New York Times reporter Leslie Kauffman’s recent piece Stone-Washed Blue Jeans (Minus the Washed) makes a strong case for keeping your favorite dungarees out of the dirty clothes hamper. It turns out that the life-cycle of a pair of jeans – from growing the cotton to running them through the wash – consumes more than 900 gallons of water. And, as is the case with so many of the daily goods we use, the majority of that water is used in agricultural production.
Ms. Kauffman’s article talks about the role Levi Strauss & Co. is playing in educating and supporting cotton growers throughout the world about how to make the most of their limited water resources. I had the privilege of attending a small event at the company two weeks ago, where the fabulous Michael Kobori (aka, Levi’s Vice-President of Supply Chain Social and Environmental Sustainability) celebrated its efforts and those of other cotton retailers that joined Levi Strauss in its participation in the Better Cotton Initiative.
The vast majority of the world’s cotton comes from China, the Indus Valley (India and Pakistan), and the United States. With this kind of concentration in production, it only takes one regional flood or drought to cause world cotton prices to skyrocket, as they have in recent years. Taking steps to use known technology to irrigate crops saves money and resources and reduces cotton farmers’ vulnerability to the whims of nature.
Every drop of water saved through efficient irrigation adds a drop of drinking water back into the world’s communal cup. And less water spent on growing fiber – like cotton – leaves more water to irrigate food crops. Because whether we like it or not, the pressures of increasing droughts, floods, and populations are together pushing us toward a world in which efficient use of water is no longer a choice. It is at our peril that we delay investments to improve agricultural water efficiency.