Fashion brands face the difficult task of measuring their eco-credentials as investors and consumers continue to demand more environmentally-friendly fashion. This can be costly, complicated, and time-consuming.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is one organization that is trying to address the problem. It is an alliance of NGOs as well as companies, including fashion giants Asos and Inditex. The Higg Index was launched by SAC in 2011, a collection of tools that measure sustainability. Some hope it will become the industry standard.
What is the Higg Index exactly?
The Higg Index consists of a core set five tools that evaluate the social and environment performance of the value-chain and the environmental impact of products across topics like water use, carbon emission, labor conditions, and labor conditions.
Two product-focused tools are available: The Higg Materials Sustainability Indice (Higg MSI), which allows product designers to evaluate and understand the cradle to gate impacts of millions possible manufacturing variations. While the Higg Product Module, (PM), measures the cradle to grave impacts of a product from the selection of raw materials to the end of use.
Two facilities-based tools are also available: The Higg Facility Environment Module (FEM), which assesses a facility on several dimensions, such as energy and climate gas (GHG), emissions, water use, effluent and waste management, and chemicals. The Higg Facility Social & Labor Module (FSLM), on the other hand, focuses on topics such as working hours, benefits and health, safety and empowerment.
The Higg Brand and Retail module (BRM) completes the toolbox. It evaluates the management systems, products and supply chains of a company and provides recommendations for improvement.
Below you can read the interview of Jeremy Lardeau (SAC vice president for the Higg Index) to learn more about the Higg Index and what it means for the industry.
What has happened to the Higg Index since its inception?
Over the past decade, the Higg Index has grown from a single tool (the Higg Materials Sustainability Index) launched in 2012, to the newly launched Higg Product Module. This completes the Higg Index, providing a consistent view of the impacts across the value-chain.
The Higg Index tools are now robust and ready for scale and provide a basis for understanding and improving performance over time for both individual companies and the industry as a whole. They reduce audit fatigue and allow companies to focus on management rather than on preparing audits.
Which was your most recent accomplishment?
In May, the SAC launched our first phase of the Higg Index transparency program. The Higg Index transparency tool allows for the public sharing of data about a product’s environmental impacts, beginning with its material content. This launch was a significant milestone for the organization and the industry. It is the first step towards an industry-wide approach to transparency that will allow consumers to better understand the environmental impacts of products, aid businesses in differentiation and encourage innovation in sustainable products.
Norrona, H&M, and Amazon were among the first to sign up. We have just welcomed Tommy Hilfiger to the program. We will soon announce other partners.
Many fashion companies want to establish common industry standards for sustainability tracking. It’s expensive and difficult to follow different measures simultaneously. What percentage of companies use the Higg Index currently?
Higg Index has grown to 21,483 users in 119 countries. Our membership covers approximately 40% of the apparel, footwear and home textiles industries. The Higg platform now has over 45,000 users. This includes hundreds of brands as well as tens to thousands of manufacturers.
The degree to which a garment can have an environmental or social impact quantifiable is a key factor in determining its sustainability credentials. Is there anything that the Higg Index can’t measure?
We are constantly improving our measurement systems as scientific knowledge and understanding continues to improve. The Higg Index’s core strength is its ability to bring together stakeholders from all walks of the value chain in order to shape and develop each tool. We also capture best practices and reflect them in our tools.
The Higg Product Tools also requires additional information. This includes data that can be measured through LCA (lifecycle assessment) framework. The release of microfibres, including microplastics, cannot currently be quantified using LCA. This is why it’s not included in the Higg Materials Sustainability Index or Product Module.
What future changes are planned for the Higg Index Is there an additional value it can measure?
The greatest strength of these tools is their ability to be used by people who are industry experts. As science advances and our understanding of industry challenges deepens, these tools will continue to improve and evolve. This will allow us to provide support for our members and the industry in the future.
We are currently expanding the Higg Transparency program over the next two-years to include environmental facility data through Higg Facility Environmental Module and brand retail operations data via the Higg Brand Module. The program will be expanded to include social data from facilities via the Higg Facilities Social and Labour module by late 2023.
It will be the first system that can communicate sustainability performance throughout a product’s entire life cycle. The SAC’s goal for 100 percent of its brand, retailer, and manufacturer members to have a public-facing rating on sustainable performance that is credible & trusted by 2025 is the ultimate goal.
The Higg Index is based on brands measuring their sustainability. Is there anything stopping them from falsifying their sustainability credentials?
The Higg Facility Environmental Module is completed by facilities. The Higg Brand and Retail Module is completed brands and retailers. If the assessment owner wishes to communicate these results credibly with their stakeholders, they may request third-party verification.
To improve accuracy and reliability of data reported, the SAC continues to work to develop comprehensive, credible, and scalable verification programmes for each Higg index tool.
Verification programs are currently available for the Higg Facility Environmental Module and Higg Facility Social and Labor Modules, as well as the Higg Brand and Retail Module. Verification protocols are part of each verification program framework. verification guidance. Verifier application process and criteria. A quality assurance process is used to assure consistency among verifications across the program.
It seems complicated and lengthy. Is there a way to estimate the average time it takes for companies to use Higg Index to assess their sustainability?
It takes time to complete a factory, brand, or retailer’s assessment. This is based on many factors, including users’ readiness and preparation. The key principle behind how tools are constructed is that they can be simple for beginners, such as a quick assessment. This can then scale up to more complicated questionnaires for advanced users, which can take several days to complete.
Would you be able to give an example?
Both our Facility tools and our Brand and Retail modules have self-assessed versions that can both be verified. Users must first complete a self-assessment and verification. After completing the self-assessment and verification, users can share their Higg results to as many supply chain partners they wish. This helps to strengthen relationships and increase accountability in the global value chain. It also reduces audit fatigue for facilities. This helps companies understand their current position on the sustainability journey.
Although verification of data submitted to the Higg Facility Environmental Module and the Higg Facility Social and Labor Module and Higg Brand and Retail Module are not required, it is encouraged by the SAC membership requirements. Any information that is to become public, such as claims from consumers, must be verified.
This seems to be more suited for larger brands who can afford the time and effort required to measure complex objects. Is there a way to make this more accessible for smaller brands?
The Higg Index tools were created for industry-wide application and scalability. They are available to all sizes of organisations, from small businesses to large corporations. The SAC encourages all companies to use the Higg Index tools to support their sustainability journey.
The SAC supports its members in their sustainable journey. It provides a pathway for members to move through four levels of leadership: strategic, progressive, strategic and foundational. Members must adhere to the Higg Index’s best practices for adoption, verification and transparency in order to reach the next level.
Higg Index Sustainability Profiles were recently introduced by you. What do they look like and what benefits does it bring to the industry?
The Higg Index Sustainability profile is a consistent scorecard that allows brands to disclose information about a product’s impact on the environment. Brands can create profiles for products that include the following information.
An overview of the product’s environmental impact and a graphic that compares its performance to a standard baseline.
Additional performance details are available for specific impact categories such as global warming, fossil fuels and water use.
To help consumers make better purchasing decisions, a retailer or brand may include a Sustainability Profile on its product display page. All Sustainability Profiles can also be found on the Higg platform at profiles.higg.com.
What are the Sustainability Profiles missing? And what are your plans for addressing this issue?
The Higg Index Transparency program, which will include both environmental and social labour facility information through the Higg Facility Environmental module and the Higg Facility Soci &amp;amp;amp;amp. Modules, will be expanded to include data from both the Higg Facility Social &. Modules. The Labor Module will be followed by brand retail operations data via the Higg Brand Module and Retail Module. The Higg Product Module will then be used to add cradle–to-grave product impacts. It will be the first holistic system that can communicate sustainability performance throughout a product’s entire life cycle.
The SAC’s goal for 100 percent of its brand, manufacturer and retailer members to have a public-facing rating on sustainable performance that is credible & trusted by 2025 is the SAC.
In the past, the Higg index was criticized for being secretive about its methodology to measure sustainability. International Sericultural Commission (ISC), for example, complained that the Higg Materials Sustainability Index misrepresented silk. Similar complaints were made regarding leather. What was SAC’s response?
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (one tool in the Higg Index suite) is a tool for standardizing measurement of value chain sustainability. This tool is the most advanced in the suite. It was designed to shift the industry at large scale and to adapt to new data. Higg Materials Sustainability Index can only be used to compare between material categories. You can compare organic cotton with conventional cotton, recycled polyester with virgin polyester. This is not intended to be a comparison of material types.
The Higg Product Tool methodology is based on standard life cycle assessments practices. It has been reviewed thoroughly by independent LCA experts. It also uses state-of-the-art databases and tools (GaBi). This information is available in its entirety on the How to Higg website. We also clearly identify the source of any background LCA data used to calculate the Higg Product Tools results.
Are you able to speak with silk producers about your concerns?
SAC encourages collaboration and collective action, and engages with industry associations for example leather and cotton. We believe that industry associations have the most in-depth knowledge and access to primary information regarding their material types. We have been in touch with the alpaca industry to improve and update the LCA data for alpaca fibers. Despite our attempts to work with them, the silk industry has refused to cooperate.
Open data sharing is encouraged by the SAC. This allows industry stakeholders to contribute new data to help improve the information that designers and developers use to make their material choices. We welcome any data that shows the Higg Materials Sustainability Index data has been incorrectly or out of date. If this is the case, we encourage and encourage submissions to improve the Higg Materials Sustainability Index. The SAC does not provide any LCA data. The SAC consolidates the best LCA data available in one place and relies on the LCA practitioners from the relevant industry sectors for the data.