Social Innovation: Michael Kobori, VP of Social and Environmental Sustainability at Levi Strauss Shares His Wisdom at BSR Conference

This year’s BSR 20th Anniversary social innovation and sustainable business conference held recently in New York gathered over 1,000 senior business, civil society and policy leaders from some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Marks & Spencer, CEO; Marc Bolland; Nobel Laureate José Ramos-Horta; Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter; and Michael Kobori, Vice President of Social and Environmental Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co. Kobori has 25 years of experience in sustainability and human rights and previously served as Vice President at BSR. BSR is an international leader in sustainability, working with its global network of 300 member companies to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North and South America, it develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration.

Kobori shared some of his wisdom and insight at this event and talked about, “A sea of change in sustainability” where companies now understand and realise that sustainability is about “risk” and more importantly, about being “a good corporate citizen.” Kobori mentioned that there’s a new breed of executives that hails from the 60’s, who have awareness about the environment and the issues surrounding the planet. These executives are bringing this awareness to brands and making these values tangible in business. Companies need to innovate faster in order to solve problems quicker and that these solutions can now come from anyone, anywhere. Kobori believes it’s important to collaborate as cooperation helps reduce any impact on the planet more quickly.

Under Kobori’s tenure at Levi’s, the company has been a pioneer in social innovation, sustainability, reducing the environmental impact of its products through its Levi’s® Water ™ collection, ‘Care for Our Planet program’ and ‘Better Cotton Initiative.’ It created a new type of ‘plastic jeans’ that is made from recycled plastic water bottles and food trays, where each Levi's® Waste TM product will have a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled content. Another way of looking at it is that eight to 20 ounce bottles used per jean, meaning approximately 3.5 million recycled bottles will be incorporated into the jeans line.

The PET plastic waste is being sourced from municipalities across the U.S. It includes brown beer bottles, green soda bottles, clear water bottles and black food trays. The waste items are then sorted by colour, crushed into flakes and made into a polyester fibre. The material is blended with cotton and woven with traditional cotton yarn, making denim. These ‘eco jeans’ will be part of the Spring 2013 collection and will be sold in the U.S. and Europe.

This social innovation initiative follows the WaterTM, which is a finishing technique that reduces water use as much as 96%. The company has saved over 360 million litres of water this year using the process. Levi’s has also blended "better cotton" which uses less water and pesticides to grow into five million jeans in partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative.

Photo Credit: Levis Strauss & Co

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