Levi Strauss & Co.
Levi Strauss Co. was founded by a German immigrant in the United States during the heat of the gold rush in 1853. The rich heritage of the company includes the birth of the jeans as we know them today. By reinforcing trousers with metal rivets, the brand was the first to manufacture a stronger pair of pants than its counterparts, which made Levi’s an icon of strong, high-quality jeans. The company is currently a subsidiary of mother company Levi Strauss & Co, which also produces chinos with Dockers and lifestyle brand Denizen.
Producing jeans is an extremely water intensive process and while the numbers vary strongly there are thousands of liters of water needed for a single pair. With those extremely high volumes in mind, the first and foremost step denim brands should take to reduce their footprint is reducing the amount of water they use in their production process. Since organic cotton uses much less water than its unsustainable counterparts and is relatively easy to implement, this is a good indicator of how sustainable jeans are produced. Levi’s used 67% Better Cotton Initiative cotton in 2018, with targets for 75% in 2019 and 100% by 2020. Since sustainability reports are published later, we don’t know the exact numbers at the moment, but we can tell that the company is trying to improve by using more sustainable cotton. The other very water intensive process related to manufacturing jeans is the finishing process. Since 2011, Levi’s has been working with its self-developed Water<Less® technique through which it states to have saved 3.5 billion liters of water and recycled 5 billion more. By 2021, the renowned brand wants to produce 80% of its jeans using its Water<Less® techniques, which is currently around 40%. So in terms of water reduction, we’re all good with Levi’s. But there’s more to sustainable practices than water usage. The company is transparent about its footprint and carbon emissions. There are also Science Based Targets that aim to reduce emissions 90% in owned and operated facilities in 2025 and would be cut by 40% across the company’s entire supply chain in that same year. On top of that, energy usage has to come from 100% renewables by 2025.
Although the ambition is there, we do miss more specific numbers on topics like transport, packaging and current energy consumption. Levi’s often reports targets without reporting the current performance on important topics, which can seem cherry-picked at times and has a negative impact on transparency. The same goes for reporting about the origins of the brands’ materials and workers’ rights. The company uses leather, down, feather and wool, but does not have an animal welfare policy in place. The origins of the animal materials it uses remain largely unknown, which leaves us to conclude most are uncertified. There are some guidelines in place for responsible and ethical sourcing, but there is no reporting about audit results and Levi’s doesn’t have a membership with a major independent auditing company to improve workers’ rights in its supply chain. Even though Levi’s is moving forwards, especially with reducing its footprint, there is still a major lack of transparency at the moment.