Clothing and footwear industry races towards sustainability
The Higg Index is set to be unveiled today by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a trade body made up of brands, retailers, manufacturers, NGOs, academics and government representatives, which claims to represent more than a third of the global apparel and footwear industries. Higg builds on already established techniques, including the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index and Nike's Material Assessment Tool, to help companies identify opportunities to reduce the environmental and social impacts of their products.
It was piloted last year by around 60 companies, who between them evaluated over 150 products on the basis of their water use, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and toxicity.
Jason Kibbey, executive director of the SAC, told BusinessGreen the index would be further refined through feedback from the coalition's members with a view to releasing an improved version incorporating social and labour metrics next year.
"This is the first stake in the ground for what's important for this industry to measure," he said. "We're not trying to create a simple standard that allows companies to get a seal of approval, but something that gives them scope for improvement even if they are performing well."
Kibbey revealed the long term goal for the initiative is to develop a consumer-facing rating for clothing products, although he was reluctant to set out a timeframe for launching the proposed labeling scheme.
"The Higg Index is improving all the time [and] when we get enough high quality data we can validate and verify it and communicate it to customers," he said. "There's a strong desire from companies looking for high quality information and when we get to that stage we'll roll it out."
Target, the second-largest US retailer behind Walmart, and Adidas have already incorporated the Higg Index within parts of their supply chains.
"We have already been able to use the Higg Index as an environmental indicator in the production of many of our products by all brands," Karin Ekberg, Adidas group head of environmental services, said in a statement.
"We intend for the Higg Index to form an increasingly important part of our overall product creation and production strategy in the years to come."