Two years ago, executives at Levi Strauss & Co. analyzed the effects of climate change on their business and realized the consequences could be dire. Declining water supplies and increasing temperatures in India, Pakistan and other countries that produce cotton–the company's core ingredient–could spell disaster for the San Francisco-based clothing manufacturer. "We needed to be sensitive to risks that would influence the price, yield and quality of that vital material," says Anna Walker, senior manager of worldwide government affairs and public policy at Levi Strauss. What was needed, Walker and her colleagues figured, was a way to improve the efficiency of agricultural water use.

So the company launched an ambitious effort to teach farmers in those areas more water-efficient techniques, teaming up with a nonprofit group, Better Cotton Initiative, that works on such efforts. Products made from this cotton haven't hit the market yet, but the company is hoping to have 5% of its clothing made using these methods by 2015. Eventually, it wants all its merchandise to be sourced in this way.

Levi Strauss is one of a relatively small number of companies engaged in systematic efforts to address the potential risks caused by climate change. As of now, the most prevalent reaction by companies to the threats posed by the warming of the Earth's temperature has been to try cutting their emissions of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases. But because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for decades, and oceans store heat for even longer, previous emissions will continue to warm the Earth for many years to come. As a result, some businesses are taking steps to strengthen their resilience against the impact of past emissions and protect themselves from those risks.

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