Released in July 2012 by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Higg Index is a sustainability measurement tool that allows apparel companies to measure the impacts of their products across the value chain. Late last year, the SAC--a trade organization comprised of brands, retailers and manufacturers--announced an updated version of the index reflecting 18 months of development effort.
The SAC represents companies totaling nearly 40 percent of the apparel and footwear market, Executive Director Jason Kibbey told TriplePundit, and the index is already being widely adopted at all levels of the value chain, so its reach and relevancy is clear.
As more companies jump on board, could the index inspire industry-wide sustainability standards? And what would this mean for the future of sustainable apparel?
A company's assessment details the entire lifecycle of its products, from design to manufacturing to sale. Additionally, added and improved content in the Higg Index 2.0 includes:
"It allows companies to see where they are relative to their peers as a whole, and what we really hope is that this inspires a race to the top," Kibbey said of the new platform. "It's a pretty strong incentive to improve, because no one wants to be at the bottom or the back of the pack."
"One of the biggest challenges to improving the sustainability of supply chains is that every company will come with their own program, and you have some members that are manufacturers with over 100 customers," Kibbey observed.
This can lead to confusion and wasted effort on all sides, an observation shared by Desirae Early, manager of sustainability strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.), an early member of the SAC and a collaborator on the first Higg Index:
"One of the big assets of the Higg Index is moving toward that path where we'll have a common industry standard for how we measure performance in the supply chain," Early told TriplePundit. "[Manufacturers] end up focusing a lot of time and energy on just figuring out how to comply with all of these different programs and requirements."
"We're giving this long-term view so that [companies] can put long-term capital behind making these improvements with the assurance that it's not going to be the flavor of the month," Kibbey said.
Providing this assurance is the fact that "there's a huge percentage of the industry behind them," Kibbey says, a factor that impacts even large players like LS&Co.
"It's very difficult for any brand to go about reducing all of the impacts of their supply chain alone," Early said. "It becomes much easier if we move towards those goals as an industry and look at how we collectively figure out ways to reduce our resource impacts so that we can have a more sustainable business in the long run."
"The intention behind all of this is to really shift the responsibility so that everybody takes responsibility for those areas that they control," Kibbey said, noting that the SAC hopes companies at all levels of the value chain will also continue to exchange sustainability best practices amongst themselves.
"They can have a conversation with those areas beyond them as well, and really shift the dynamic from top-down to more of a matrix, so that everybody is playing a real role and improving environmental and social performance across the supply chain."
Image credit: Sustainable Apparel Coalition
Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is an editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands, Earth911 and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.
Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious Company, AlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia, PA.