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One of the things I love about my job is that I get to lead an organization committed to continuous improvement, collaboration, and transparency. In fact, core to why we’re all here, doing what we do each day, is a belief that active engagement and dialogue is necessary to transform our industry and address the very real challenges of climate change and social justice reform.
For those reading this who aren’t as familiar with the organization I lead, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, or SAC, is focused on delivering exponential impact for the apparel, footwear, and textile industry. Part of that effort includes equipping decision-makers with a core suite of tools, called the Higg Index, to measure social and environmental performance and to ultimately use these insights to reduce environmental impact and increase social justice at a systemic level. The tools aren’t perfect — and were designed to continuously evolve — but the tools we’ve created offer the opportunity of an “apples to apples” comparison of sustainability performance and help our industry to understand issues that companies need to address and that we as a coalition can work towards addressing together.
Given the increasing use and adoption of the tools globally, I wanted to take this opportunity to openly address some concerns that have recently been raised by representatives of raw materials groups and talk about how we’re engaging and moving forward. One of the five core tools we’ve developed and that many of our members highly value — the Higg Materials Sustainability Index or Higg MSI — has recently been the focus of a coordinated campaign of critique. In addition to the continuous and ongoing engagement with our members on tool iteration, this feedback has provided another opportunity for our team to continue to evolve the tool and to meet the needs of the industry. As I write this article, we’re in the midst of that growth and ongoing conversations with those industry organizers, and I’m thankful for their openness and willingness to engage with us. I wanted to reflect here and share my thoughts on what’s happened so far, how we’ve responded, and why I’m excited about what this means for our work.
In recent weeks, organizations from the leather, silk, and alpaca industries reached out to us to convey concerns about their respective Higg MSI impact scores. Although a number of the concerns raised about the Higg MSI are misinformed (see the SAC’s response here to the leather industry’s letter, for example), we recognized an opportunity to both correct this misinformation while also extending our collaboration work and invite more stakeholders across the value chain into the ongoing conversation about measuring what matters.
Since the launch of the Higg MSI, the SAC has routinely invited and facilitated the submission of new data from various industry stakeholders, but we recognize the opportunity to enhance the submission process and step up our outreach with materials stakeholders. As a result, the SAC is strengthening its efforts to solicit new and updated LCA data from industry partners to help ensure the highest quality and representativeness of the Higg MSI as part of our regular review process. Specifically, the SAC is working to establish member working groups to create aligned models for specific material categories, enhance the submission process for Higg MSI contributors by translating methodology documentation and guidance, and offer more frequent training workshops. We will be sharing additional details about these workshops in the coming weeks.
Earlier today, the SAC also announced that we are retiring the Higg MSI’s aggregated single score, effective January 4, 2021. With the upcoming launch of the second edition of the Higg Product Module (PM) in spring of 2021, we believe this update to the Higg MSI will ultimately empower members to shift their focus to the product level, where we can achieve a greater impact. Our decision to move up the planned retirement of the Higg MSI single score reflects not only our intended evolution of our focus from materials to the product level, but also an opportunity to address some concerns among materials stakeholders. Working together is the only way for those of us committed to sustainability within our industry to achieve lasting, systemic change.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s even greater urgency to tackle these issues and the industry has a real opportunity to lead. The SAC and our members are doubling down on efforts to promote social justice throughout the global value chain and reduce the environmental impacts of products. We have very ambitious plans for 2021 and beyond, and I look forward to continuing to work with industry stakeholders on progress and sharing more updates in the coming months.