Chief Sustainability Officer Levi Strauss & Co
Sustainability will never go out of style
Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co (LS & Co) is not just about how they do business, but also how they respond to what the planet, the business and the consumer seeks. Chief Sustainability Officer Jeffrey Hogue believes it’s not enough for companies to make statements or sign pledges—it must be about impact. Here he elaborates in a conversation with Richa Bansal the steps Levi’s has been taking over the years to be a planet-responsible company across its value chain, and even educating the consumer on the pressing need to go circular.
There are now increased calls for transparency in sustainability claims/ initiatives. While transparency is an argument in itself, how much can companies open up their data to public scrutiny? How does Levi’s tread this thin and sensitive line?
Certain aspects of our business are proprietary, but we fully understand the need to be transparent when it comes to measuring the progress of our programmes and demonstrating impact, in adherence with prevailing reporting standards. All companies have to go beyond setting targets and making plans to show how they are working towards those targets and helping to move the industry forward.
Levi’s has come a long way from the campaigns of ten years back when it was criticized for toxics. How has the journey of thlast ten years been? What was the roadmap charted out, and what were the metrics you tracked to clean up matters? And more importantly, where do you go from here?
Consistent with our long-held commitments to sustainability and responsible chemicals managements & Co published a Greenpeace Detox Solution Commitment (Detox Commitment) in 2012, formalising our commitment and intended actions toward zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. Levi’s also joined the Joint Roadmap Toward Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC Roadmap) in 2012, an apparel industry collaboration to drive systemic change with a goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. Now we are proud to announce that LS & Co has fulfilled these 2020 commitments to Greenpeace and the ZDHC Roadmap.?
We have made tremendous progress since we introduced wastewater effluent standards to the industry in the early 1990s and we remain committed as ever to work to advance and scale more sustainable chemicals management. Above and beyond our 2020 commitments, we continue to advance strategies, programmes and collaborative efforts with key partners to develop and scale robust and comprehensive chemicals management practices across the apparel sector and beyond.
It was in 2015, that we updated our lifecycle assessment (LCA) for a pair of jeans, calculating the resource use and impact of a single pair over its lifecycle. We use the same framework to think about our sustainability efforts: Design—how we conceive of the look and feel of our products; Source—where we get the fibres and materials that we use; Make—how our products are made; and Use and Reuse—where we can lead the drive towards true circularity once the product is in stores or in the hands of consumers.
Ensuring the credibility and transparency of Screened Chemistry is a key objective. In January 2019, we converged with several industry peers and the ZDHC Foundation (ZDHC) on a single standard for chemical screening and guidance for third-party assessors who conduct chemical hazard assessments, enabling the Integration 2 of Screened Chemistry into the ZDHC conformance pyramid. Working with these same peers, we developed new screening methodologies for dye and pigments as well. In November, we announced a collaboration with the Hohenstein Institute. Through enhanced testing, verification and transparency to chemical suppliers, this partnership will enable us to advance and better implement its existing chemicals management programme and create a template that others in and beyond the apparel industry can follow. Furthermore, we have recently partnered to develop and implement an industry first screening process for commodities, or bulk chemicals, increasing the range of screen le chemistries dramatically.?
How do you see the reuse sector shaping up in the near future, especially with so much talk about recycling and circularity?
Does it make financial sense for a company? What is it that you have noticed in the last few years? A lot of consumers these days are starting to recognise this and looking to make more conscious, more intentional decisions about what they buy and what they really need. The re-commerce market has been estimated at $28 billion and projected to grow to more than $60 billion over the next five years. So, it does make good sense to get involved, as we’vedone with SecondHand, particularly given the fact that Levi’s is already such a staple garment in the vintage and resale market. In addition, it serves our objective of helping consumers extend the life of their denim products as we move towards more circular products and practices in our business.
What steps is Levi’s taking to educate the end consumer on the need to go for products that are circular/sustainable – educating them on this too?
Our ‘Care Tag For Our Planet’, sewn into every LS & Co garment, provides simple instructions for how consumers can best care for the garment and extend its useful life, while avoiding unnecessary water and energy use in doing so. We continue to communicate around our SecondHand recommerce platform and our Levi’s Authorized Vintage line. And our new marketing campaign, Buy Better, Wear Longer, complements these efforts by speaking frankly about over-consumption and over-production in the apparel industry. Through it, we are urging consumers to be more intentional in their purchasing decisions in order to limit impact, while also remaining cognisant of our role in the issue and our responsibility to help find solutions.
Leading from the last question, reaching out to a larger young community of Levi’s patrons—how difficult or easy is it to sell such a product line?Whatis the story that comes out from the various geographies that the brand is present in?
During the pandemic, we saw a pronounced shift towards more conscious consumption by consumers, especially younger ones. We believe that is going to outlast the pandemic and is something brands have to respond to and encourage. That puts us in a good position, we believe, because our core product has been built to last since its inception and we continue to adapt and improve our sustainability programming to drive the kind of impact our industry—and our consumers—need to see.
What is the tie-up with Fashion for Good like, and how is it going to help Levi’s?
We realise that we can’t work alone if we’re going to do our part to deliver solutions on an industry-wide scale or reach the ambitious goals we’ve set for ourselves. There are networks we need to tap into, innovations we can benefit from, and solutions we can help to scale. And that is precisely why we have joined Fashion for Good, a member and brand-supported accelerator and scaling programme for sustainable and circular innovation in the apparel industry.
Fashion for Good is unique in that it is backed by deep expertise in sustainability and circularity in theapparel and fashion industry. This will supplement the strengths of our Wellthread and technical innovation programmes and provide additional opportunities to scale breakthrough innovations across our product assortment and supply chain. We plan to leverage Fashion for Good’s expertise and network to create pilots to address the most pressing sustainability issues our value chain faces. We will also focus on collaborative projects to address the challenges of plastics; sorting technologies for recycling garments; fibre transparency and traceability; and the potential of shifting from wet to dry fabric and garment finishing processes. In the near-term, we aspire to increase circular innovation in our products andcreate a more sustainable, less resource consumptive business.
This article was first published in the July 2021 edition of the print magazine.
Published on: 30/07/2021
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