Levi Strauss & Co. today announced a new water strategy that leverages the latest water science and data, consultations with leading water experts, and the company’s own water management experience and leadership over the past three decades to set a new standard for the company and the industry. LS&Co. will shift from a singular “one-size-fits-all” approach to a more responsive, contextual approach to water management. This will allow the company to focus reduction efforts where they are needed most, with a goal of reducing its cumulative water use for manufacturing by 50% in water-stressed areas by 2025. Furthermore, the strategy is designed to increase access to clean, safe drinking water for communities in sourcing locations, and to drive collective action that delivers lasting change for surrounding communities and watersheds as well.
This approach builds on work done in the years since the 2011 launch of LS&Co.’s open- source Water<Less program, which significantly reduces the amount of water used in the finishing process. Water<Less technologies helped the company save 3 billion liters of water in the finishing phase through 2018, while recycling and reuse capabilities helped save another 2 billion liters.
But Water<Less addressed only one phase of LS&Co.’s product lifecycle and made no distinctions based on geography. To make a broader and deeper impact, LS&Co. has developed a more evolved strategy that also addresses areas outside its direct control (akin to what the company did last year when it released its science-based targets on climate change). Data-driven and outcome-oriented, the new approach will heighten both the sustainability and resiliency of the company’s supply chain, while extending that resiliency to the watersheds and communities that support it.
The core elements of the new strategy are as follows:
- LS&Co. will work with key suppliers that represent 80% of total product volume to set and achieve specific water use targets for factories where Levi’s, Dockers, Signature by Levi Strauss & Co., and Denizen products are made or finished. The targets will be based on the water context at the local level; facilities located in more highly-stressed countries will have more stringent target levels than facilities in countries facing less water stress (although LS&Co. will continue to practice and improve sustainable water strategies in lower-stress areas).
- The Water<Less designation on products will enhance its meaning. To date, it has signified that a given product was made with Water<Less techniques or recycled water. Going forward, factories and mills that meet the targets that LS&Co. issues will qualify as Water<Less, as will the fabric or products coming from those facilities.
- LS&Co. will help all its key suppliers achieve the Water<Less designation by 2025, utilizing tools and programs such as existing Water<Less techniques, LS&Co.’s collaboration with the Apparel Impact Institute’s Clean by Design program, and its partnership with the International Finance Corporation’s Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT), which provides expert guidance on water management and low-cost financing for upgrades that improve efficiency and performance.
- Moving “beyond the fence line,” LS&Co. will collaborate with suppliers, other brands, NGOs and others at the local level to develop programs that improve the long-term health of watersheds in key sourcing locations. One such project is underway in the Ravi River basin outside Lahore, Pakistan, where LS&Co. is working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Earth Genome and Arizona State University to map and diagnose sources of water stress, engage local stakeholders and develop and implement targeted solutions. The goal is to help ensure a healthy Ravi River that can support local communities and industry. The ultimate goal is to only use as much water as replenishes in the area naturally.
- To address needs in places where safe, clean drinking water is hard to find, LS&Co. will partner with suppliers to promote greater access to water for surrounding communities; several supplier facilities, for example, have already installed freshwater faucets that make potable water available to the community.
- LS&Co. will continue to reduce the amount of water required for cotton cultivation by collaborating with organizations like the Better Cotton Initiative to implement better farming methods, while simultaneously continuing to explore the use of alternative raw materials such as hemp and regenerated fibers that can reduce the amount of water used in the cultivation phase.
In areas of high-water stress, many suppliers are already making significant capital expenditures (at times with PaCT funding) to install water efficient machinery and recycle water, recognizing it as a necessary investment for their business. LS&Co. wants to support and advance these efforts because building resilience to water stress is ultimately far less costly than responding to shortages, and because water efficiency has the potential to reduce costs.
When suppliers use less water, they use less energy, and save money on both. LS&Co.’s Water<Less techniques have saved up to five cents per unit and millions of dollars globally for some suppliers, and the PaCT approach helped four suppliers that participated in a pilot program cut collective costs by more than $1 million and reduce their carbon footprint by nearly 20% by becoming more efficient with water and energy use.