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Did you know that making a pair of Levis 501, from cotton seed to finished garment, uses 54 showers worth of water and produces the same amount of greenhouse gas as driving your car 78 miles? Neither did Levi Strauss –– until they conducted an environmental impact assessment on their goods. When the company also discovered that cotton represents the major arena of child labor in agriculture worldwide, the firm initiated a major effort to promote more sustainable cotton production.

 Speaking at the fourth annual Social and Environmental Responsibility in the Global Supply Chain conference at Stanford in April, Levi Strauss executive Michael Kobori shared what the apparel company is doing to work with investors, other brands, and non governmental organizations (NGOs) to encourage its suppliers to be more green and humane. His was the first of a day’s worth of talks and panels devoted to exploring how business may source, manufacture, design, and deliver goods more responsibly. This year’s theme: collaborating for the greater good.

 Levi Strauss’s efforts have included directing contractors not to use cotton from Uzbekistan (which has closed many schools to force children to work in the cotton fields)  until the country agrees to sign conventions and allow international monitors in to assess the situation. The company has also helped some 30,000 farmers in pilot sites dramatically reduce their water and chemical use in growing cotton. “The key to success in collaborating along the supply chain is having the courage to act and lead, and making sure all parties agree on the objectives,” said Kobori.

 Moving to the food industry, in India, food is being better preserved through an improved storage and transportation infrastructure thanks to the entry of the “golden arches” over the past six years. Abhijit Upadhye, an executive with McDonald’s in India, detailed the ordeal required to set up a supply chain that could meet the corporation’s quality and food safety standards while also appealing to India’s mostly vegetarian population. As a result, McDonald’s India has also begun to export an innovative product: the McVeggie Burger.

 Two final presentations demonstrated how embedding sustainability concepts into the very way a company is designed and operated is the wave of the future. Natura Cosmetics Brasil has incorporated ingredients from the rainforest into its product lines, which has meant establishing close ties with the indigenous peoples and “giving back” to support the development of their communities. “Our supply chain begins in the forest and goes all the way to consumers,” said Joao Paulo Ferreira. The company has created a new distribution network that has reduced carbon emissions by 25 percent and encourages customers to refill their old product containers.

 For Nike, director of global logistics Dawn Vance, discussed how the company is removing toxicity from footwear and reclaiming and turning old shirts into shoes and old shoes into shirts. Nike has created a “close looped” business model that is increasingly taking responsibility for its products from cradle to grave. “We want no product to go to landfill,” she said.

 The conference demonstrated the progress that supply chains in a variety of industries have been making over the past four years to become more socially and environmentally responsible. “Collaboration is really the key to sustainable success in this regard,” said Professor Hau Lee, director of the Stanford Global Supply Chain Management Forum. “I was especially gratified to hear at this conference that many such successful collaboration are also happening in emerging economies, like Brazil, China, and India, producing win-win results throughout the supply chain.”

 -Marguerite Rigoglioso

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Also on Stanford Knowledgebase:

  1. Stanford Business School Conference Makes Case for Socially Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Supply Chains
  2. Conference Aims to Advance Socially and Environmentally Responsible Supply Chains
  3. Socially and Environmentally Responsible Supply Chain Conference

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