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Levi's Educates the Next Generation, Continues to Innovate Around Water Conservation

Levi's water ambassadors Natalie Hubbard and Byron Thayer teach a fifth-grade class at San Francisco's E.R. Taylor Elementary on Thursday. | Image credit: Eurydice Thomas

More and more companies are beginning to acknowledge the importance of water stewardship to the longevity of their operations, regardless of industry. Consumer-facing brands can have added impact — and have added responsibility — to engage their customers on this critical issue, as well.

Levi Strauss is one company that’s been proactive on both fronts: In March, the company announced it had 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. The announcement coincided with the release of LS&Co’s new Product Lifecycle Assessment (LCA), which determined that, of the nearly 3,800 liters of water used in a pair of jeans’ life cycle, cotton cultivation (68 percent) and consumer use (23 percent) continue to have the most significant impact on water consumption. 

With that, Levi’s launched a consumer education campaign to ensure they understand their environmental impact, while CEO Chip Bergh and Head of Global Product Innovation Paul Dillinger have been vocal about the benefits of washing our jeans less.

Chip Bergh
Paul Dillinger
will discuss
Sustainability at Levi's
SB '15 San Diego

Now, LS&Co has partnered with Project WET Foundation to develop a customized water conservation curriculum for students, which was piloted by employee volunteers to youth all over the world as part of the company’s 15th annual Community Day (May 7). The interactive activities included identifying the amount of water on earth versus the amount of clean, drinkable water we have to work with (literally one drop in a bucket that was passed around); and students assessing their own water footprint, where they identified both direct and indirect ways that they used water, along with ways that they could use less.

“This [Community Day] was really the first year that we were bringing the sustainability and the water focus that we have as a company into how we show up in the community, and I was really thrilled about that,” VP of Sustainability Michael Kobori said on Thursday. “This was our pilot to just see how our employee water ambassadors did. It was a lot of fun — very interactive and engaging. For me it was very impressive — I’m quite interested in continuing this with Project WET and identifying other ways that we can expand the training for our employee water ambassadors in schools.”

Kobori said employee interest in becoming “water ambassadors” has been overwhelming — the three Project WET trainings on the new curriculum have all been oversubscribed, so Levi’s will need to work to meet the demand going forward. With the success of Thursday’s pilot, Kobori says he anticipates many employees will use their five monthly volunteer hours to be water ambassadors to more schools throughout the year.

While employees continue to help spread the good word on water conservation to the youth of the world, Kobori says LS&Co. is working to find new ways to effectively engage consumers of all ages. In the meantime, the company will scale its already impactful efforts to reduce water use throughout its supply chain, and continue to innovate in order to meet its aggressive goals to source 75 percent Better Cotton and have 80 percent of its products be Water<Less by 2020; Kobori alluded to a potentially game-changing development, to be announced in the coming weeks, that could be key to achieving the latter.

Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]

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