lifecycle assessment (LCA) that Levi’s completed in 2007 – it concluded from the LCA that about half of the water and energy consumed in maintaining a pair of jeans comes from how often consumers wash and dry their clothes. The company concluded that consumer education needed to be central to its sustainability agenda, because that is where the biggest difference could be made. In fact, urging consumers to change their laundry habits could have a larger effect than the Levi’s work to reduce waste and inefficiencies in their supply chain and operations. For example, Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh and Head of Global Product Innovation Paul Dillinger have publicly suggested that consumers stop washing their jeans and find less resource-intensive ways to maintain their favorite garments. Levi’s encourages such habits in part to conserve water and energy, but also because washing actually weakens denim fabric — which in turn decreases the life and value of Levi’s jeans, which continue to be one of the most coveted items in the vintage clothing market.

The company’s message amplifies a program Levi’s and Goodwill have been running since 2009, called “Care Tag for the Planet.” The tag explains that by washing less often, washing in cold water and line drying, small actions collectively can bring big results — and help chip away at the over 20 billion pounds of textiles that end up in American landfills annually. Of course, many consumers eventually want to thin out their closets, and that is where Goodwill has stepped in.

Levi’s consumer education campaign worked closely with Goodwill, the clothing company’s primary donation partner. Together both organizations launched the Donate Movement, a national initiative that encouraged American consumers to donate unwanted goods instead of pitching them in the trash. Those donations in turn could help generate jobs at Goodwill while reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.

Now the latest collaboration between Levi’s and Goodwill is the Field of Jeans program. This campaign, which again calls upon consumers to donate instead of disposing their garments, is only one way in which the two organizations work together. Levi’s also runs employee volunteer programs to help store employees and managers understand their local merchandising needs, while providing grants and running sample sales to help fund Goodwill’s programs. Sample sales alone, according to Marisa Giller of Levi’s corporate affairs department, generates about $2.5 million in sales annually, which the company then donates to Goodwill. Another $400,000 has been donated by Levi’s to Goodwill International, the parent organization that oversees all franchised Goodwill stores globally.

Now the program has grown with the addition of the 49ers franchise to this partnership. Levi’s and the 49ers have had a long relationship, which has become even stronger due to the company’s sponsorship of the NFL team’s new stadium in Santa Clara, California. In order to drum up support for Field of Jeans, the teams put out the word on various social media channels, direct emails to season ticket holders and a scoreboard promotion for the 49ers’ previous home game on October 5. A video done by one of the team’s players, tight end Vernon Davis, also encouraged fans to gather up old denim and drop it off at bins located near the stadium’s entrance gates.

On game day, Levi’s offered all attendees who donated their used jeans a coupon that they could then use at a Levi’s store. But if someone could afford season tickets, or even the cheapest ticket to a game at Levi’s Stadium, was a coupon offering a percentage off a garment much of an incentive?

“While the coupon is meant to be a recognition for those who donate, it’s the larger opportunity to take part in something positive for the community and contribute to a one-of-a-kind Field of Jeans that we believe will drive participation,” Giller said.

The Levi’s-Goodwill-49ers partnership is part of a broader trend underway within the National Football League. The NFL over the years has long partnered with non-profit organizations on community development projects, and in recent years has taken sustainability more seriously. The league has partnered with the National Resources Defense Council on efforts to “green” its game day events, and the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas was noted for being the most environmentally conscious NFL event at the time. Levi’s work with the 49ers is just another way the NFL is moving forward on sustainability issues.

“Given our two organizations’ commitment to sustainability and community, we believe this will be the first of many ways we partner to engage with fans and employees around giving back,” Giller said. “We’re already engaging on community events in several ways such as giving back to schools and community day activities.”

The NFL is the most popular sports league in the U.S., and with such a powerful brand comes huge responsibility. Projects such as the Levi’s-49ers-Goodwill denim drive are a way to instill a sense of social responsibility within a group of consumers who are typically more concerned about the final score, not the final effects of their game day revelry - from water consumption to trash.

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