Green Economy

Published on June 5th, 2014 | by Susanna Schick

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Sustainable Brands 2014 | Wash Less, Wear More

June 5th, 2014 by  

These gold miners might not wear Levi’s, but if they did, you bet they’d put them to the test. Photo by Ollivier Girard for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

While most of America experienced epic snowfall last winter, the West is experiencing an epic drought, complete with inadequate supply in the local water storage facilities also known as snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Water is the world’s most vital resource, and increasingly scarce as the planet’s water supply remains static while human population grows exponentially.

Levi’s Head of Global Product Innovation, Paul Dillinger, spoke at Sustainable Brands 2014 on what Levi Strauss is doing to design for sustainability. From their website:

Since launching the Levi’s Water<Less platform in 2011, we have saved more than 770 million liters of water by making more than 62 million Water<Less products, and we continue to expand the scope and scale of the program.

That’s just in manufacturing jeans. They’re also working with the Better Cotton Initiative to help farmers use less water and chemicals in farming. Paul pointed out that it wasn’t until they did a thorough Life Cycle Assessment that they learned what was really impacting their water use. In their LCA, they discovered that 58% of the energy and 45% of the water used during the lifetime of a pair of Levi’s jeans occurs during the consumer-use phase. Paul told us:

“We have pants in our archives over 130 years old, that can still be worn today.”

At the conference, we were also given this message from National Geographic, who seems to want us to buy less clothes. OK, so the average jeans require 2,900 gallons to be made. Yet they’re missing the real issue, water use in laundering. Owning less clothing but washing it more often is not the best solution. It’s more sustainable to own a little more and wash it less, and wear it longer.

water use in clothing sm

Image Credit: Susanna Schick / CleanTechnica

According to Home Water Works, the average American family washes almost 400 loads of laundry each year. That’s more than one load/day, which suggests many people are over-washing their clothes. That’s an average of 12,000 gallons per year for a family of 4 using an older washer or as little as 6,000 gallons per year using a high efficiency washer. A full load of 12 pair of jeans would mean each pair uses as much as 1,000 gallons per year over the life of those jean. If you wear your favorite jeans often for 10 years, that’s 10,000 gallons they consumed if you wash them after every wear. Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh wore his jeans all last year without washing them. He may still be wearing them “dirty”. Story on CNN.

Most of the time, people don’t sweat enough to justify washing after each wear, but even when they do there are a host of enzyme-based spray products that eliminate bacteria, stains and odors. I’ve used Biokleen’s Bac-Out with great success, my boyfriend favors Mr. Black’s denim refresh. Both use natural stuff to get the funk out without any residual odors. Of course, Environmental Working Group would beg to differ, but they’re tough customers. To EWG, any spray product is considered an asthma risk, and any ingredient that’s too vague (surfactant) gets an F. Understandably, but it all comes down to picking your battles. I suspect someone would have to bathe in Bac-Out every day to actually experience endocrine disruption, not just spritz it on their clothes before putting them away.


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About the Author

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.



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