THE LIFECYCLE OF A JEAN

At Levi Strauss & Co, we’re focused on building sustainability into everything we do. To that end, we conducted the apparel industry’s first lifecycle assessment (LCA) study in 2007 to assess the full environmental impact of a core set of products from cradle to grave. The study found that the greatest water and energy impact was in two areas: cotton cultivation and consumer use.

Since then, we’ve made tremendous progress innovating around water reduction in denim manufacturing, including creation of the Water<LessTM process and implementing the apparel industry’s first Recycle/Reuse standard.

Levi Strauss & Co. has saved 1 billion liters of water since 2011 through our Water<LessTM process, which reduces the water used in garment finishing by up to 96 percent. We’ve also taken bold steps to reduce the environmental impact of our products in areas outside our direct control through our Care Tag for Our Planet initiative and by working with the Better Cotton Initiative® (BCI).

This year LS&Co. released a new global lifecycle assessment study, an update on the 2007 study that examined the environmental impact of our LS&Co. products. The new study analyzed the complete product lifecycle, probing deeper into the environmental impacts of cotton in key growing regions, apparel production and distribution in a range of locations, and consumer washing and drying habits in key markets.

The study shows that of the nearly 3,800 liters of water used throughout the lifetime of a pair of jeans, cotton cultivation (68%) and consumer use (23%) continue to have the most significant impact on water consumption. Consumer care is also responsible for the most significant energy use and climate impact, representing 37 percent of the 33.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted during the lifecycle of a jean.

The new LCA expands on previous research to better understand the impact of cotton cultivation and includes data from the world’s primary cotton producing countries, including the United States, China, Brazil, India, Pakistan and Australia. It also analyzes consumer care data from new markets, including China, France and the United Kingdom, to understand the costs and benefits of differences in washing habits.

THE LIFECYCLE OF A PAIR OF LEVI’S® 501® JEANS — SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

  • Water Consumption: Nearly 3,800 liters of water are used to make a pair of jeans. Fiber production, predominantly cotton (68%), consumes the most water, followed by consumer care (23%).
  • Climate Change: Of the 33.4 kg of carbon dioxide produced during the lifecycle of a pair of jeans, consumer care (37%) and fabric production (27%) generate the most significant climate change impact and energy use.
  • Expanded Scope: By expanding our scope to include leading cotton-producing countries, we’ve seen the water consumption from cotton cultivation increase, since the amount of water used to grow cotton varies significantly across the world. Also, by including new consumer markets we’ve found that washing and drying habits vary by region.
  • Impact: By wearing jeans 10 times before washing, American consumers can reduce their water and climate change impact by 77 percent, U.K. and French consumers by 75 percent and Chinese consumers by 61 percent.

Regional Highlights:

  • Current average washing frequency:
    • In the U.S., consumers typically wear their jeans 2 times before washing them.
    • In the U.K. and France, consumers typically wear their jeans 2.5 times before washing them.
    • In China, consumers typically wear their jeans 4 times before washing them.
  • Consumer jeans-washing habits vary by region:
    • Americans use more water and energy to wash and dry their jeans than consumers in the other markets.
    • Consumers in the U.K. and France mostly air dry their jeans and use more hot water than others.
    • Consumers in China mostly wash in cold water and air dry.

For more details and findings, view our Lifecycle Assessment Study.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

WHAT IS AN ENVIRONMENTAL LIFECYCLE ASSESSMENT?

A lifecycle assessment (LCA) is a systems-based, quantitative method for evaluating the environmental impact of a product. This tool is used to assess the stages and impact of a product’s entire life, from raw material extraction (cradle) to waste treatment (grave). LCAs focus on environmental impacts, and typically do not consider social or economic impacts.

Findings from LCA studies are used in multiple ways:

  • Allow us focus on the most significant environmental impacts as we develop and evaluate sustainability programs and policies
  • Inform product decisions to reduce the environmental impact from design and materials to manufacturing
  • Support engagement with external stakeholders to reduce impacts of materials and consumer care

Ultimately, we want to allow for accurate and expedient comparison of product environmental performance — enabling significant reductions in environmental impact of all apparel products. In 2013, we became the first apparel company to publish a statistical method, E-valuate™, to compare products or product components. The paper includes a comparison of 26 denim fabrics with data collected from our mill suppliers. The E-valuate™ method was published in a scientific journal to allow for broad access across the apparel industry and beyond.

We also participated in developing an industry-wide standard for simplified apparel LCAs with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Through this research we’re able to share more information about the environmental impact of our products with both consumers and the factories that make our products — adding a whole new level of transparency. Consumers have more power to shop based on values, while suppliers gain the opportunity to continue partnering with us on ongoing improvements in environmental performance.