Levi's and the world of sustainable fashion

Levi's and the world of sustainable fashion

Wednesday September 12, 2018

All eyes are on big fashion brands to see if they follow suit on the denim giant's groundbreaking climate commitments

This September, leaders from the around the world descended upon San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit, with a plan to take climate ambition to the next level. It was anticipated that major companies across various economic sectors – including the apparel industry – would make big climate announcements.

This event came on the heels of Levi Strauss & Co’s recent industry-leading commitment to address the climate pollution in its overseas supply chain, so all eyes were on other big fashion brands to see if they’d follow suit. But disappointingly enough, every single fashion icon stayed silent on climate action.

Companies make commitments all the time to clean up their act in one way or another, so it’s no surprise if you missed the Levi’s climate announcement or were simply underwhelmed. But this announcement, in particular, deserves a second glance. 

Levi’s big promises

Levi’s committed to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across its entire supply chain by 2025 – exactly the commitment Stand.earth called for in our “Too Deadly to Wear” report. This means that Levi’s intends to transform how its global network of over 500 factories is powered – in less than a decade. 

If Levi’s follows through on these climate commitments, the denim giant’s announcement will be a game-changer for the whole apparel sector. Levi’s is a big player in the apparel industry and its actions are closely scrutinized by its competitors, so we hope other companies will quickly follow suit with their own announcements. If this happens, it will be a much needed win for our climate-stressed planet.

The human impact of fast fashion’s climate pollution

Pollution from the apparel industry has a profound impact on the planet. If the industry was a country, it would be the 4th largest climate polluter on Earth – behind China, the US, and Europe. And its toll on the planet is growing, not shrinking. These stats from our "Too Deadly to Wear" report make us cringe:

  1. Consumers keep clothing about half as long as they did 15 years ago, and purchase 60% more garments each year.
  2. The fast fashion craze has contributed to a 35% increase in climate pollution in just one decade, from 2005 to 2016. 
  3. If the apparel industry continues business-as-usual, its climate pollution will increase by an extraordinary 49% by 2030 over 2016 levels.

These numbers translate to very real health consequences for the people living near apparel manufacturing facilities. Many of these factories operate in places like China, where electricity is sourced from power grids that burn coal. Coal’s impact on air quality is so extreme that it contributes to the deaths of 5 million people a year around the globe. Factories burning coal continues to exacerbate the climate change impacts that already kill nearly half a million people each year in extreme weather incidents. 

This is why it’s crucial to transition to a green energy power grid in an expedited time frame. In the Guangdong province of China, if the power grid was transitioned from coal-fired to renewable energy, it would save the lives of some 3,600 people each year. That is powerful change. 

Companies like Levi’s have the responsibility to leverage their economic power to help catalyze the transition to renewables in regions like this, so it’s promising to see an industry giant like Levi’s step up to the plate and accept the challenge. All eyes will be on the denim icon as it implements this short-term emissions reduction goal.

We’ll certainly be keeping tabs on Levi’s to make sure it follows through, and we’ll be ready to reactivate our “Too Dirty to Wear” campaign if it looks like another push is needed.

What’s next?

Beyond 2025, it is imperative that Levi’s and other apparel companies also establish longer term goals into 2050. These goals must include a commitment to transition entire supply chains to renewable energy, and an absolute carbon emission reduction of at least 66% by 2050. 

Both the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Science Based Targets Initiative work closely with their corporate members and partners to empower them to take the next necessary steps. But still, the apparel industry as a whole has taken almost no measurable action to date to reduce the climate impacts throughout its supply chains. In the face of catastrophic weather events, this in no time for fashion companies to drag their feet. 

As San Francisco’s climate summit comes to a close, it’s time for other fashion brands to take the lead. Who’ll be first to join Levi’s and announce the next industry-leading climate commitment?