As the SAC moves forward to scale its mission to transform businesses for exponential impact, we want to clarify common myths we hear about our organization. By doing so, we hope to offer a better understanding of our intent, our tools, and the purpose of our work, as well as dispel misinformation across our industry that prevents meaningful progress. Below, you’ll find common misconceptions and some misinformation about the SAC and Higg Index tools, with explanations of the truths behind them. Read on to learn more:
Myth 1: The SAC is a private group of consultants based in San Francisco that is funded by the big fashion companies.
This is false. The SAC is a global multi-stakeholder nonprofit alliance with global offices in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Oakland and ~30 staff members, all working remotely from various locations around the world, including Paris, Barcelona, London, Bangalore, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. Of its 250+ members, about 45% represent brands and retailers of all sizes, about 30% represent manufacturers, and about 25% represent nonprofits, service providers, government organizations, grantors and investors, academic institutions, and trade/industry associations. SAC staff and members are individuals dedicated to social and environmental issues and passionate about finding collaborative solutions to the fashion industry’s greatest challenges.
“The SAC is unlike any other organization changing the world. In the past ten years, we’ve overcome a tipping point. Normally outside, our companies are competitors. Here we’re all sitting at the same table and changing the climate impact of our industry. I’ve never seen this in any other industry, where people sit around one table and really focus on what needs to be done.” – Rüdiger Fox, CEO, Sympatex
“BSR believes that collaboration lies at the center of sustainable development efforts. Only by working together can companies and their stakeholders create a more just and sustainable world. Through mobilizing collective action across the apparel, footwear, and textiles industry and through continuous improvement of the Higg Index, the SAC has helped companies to better account for and manage their environmental and social impacts, in line with stakeholder expectations. We congratulate the SAC on ten years of industry action for sustainable production.” – Sara Enright, Director of Sustainability Collaborations, BSR
Myth 2: The third party body that verifies the Higg Index data is biased, unreliable, and poses a conflict of interest.
This is false. The SAC is committed to ensuring that the information companies submit is as accurate as possible. For the Higg FEM tool, the SAC works with its verification program manager Sumerra, which requires a rigorous application training process that ensures the consistency of verified results. The Higg FSLM tool is verified via the Social & Labor Convergence Program, and both the Higg MSI and Higg PM data are independently reviewed by the MSI Gatekeeper (for MSI Contributor submissions, core responsibilities found here on page 17) or the dataset provider (when coming from commercial LCA databases). We are working on additional verification for these tools, which we aim to make available by 2022.
Myth 3: The SAC claims that polyester is the world’s most sustainable fiber.
This is false. The SAC does not claim that any one fiber or material is more sustainable than another. The SAC’s role is to develop tools that offer credible data and insights regarding the environmental impacts of various materials, both natural and synthetic.
Myth 4: The Higg Index favors synthetics over natural fibers.
This is false. The Higg Index, including one of its five tools, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), does not favor any individual or group of fibers over another. Instead, it breaks down environmental impact categories like GHG emissions so that users can evaluate the environmental tradeoffs and make more informed decisions about the materials they choose for products based on the product’s functional needs. Designers, analysts, and product developers use the Higg MSI to evaluate the tradeoffs between comparable materials, for example, using conventional cotton versus recycled cotton to make a basic t-shirt. The tool is not designed to compare cotton to other materials such as leather or silk.
Myth 5: The SAC is forcing the EU Commission to adopt the MSI.
This is false. The SAC is currently involved in participating and supporting the facilitation of an EU Commission lead process aimed at developing EU Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) for apparel and footwear. This work is done through the Technical Secretariat, which is made up representatives from various brands and retailers (some are SAC members, some not), government bodies (e.g.the French Environmental Agency, ADEME), and other organisations and industry bodies ( e.g. IWTO, Cotton Inc, CELC – Linen Industry ). When it comes to voting, of the 17 members with voting rights, there is 1 vote per organization, including the SAC. It is important to note that the technical secretariat is tasked only with delivering a methodology, identifying the type of process and primary data that would be needed to complete a PEFCR and does not create the datasets for the European Commission. The selection of the dataset is a process fully owned by the EU Commission, completely distinct from the PEFCR creation.
Furthermore, through its participation in the Policy hub, together with partners such as Textile Exchange and Global Fashion Agenda, the SAC supports a public private partnership to develop and manage datasets that will be open for all organizations to use.
Myth 6: The silk industry has now made an official complaint which is being reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over how silk is incorrectly scored by the Higg MSI.
It has been reported on social media that the International Sericultural Commission (ISC) filed a complaint with the FTC that silk as a fiber is allegedly unfairly and inaccurately represented on the Higg MSI. So far, we have not been able to confirm whether the alleged complaint has been filed with the FTC, nor have we been sent a copy of the alleged complaint. While we are confident in the responsible and objective way in which silk — and other materials — are assessed and scored under the Higg MSI, we take these types of claims seriously and are always willing to engage with parties who have these concerns.
Myth 7: The Higg MSI ignores the issue of microfiber shedding.
This is false. The reality is that a life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) method for measuring microfiber impacts does not exist, especially as it relates to specific product level measurements. Once a credible LCIA method is published and available in LCA software, the SAC can consider incorporating it into the Higg MSI, and weigh microfiber impacts amongst the other critical issues. Note that, like other impacts that aren’t part of the Higg MSI, this doesn’t prevent companies from taking action or reducing their overall dependence on plastics. It means that at this time we can’t quantify the specific benefits of different manufacturing interventions with respect to microfiber impacts.
Myth 8: The Higg MSI promotes plastics and continues to try to justify overdependence on fossil carbon.
This is false. None of the Higg Index tools promote plastics, or any other material. The Higg MSI was not designed to promote one material over another, but rather was developed to offer data-based and science-backed information that helps users identify the various impacts of different materials that serve the same functional purpose. What the Higg MSI is showing is that we need to focus on reductions in addition to replacements in order to achieve our industry sustainability targets.
Myth 9: The LCAs for the Higg MSI are cradle to gate and therefore do not consider end of life.
This is true. The Higg MSI measures the cradle to gate impacts of material manufacturing. This is intentional, as it allows designers and developers to focus on addressing impacts of comparable materials created during the material development phase. The end of life impacts of a material are ultimately determined when it becomes a finished product (i.e. it is the product that has an end of life, not the material). The SAC has developed the Higg Product Module (PM), which currently measures cradle to gate but will expand to measure cradle to grave impacts (including end of life) by summer of 2021 when its final phase is launched.
“The Higg PM provides the global apparel industry comparable environmental sustainability data about products at a scale that has never been met before. It is based on state-of-the art scientific methods, thus giving all companies a common language so that we can work together to address sustainability globally. Having the standardized data from the Higg PM will ultimately support the industry at large in developing more sustainable products due to alignment of measures and actions facilitated by this common language. In the first edition, the Higg PM will cover cradle-to-gate finished product stages and will help companies in improving product sustainability.” – Krishna Manda, Senior Manager Sustainability Integration, Lenzing
Myth 10: The SAC isn’t transparent about where the Higg MSI data comes from.
This is false. Collection of the environmental impact data powering the Higg MSI is an open and transparent process, done through both data submissions from the industry and from credible life cycle assessment (LCA) databases. All background LCA data in the MSI comes from reputable industry databases, with the majority of the data coming from the GaBi database by Sphera. This data all undergoes modelling and internal review by Sphera that includes raw data validation, raw data documentation, representativeness, completeness and consistent modelling with regard to ISO 14040 and 14044. All data that is submitted by the industry is reviewed and verified by an independent consultant before being scored and entered into the MSI.
Myth 11: The SAC will not publicly share the underlying datasets for its Higg MSI.
This is partially true. The SAC does publicly share the source of all data in the Higg MSI on each process’ metadata page. Where commercial background LCA datasets from the GaBi database are directly used, the reference and link to the public information is provided. We only have a license to use the results of these processes, and don’t have any additional information that we can share beyond what we make available. As a principle, we strive to share as much information as we are allowed to based on data sharing agreements.
“For the last 30 years, it has been a well established practice to use commercial databases like GaBi or ecoinvent to represent the background system in life cycle assessment studies. Standardized and publicly available dataset documentation replaces the need for a separate LCA reports for each and every dataset, which would not be feasible given the GaBi database’s 15,000 inventories and annual update schedule.” – Dr. Christoph Koffler, Sphera’s Technical Director, Sustainability Consulting Americas
Myth 12: Higg MSI data is old.
This is partially true. In some instances, data may be older, but this is because it is the only scientifically-backed data currently available for certain materials.
The Higg MSI uses the best available life cycle assessment data sources for materials commonly used in apparel and footwear. All datasets are reviewed with respect to their data quality ratings (including time representation, technological representation, geographic representation, and precision), and they must meet a minimum requirement of “Fair” to be included. All information on the data quality rating of each dataset is available to Higg MSI users in the process metadata page.
We at the SAC see the urgent need for both quantity and increased quality of industry data and regularly invites the industry, including specific fiber associations, to submit new data to continuously improve the tool for all decision makers. We are actively in conversations with key stakeholders about the best paths to obtain that information, and we continue to expand the Higg MSI to incorporate the latest scientifically-qualified data available.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about our work at the SAC. If you resonate with our vision to create a global consumer goods industry that gives more than it takes – to the planet and its people – we invite you to join us.