the sac blog

Experts Weigh in on the Higg MSI

August 3, 2020

The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI), initially launched as a beta version in 2008 and relaunched as a robust tool in 2016 by the SAC, empowers the apparel, footwear, and textile industry to assess the environmental impacts of materials, helping companies to make more sustainable choices. It measures water scarcity, chemistry, Global Warming Potential, nutrient pollution, and fossil fuel depletion (read more about the Higg MSI methodology and frequently asked questions here). By understanding these impacts, brands, retailers, and manufacturers can proactively design and develop products that prioritize sustainability. 

Sustainability is a journey, and no tool that measures sustainability is perfect. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) recognizes and understands the many challenges the industry faces as it strives to be more sustainable. However, at the SAC, we believe that companies need to work together to truly transform the industry – no single company can address sustainability alone. We believe in collaboration, collective action, and driving continuous improvements. Using trusted life-cycle assessment (LCA) data, the Higg MSI offers the apparel industry a leading tool backed by science and technology that will help scale sustainability improvements globally. As of August 2020, the tool features data from the renowned GaBi LCA databases. Click here to learn more about the latest version of the Higg MSI.

Here, three industry experts weigh in on the value of the Higg MSI and how this science-backed tool can help the industry become more sustainable. 


Jeanne Renné-Malone
Vice President Global Sustainability, VF Corporation

From your perspective, what is the value of the Higg MSI?
The Higg MSI enables us to understand the environmental impacts related to the materials we use and to make informed choices toward achievement of our public-facing commitments for impact reduction, including our Science-Based Targets for climate change.


VF has used the Higg MSI to calculate the environmental footprint of its materials portfolio. Why has VF used the Higg MSI and how has this helped VF choose more sustainable materials?
The Higg MSI offers a data-driven way to assess the impacts of the materials we use, without having to conduct a costly, time-consuming life cycle assessment on every material. We also feel it’s important to align with shared platforms such as the Higg MSI wherever possible, to accelerate our industry’s collective efforts toward achievement of key impact reduction goals.


How do you plan to evolve your use of the tool moving forward?
In addition to using the Higg MSI to determine the environmental footprint of our materials, we also use it to model the impact reduction potential associated with future materials choices, toward achievement of our Science-Based Targets. Within this updated Higg MSI tool, we are particularly excited about the addition of data for some new materials, as well as the ability to adjust the underlying processes within the tool in order to more accurately reflect what’s happening in our supply chain. We are also happy that the underlying modeling approach and assumptions will now be publicly available due to using the Gabi/Sphera LCA database as the foundation of the Higg MSI, providing additional transparency and credibility.


How would you encourage other companies to calculate their own materials environmental footprint? Why is this important?
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and by using the Higg MSI data in conjunction with materials volumes, companies can understand their environmental impact baseline and prioritize the most significant opportunities for improvement.


What’s the value of the industry aligning around common tools like the Higg MSI?
Shared data sets such as the Higg MSI will be critical to achievement of the industry’s collective environmental impact reduction targets, such as the “net-zero by 2050” goal within the UNFCCC Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change – not only to ensure that companies are measuring their impacts and tracking their progress in a consistent manner, but also to reduce the duplication of efforts that would otherwise occur within individual companies. The field of LCA and our industry’s understanding of how to accurately calculate environmental impacts is still fairly nascent and continually evolving; the Higg MSI provides a grounding reference point.


Liz Cook
World Resources Institute, Vice President for Institutional Strategy and Development
Co-Founder, Free Reign

From your perspective, what is the value of the Higg MSI?
A significant portion of a garment’s environmental footprint is driven by the materials we choose to make it from and the source and processing method of those materials. The Higg MSI invaluably breaks down the environmental implications across a range of important issues as well as how the score is arrived at and the sources of the data used. The Higg MSI is a navigational tool for companies committed to improving the environmental performance of their apparel and footwear products. It’s a wealth of information that guides you on the journey of continuous improvement.


How did the Higg MSI help guide your materials selection process as you launched your new brand, Free Reign?
I’ve spent my career as an environmental professional at the World Resources Institute, so walking the talk was the only option for me when I embarked on co-founding an apparel start-up. I’ve always found it most effective to pursue ambitious goals through evidence-based and practical solutions, and the Higg MSI tool is perfect for that approach. The Higg MSI underscores how important comparable data is for decision-making and has illuminated for me that the greenest choices aren’t necessarily the obvious ones.

Free Reign’s first product is a seamless women’s tank top with an integrated custom-molded bra. We’re using Tencel™ Lyocell, Tencel™ Modal, nylon, and spandex in this product. We found it helpful to see the data submitted to Higg MSI by Lenzing, which differentiates how their cellulosic materials compare to the generic benchmarks and this informed what we specified to our suppliers. The Higg MSI data also illustrates how recycled nylon can lower that material’s impact score, and this inspires us to explore how we can switch over to that in the future.


How can tools like the Higg MSI be used to help companies achieve their SBTs?
The Science Based Targets Initiative helps companies adopt greenhouse gas reduction targets in line with what the science tells us is required to needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) above pre-industrial temperatures. The Apparel and Footwear Science Based Targets Guidance lays out different methods and pathways for defining a target and for most brands and retailers this requires them to achieve substantial reductions in “Scope 3” emissions, which include the materials used to make their products.

The Higg MSI gives companies the data they need to choose lower carbon materials. Looking at raw materials, for example, the Higg MSI shows that recycled polyester has a 72% lower GHG footprint than fossil fuel based; recycled cotton has a 71% lower footprint than conventional; and recycled nylon an 86% lower than conventional. This is average data, but over time, the SAC can expand and improve the data, which will be ever more important as more companies join this critical movement.


Rüdiger Fox
CEO, Sympatex

From your perspective, what is the value of the Higg MSI?
During Covid-19, the world has classified our industry as “non-essential” for human survival – so the pressure to justify our existence has been lifted this year on an even higher level than before. As an industry, we should therefore embrace full responsibility for our impact on the commons. The Higg MSI provides the perfect baseline for this as a holistic, industry wide approach that sets a common standard for everybody while continuously integrating new insights.


Why are you using the Higg MSI and how has this helped your business?
For us, the Higg MSI is the foundation for our Environmental P&L and also the foundation that guides our continuous improvement approach of our innovation pipeline.