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Make way for the “Higg Index,” a new open-source tool for measuring apparel and footwear sustainability across the industry value chain. Developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Index is the first public rollout from the motley crew of manufacturers, retailers, non-governmental organizations, and academic experts, which include such bold-face names as Adidas, Esprit, Gap, H&M, Levi Strauss, Nike, Marks & Spencer, Patagonia, Timberland, Target, Walmart, the National Resource Defense Council, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Gap is one of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s founding members.
A NEW YARDSTICK
Based on the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Index and Nike’s Apparel Environmental Design Tool, the Higg Index provides a comprehensive assessment of a product’s social and environmental impacts, allowing companies to identify opportunities to improve long-term sustainability throughout their supply chains. SAC’s version goes further than either tool alone, however, according to Jason Kibbey, formerly of PACT and now the group’s executive director. “The Index mashes these two tools together and builds upon them to provide a holistic view of the entire supply chain that examines brands, facilities, and the products themselves,” Kibbey tells Ecouterre.
The Higg Index provides a comprehensive assessment of a product’s social and environmental impacts.
The Index’s first iteration focuses of measuring desired environmental outcomes in categories such as water use and quality, energy and greenhouse-gas emissions, waste, and chemicals and toxicity. An update of the tool, expected to arrive in 2013, will also incorporate key social and labor metrics. “This Index will be constantly evolving and improving over the next couple of years,” Kibbey says. “Areas where we are expanding include chemical management, as well as broader issues such as biodiversity and ecosystems.”
Its debut follows a year of beta tests on some 150 products from more than 63 companies. “During months of pilot testing, 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,” says Karin Ekberg, group head of environmental services at Adidas. “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.”
Because the Higgs Index is an industry- rather than consumer-facing system, much of the machinery will remain behind the scenes. Still, consumers can only benefit from any improved business practices as a result of the tool’s implementation, Kibbey tells us. “Consumers won’t receive direct information until the quality of the information and Index have evolved and that data is completely reliable and credible,” he says. “At that point we’ll then consider the option of developing a consumer-facing label.”