For the apparel sector, which has traditionally struggled to measure, let alone manage its burgeoning environmental footprint, the Higg Index has been nothing short of transformational.
Certainly this was the case in 2011, when the Walmart- and Patagonia-founded Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) rolled out the suite of assessment tools to allow brands, retailers and facilities of all sizes to measure and score a company or product’s sustainable performance in an aggregated, harmonized way that had hitherto proved elusive.
Now deployed by SAC spinoff Higg Co., the Higg Index continues to be framed as an industry-wide route to promote sustainable improvements in the fashion supply chain at scale.
“The Higg Index is helping us to identify the exact saving results of our impacts,” Andy Zhong, marketing director of China’s Prosperity Textiles, said in one of many endorsements on the SAC and Higg Co. websites. “By using the Higg Index, and with our peers joining forces, we can do better benchmarks to keep improving continuously.”
But praise has not been universal. A four-year study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, funded by the Laudes Foundation and published Monday, described the Higg Index in general—and the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) in particular—as a “scale without a diet.”
Though thousands of factories worldwide conduct self-assessments of the FEM, which measures an apparel facility’s environmental management capabilities, procedures and plans, every year, the potential for such tools to transform the industry remain throttled by the dearth of meaningful action from the industry around transparency and incentives, argue Dara O’ Rourke, associate professor of environmental and labor policy, and PhD candidate Niklas Lollo, now a consultant for Higg Co.