Paul Dillinger of Levi Strauss kicks off Summer Sustainability Institute

Acting Associate Dean Sass Brown welcomed three dozen industry members to the second annual Sustainability and Textiles Summer Institute June 8. The four-day program introduces designers and others from around the world to practical ways of minimizing the industry’s carbon footprint.

The Institute began with Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levis Strauss & Co. Dillinger emphasized the adoption of a broad view of sustainability over a “single component” strategy.

“Most solutions in sustainability,” said Dillinger, seek to fix the weakest single component. “But it’s a lot of different components that create an impact.”

Paul Dillinger
Paul Dillinger from Levi Strauss & Co is first speaker of the Summer Institute 2015

He took on critics of water-intensive cotton. “Let’s get rid of cotton. Yes! However, think about the global economies of the top 10 producing cotton countries,” warned Dillinger. Many are poor countries “for which cotton is a linchpin of their economies. If we wean ourselves suddenly of cotton because of the tremendous impact on resources, we would throw them into chaos.”

But that doesn’t mean an important environmental change isn’t forthcoming. “There will come a time when the value of an acre-yield for domestic [food] consumption will be worth more [than] that same acre will yield cotton…We must be prepared around the re-deployment of resources.”

Hence we can all make a living. “There’s a thinking that doing the right thing and doing the profitable thing is incongruous,” said Dillinger.

Paul Dillinger taking questions after his talk
Paul Dillinger taking questions after his talk

He suggested that designers need to bring back some cache to long-term attachment to clothing. “An important feature of sustainability strategy is how can you craft clothing that achieves emotional durability …rather than be a candy wrapper in six months,” said Dillinger.  “Make it pretty and mitigate the impact on where your kids are going to live.”


photos: Rachel Ellner


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