Watershed Moment

December 15th, 2010 by Andrea Bennett

Can a new pair of jeans help save precious water?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Those of us of a certain age will recall the correct way to maintain your favorite jeans, washing them so infrequently that they anthropomorphized and ultimately gained the ability to stand by themselves in the corner of your bedroom.

Such was the image conjured when I heard the term “waterless” jeans, the new concept from Levi’s. Here, however, Levi’s is referring more to the way they’ve crafted and finished their new line of denim before the jeans get to you, the consumer, rather than what your intentions are with them once they’re folded (or standing, as the case may be) in your possession.

When Levi’s announced its new water-saving jean last month, the company revealed that traditional denim is washed between three and 10 times – using 11 gallons of water for each pair – in the finishing process. 

And as this New York Times article noted, when you consider that about 450 million pairs of jeans are purchased each year in the United States alone, doing the math on fresh water use is pretty astounding.

You’ll be able to see the new jeans for the first time at the beginning of 2011 in classic Levi’s styles such the 501 and 511 cuts, and the company also reported the 1.5 million pairs of jeans it will release in the spring will save more than 4 million gallons of water (no prices are available as of yet).

In the meantime, Levi Strauss & Co.’s “Care Tag for Our Planet” campaign, which changed the product care tags in their jeans to include instructions on reducing the environmental impact of owning them, may return you to the good old days. The tags encourage consumers to wash less, wash in cold water, line dry and donate to Goodwill when your jeans have fulfilled their responsibility to your closet.  You may even find that, with proper care, your jeans can again keep you company in your bedroom corner on lonely nights.

Of course, naysayers online have already pointed to the gas you’ll use to go out and buy your new jeans, the old jeans you’ll heave to make way for the new environmentally more correct ones, the money you’ll spend possibly replacing perfectly nice jeans you already own and so forth, but the new waterless approach seems like a step in the right direction. What’s your vote?