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Life cycle assessment – Levi’s jeans case

Resources:
Energy, Materials, Water, Waste, Carbon
Sector:
Textile and clothing
Cost:
High cost
Read more
Recurring costs:
0€
Resource savings: Energy:
The ‘cradle to grave’ life cycle impact of one pair of jeans included the generation of 33.4 kg of CO2 equivalent, or 69 miles of driving by the average American car
Resource savings: Raw material:
Carrying out an internationally compliant LCA for a high-volume, global product can be costly
Resource savings: Water:
The ‘cradle to grave’ life cycle impact of one pair of jeans required the consumption of 3 781 litres of water, equivalent to 3 days' usage by the average American family
Premises and operation areas:
Production processes
Size of company:
Large (more than 250)
Advancement in applying resource efficiency measures:
Advanced

LCA for 501s ...

  • Levi's iconic 501 brand of jeans was put through a full life cycle assessment which revealed a number of valuable insights
  • One pair of jeans uses equivalent to 3 days’ water usage by the average American family
  • And CO2 equivalent 69 miles driven by the average American car

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a standardised, quantitative tool to assess the performance of any product across a wide range of environmental impacts, including climate change (specifically production of ‘greenhouse’ gases), water usage, eutrophication (measured by the level of nutrients in water emissions), abiotic depletion and land usage.

Through the application of formal internationally-agreed protocols, impact comparisons are possible between products and processes, and can be either ‘cradle to grave’ or can focus on specific elements or processes in a product life cycle. 

Levi Strauss & Co. carried out a LCA of their ‘501’ branded jeans, from cotton fibre production, through jeans manufacture and distribution, to product usage and disposal. This helped them understand the environmental impact of their product. [1]

The information in the LCA benefited Levi’s by:

  • Pinpointing where the most significant environmental impacts occur
  • Enabling sustainability programmes to be evaluated
  • Offering insight on product design and processing decisions

Carrying out the LCA also meant that they engaged more with external stakeholders and their supply chain on sustainability related matters. 

Key results

The headline findings showed that the ‘cradle to grave’ life cycle impact of one pair of jeans was:

  • The generation of 33.4 kg of CO2 equivalent – or 69 miles driven by the average American car
  • The consumption of 3 781 litres of water – or something like 3 days’ worth of water used by the average American family
  • The generation of 48.9 g of PO4 equivalent  – or the total amount of phosphorous in 1 700 tomatoes
  • The use of 12 m2 of land per year

After cotton fibre production, the washing carried out by consumers was found to have the biggest impact on energy and water use attributed to the product life cycle. As such, Levi Strauss & Co. is attempting to change consumer behaviour using media stories, care tags on the product and signage in their shops.   

How can you learn from LCAs?

A number of specialist companies use software and databases to carry out the calculations required to produce a compliant LCAs. But doing this for high-volume, global products can be costly. There are also ample publically available resources, such as the Levi case, which can be studied for insights into the environmental impacts of similar products, as well as commercial tools for non-experts in the textile and apparel industry to measure and visualise the environmental impacts of their products. [2]  There are also useful reviews comparing the environmental impact of certain stages of a product’s life cycle, an example of which for discarded (end of life) textiles is at in the source below. [3]

With a focused and considered approach, environmental impact assessment studies and published impact databases can inform internal decisions on product design, processing and marketing, and to test different eco-design scenarios. 

Source

[1] Levi Strauss & co. 2015. The Life Cycle of a Jean, http://levistrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Full-LCA-Results-Deck-FINAL.pdf

[2] Intertek. Intertek Launches Instant LCA Textile™ Web Portal, http://www.intertek.com/consumer/news/v108-intertek-launches-lca-textile-portal/

[3] Schmidt A., Watson D., Roos S., Ashkam C., Brunn Poulsen P. 2016. Gaining benefits from discarted textile: LCA of different treatment pathways, https://norden.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:957517/FULLTEXT02.pdf

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