The HIGG Index for Consumer Goods Sustainability

The analysis of caring for a pair of jeans over a lifetime reveals 30 kilograms of CO2 emissions

The analysis of caring for a pair of jeans over a lifetime reveals 30 kilograms of CO2 emissions

In 1960, Americans discarded about 1.8 million tons of textiles (2,000 pounds in a ton) and by 2008 that number increased to 12.4 million tons. The most recent information suggests that the average American annually throws away 81 pounds of clothing, which adds up to about 26 billion pounds!

The manufacture of consumer goods, including apparel, footwear, and textiles, has traditionally been a pollution-intensive endeavor. In 2008, an effort to measure environmental impact of products from "cradle to grave" or more explicitly, from raw material to garbage dump was undertaken by a group of companies in the apparel business. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) was created in 2011, which currently includes about 200 companies and it has developed software known as the Higg Index to provide comparative perspectives of brands with relation to environmental and human rights issues. Another way of looking at it is as a sustainability barometer for operations or a litmus test for product greenness.

Most consumers are not aware of factors involved with the apparel business such as the toxic chemicals used for leather tanning, crude oil used in the manufacture of synthetic fabrics, incredibly low wages and no benefits for foreign workers, and excessive shipping distances for manufacturing various aspects of apparel. The Higg Index was created as an indicator-based tool that enables companies to evaluate material types, products, facilities, and processes based on a range of environmental and product design choices.

Higg Product Tools - Higg Facility Tools - Higg Brand Tools

The Higg Index is a suite of tools that enables brands, retailers, and facilities of all sizes — at every stage in their sustainability journey — to accurately measure and score a company or product’s sustainability performance. The Higg Index delivers a holistic overview that empowers businesses to make meaningful improvements that protect the well-being of factory workers, local communities, and the environment.

Full Higg Index transparency will ensure accountability by communicating clear, comparable, and meaningful sustainability scores publicly. Using one common language to share sustainability efforts will allow consumers to make informed purchasing decisions and enable the apparel industry to thrive responsibly.

To build consistency, credibility, and comparability of Higg Index scores, the SAC is creating verification programs for each of its tools. A verification program will assess the Materials Sustainability Index, the Higg Facility Environmental Module (Higg FEM) and the Higg Brand & Retail Module. All publicly shared Higg Index scores must first be third-party verified.

Materials Sustainability Index

Materials play a significant role in a product’s lifetime sustainability impact. Selecting which materials to use is one of the first steps in a product’s development. Making informed choices at this early stage can have dramatic benefits, especially when that product is produced at industrial scale. The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) offers users insight into the sustainability of hundreds of thousands of materials used globally in manufacturing. Applying trusted metrics and methodology, the tool assesses a material’s impacts and scores the results. The Higg MSI is an extensive database devoted to the environmental impacts of materials production which assesses the environmental impacts of a material and computes a sustainability score thus it allows users across the value chain to compare materials in a standardized way. The tool offers users trusted data, so sustainable materials choices are easy to make.

The Higg MSI includes 79 base materials, such as cotton, polyester, and silk, which when blended and processed in different ways, create hundreds of thousands of materials used across the industry. Applying trusted metrics, a material’s impacts are assessed with calculations for global warming potential, water scarcity, resource depletion, eutrophication (death of a body of water), and chemistry.

Faculty Environmental Module

Manufacturers use the Higg facility modules to measure the social and environmental performance of their facilities. These modules measure impacts at individual factories, not the parent company as a whole, and annual reviews are verified by SAC-approved, on-site assessors.

Benchmarking by facility type allows facility managers to compare their performance against that of their peers. The modules’ questions give manufacturers clear guidance on hotspots for improvement and outline the current best practices in the field.

The environmental cost of producing and wearing clothes is high. Making a typical pair of jeans can require nearly 2,000 gallons of water and 400 mega joules of energy. Once purchased, caring for that same pair of jeans throughout its lifespan can cause more than 30 kilograms of carbon dioxide to be emitted. That’s equivalent to running a garden hose for two hours, driving a car 78 miles, or powering a computer for 556 hours.

The Higg Index also measures energy use and greenhouse gas emissions

The Higg Index also measures energy use and greenhouse gas emissions

The Higg Facility Environmental Module (Higg FEM) informs brands, retailers, and manufacturers about the environmental performance of their individual facilities, so they can make improvements that reduce negative impacts. This module can be used by manufacturers at any tier of the apparel, footwear, and textile industry supply chain.

The Higg FEM measures:

  • Environmental management systems
  • Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water use
  • Wastewater
  • Emissions to air (if applicable)
  • Waste management
  • Chemical use and management

Brand and Retail Module

Brands and retailers play a key role in the long-term success of sustainable practices and communicating the value of sustainability to consumers globally. Consumers are also becoming increasingly interested in supporting brands and retailers that are socially and environmentally sustainable and transparent about these practices.

Businesses of all sizes can use the Higg Brand & Retail Module (Higg BRM) to measure the environmental and social impacts of their operations and make meaningful improvements. The Higg BRM also supports these Higg users in sharing sustainability information with key stakeholders, including supply chain partners.

This assessment helps brands and retailers around the world establish and maintain strong corporate social responsibility strategies and practices that promote the well-being of workers and the planet. The Higg BRM assesses a product’s lifecycle structure from materials sourcing through its end of use.

The Higg BRM environmental impacts measured include:

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • Energy use
  • Water use
  • Water pollution
  • Deforestation
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Animal welfare

The Higg BRM social impacts measured include:

  • Child labor
  • Discrimination
  • Forced labor
  • Sexual harassment and gender-based violence
  • in the workplace
  • Non-compliance with minimum wage laws
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Working time
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Responsible sourcing

The Higg Brand & Retail Module allows companies to evaluate their environmental and social/labor performance, benchmark against their peers, and identify opportunities to demonstrate leadership. The beta version of this tool will launch in April 2018.

Helping companies to become aware of the environmental and social issues and practices related to operations and policies is the first step toward moving toward a more sustainable world of business.