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What You Need to Know About the First Tool that Measures Apparel and Footwear Cradle-to-Grave Environmental Impacts At Scale

August 3, 2021


In June, we announced the completion of the Higg Index, topped off by the new version of our Higg Product Module (PM). As one of five tools in the Higg Index, the updated Higg PM can assess product environmental impact from materials selection through end-of-use, making it the only tool on the market that can help companies calculate the environmental footprint of their products beyond carbon emissions- at scale. This means that it is now easier than ever to design products with circularity in mind. 

Moreover, the Higg PM can be instrumental in helping brands align with new government regulations coming out of the European Commission. Recently, the French Parliament passed a new climate bill that will introduce mandatory ‘carbon labels’ to goods and services, including clothing and textiles. The Higg PM is intended to evolve with these new standards and regulations, providing credible data of a brand’s impact, from the products they design to how they are made. 

In this blog post, we speak to Joël Mertens, the SAC’s Director of Higg Product Tools, to help break down the basics and lay out what you need to know about the Higg Product Module: 


1) What is the purpose of this tool, and why is it so important for the industry?

This tool measures the cradle-to-grave impacts of a product, which means that it can measure from the beginning (when choosing the raw materials) all the way up to manufacturing impacts, product durability, care, and end of use.

This is important for the industry because knowing the environmental footprint of a product helps drive better decision-making as the impacts of different choices become clear. Often, there are tradeoffs that need to be considered, and just understanding high-impact areas can help focus efforts for improvement. The Higg PM paints a full picture of a brand’s impact, from how they are designed to how they are made. 

Being able to understand design decisions in the context of measurable impacts also helps avoid greenwashing by ensuring that there is a way to verify sustainability claims against trustworthy data. This ensures that programs make the type of positive improvements that they are intended to.


2) What is it, exactly? 

The Higg Product Module (Higg PM) is an industry product footprinting tool. It allows brands and manufacturers to assess the environmental impacts of their products using a life cycle assessment framework. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a structured method to use data to determine the impacts of a product. 

For example, the product carbon footprinting is a single dimension of applying a life cycle approach. The Higg Product Module can calculate the carbon footprint of a product (greenhouse gas emissions) in addition to water scarcity (the impacts of the water consumed in making a product), fossil fuel use, and eutrophication (nutrient pollution). 

These impacts are calculated by applying scientific methodology as part of the life cycle assessment process. For instance, the impacts associated with greenhouse gas emissions are calculated using the emission factors developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


3) How does the Higg PM work?

The Higg PM simplifies the LCA process into the types of questions that a designer or developer would be able to answer. For instance, users enter their bill of materials (the physical materials used to make a product), their manufacturing processes, and distribution information. The Higg PM can then calculate the impacts from these inputs. 

By simplifying the process, users don’t have to be experts in LCA methodology to be able to calculate the environmental impacts of their products while remaining confident that the results are meaningful and follow best practices for modeling.


4) How does it improve over time?

All life cycle assessment is only as good as its input data. The Higg Product Tools use a variety of life cycle data sources, including the GaBi database by Sphera, the World Apparel Lifecycle Database from Quantis, and industry data submitted directly through MSI Contributor. 

All of these data sources are reviewed before use in the tools. We always look for the most representative and reliable data to add and use a series of data quality ratings to ensure good data is being used. As new data becomes available, we update the Higg Product Tools. We currently do this twice a year to ensure that users have access to the most up-to-date life cycle information. 


5.) Is the methodology for the Higg PM accessible to the public? 

We share our methodologies  for both the Higg MSI and Higg PM publicly online.  External experts have reviewed these tools as part of the methodology review process, and these reports are also made available in the methodology document.


Want to learn more about the Higg Product Module? Learn more about it here and on our Executive Director Amina Razvi’s blog here.