Sustainable Apparel Coalition

the sac blog

Common Questions about the SAC

At the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), we believe sustainability is a journey. We strive for progress, not perfection, and we know that our organization, as well as our industry, will always have opportunities to improve. We continue to evolve as our industry and the world around us change rapidly. 

We wholeheartedly believe in our founding principles of equal partnership, collaboration, and collective action. I speak for our entire staff when I say that we not only take this work seriously, we take it personally. We believe in the tools we’ve developed in collaboration with our members to help the industry track and measure its social and environmental impacts. Are the tools perfect? No, certainly not. But they are the best tools on the market, and they were developed with integrity. 

We are aware and understand the current limitations of these tools — there’s much work to be done. However, I believe that focusing only on the negative without acknowledging what is working and what is useful distracts us all from effective progress and further delays our industry from making transformational change that is desperately needed. We have an opportunity as a community and an industry to continue to build on the good work already done and to make it even better, and we invite you to join us. Please read on for more details on the SAC and Higg Index, and thank you for your interest in our work.

Amina

Amina Razvi
Executive Director
Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Membership Requirements

1. Does the SAC ever remove members from the Coalition?
As a trade organization, the SAC does not directly engage in specific member business decisions. Under general antitrust laws, the Coalition cannot coordinate or instruct members how to operate with customers or suppliers or competitors. We are not in a position to dictate how member organizations operate their businesses when it comes to specific agreements they make with their partners. Removing members from the Coalition, versus working with and supporting their efforts, does not move us closer to our vision of an industry that is sustainable and equitable – it only creates more of a divide at a time when what we need is greater collaboration. Now, more than ever, these relationships and the values of equal partnership that underpin them are paramount. Without these relationships, we can’t move forward and solve the challenges we face as an industry right now and that we’ll continue to face a global community. 

Equal partnership – value chain collaboration and partnerships built on trust, mutual respect, open communication and shared values enabled through equitable representation and decision making – is a core SAC value. We hope all companies are abiding by this value. Many members are. Companies need to engage in constructive dialogue about how to manage sustainability and implement sustainable practices. The SAC offers them the tools, resources and best practices to start this journey.

2. Under what circumstances could SAC terminate a party’s membership in the Coalition?
Under the terms of the SAC’s membership agreements and its organizational bylaws, we can terminate memberships if a member fails to pay dues or if a member’s actions are deemed prejudicial to the welfare, interest, or character of the Coalition, including a willful violation of the bylaws or the coalition’s operating policy. In addition, new membership requirements are being developed that will require members to support the Coalition’s vision, standards and annual goals, advancing and adopting the Higg Index at scale.

3. Are the Coalition’s bylaws and operating policy publicly available?
The documents are available to our members and are updated from time to time with member input to advance the Coalition’s vision of an apparel, footwear, and textile industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities.

4. Has the SAC ever terminated a member’s membership in the Coalition?
The SAC does not comment on such matters.

5. Whose memberships has the Coalition terminated and why?
The SAC does not comment on such matters.

6. Does the Coalition monitor members’ behavior in the marketplace to ensure adherence to its principles and policies?
Our focus is always on measuring and improving social and environmental sustainability impacts. Our vision is to lead to an apparel, footwear, and textile industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities. By driving the Higg Index globally, we are driving the social and environmental improvements the industry needs to become sustainable.

7. Why hasn’t the Coalition expelled members rumored to have committed bad behavior?
As a trade organization, the Coalition is not in a position to tell member organizations how to operate their businesses when it comes to specific agreements they make with their partners or other third parties. Under general antitrust laws, the Coalition cannot coordinate or instruct members how to operate with customers or suppliers or competitors. Rather, our focus is always on measuring and improving social and environmental sustainability impacts. Our vision is to lead to an apparel, footwear, and textile industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities. By driving the Higg Index globally, we are driving the social and environmental improvements the industry needs to become sustainable.

8. How ethical is the SAC if it’s funded by big brands?
The SAC has more than 250 members including brands, retailers, manufacturers, small and medium-sized enterprises, service providers, NGOs, academic organizations, and government organizations. The Coalition is a collaborative effort to drive improvements for the entire industry and its stakeholders, not just big brands. Our perspective is that by being inclusive of everyone in the industry, we are practicing what we preach in demonstrating equal partnership across all companies. All members pay annual dues, which is spent judiciously and with integrity with the oversight of our Board of Directors to further our mission.

9. Does the SAC favor big brands? This doesn’t seem equitable for SMEs and manufacturers.
The SAC has more than 250 members including brands, retailers, manufacturers, small and medium-sized enterprises, service providers, NGOs, academic organizations, and government organizations. The SAC is a collaborative effort to drive improvements for the entire industry and its stakeholders. Members on advisory councils and working groups represent the diverse organizations of all sizes and backgrounds that are part of the SAC.    

All SAC members have the opportunity to engage collaboratively within the Coalition and share their feedback with other members and SAC staff. Key SAC decisions are determined through all-member votes, in which each voting member is granted one vote. Voting members include SMEs and manufacturers.

1. Why do some Higg Index launch dates change?
The SAC wants to ensure that we launch new tools that set members up for success. This means confirming that the Higg Index content and technology support member and stakeholder needs. Sometimes we find issues during a test phase that we weren’t anticipating and need to be addressed.

As we prepare for a launch, we may need to adjust launch dates to give our teams time to develop the infrastructure and resources members and Higg users need to successfully use the tools at global scale. We understand it can be frustrating when launch dates change, but we would rather get it right than get it out on time.

In 2020, we will achieve what the Coalition set out to do ten years ago – the core tools of the Higg Index suite will be available: Higg Facility Environmental Module, Higg Facility Social & Labor Module, Higg Brand & Retail Module, Higg Materials Sustainability Index, Higg Product Module. Higg Co is also developing additional tools to further enhance and support the Higg Index experience.

2. What progress has the SAC made on scoring and when will consumers have access to Higg Index scores?
This will be the first year the core Higg Index suite of tools is available on Higg.org. Without these core tools, it was very challenging to determine what we could communicate to consumers for a variety of reasons. Now we can explore how to effectively communicate Higg Index data to consumers and share the Higg Index methodology with them in a way that’s easy to understand. Three SAC members have tested consumer-facing Higg Index transparency this year, and more will test consumer-facing Higg Index communications by the end of 2020. We plan on launching consumer-facing communications in 2021.

Facilities that complete and verify the Higg Facility Environmental Module may communicate their Higg Index performance with value chain partners and publicly. Higg Materials Sustainability Index and Higg Produce Module performance may also be communicated as outlined in the Higg Index Communication Guidelines – Beta, available on howtohigg.org.

3. How can stakeholders trust tools developed by the industry?
Stakeholders can trust the Higg Index tools because they are developed by the industry. The industry stakeholders that develop the tools understand how their companies work, the complexities of their supply chains, and the sustainability challenges relevant to apparel, footwear, and home textiles better than anyone else. They create tools that are relevant to them and will help them make more sustainable choices. The number and variety of companies involved in the development of the Higg Index ensures that no single interest is over-represented. Instead, companies of all sizes, from all regions, and representing all types of interests have had an equal say in how tools have been developed.

1. When will Higg Index data be made public?
Higg Index users own their data, and it’s up to them whether to disclose it. The SAC anticipates that as companies begin sharing their Higg Index scores, consumers will begin to demand this information from other companies, too, driving a sustainability race to the top, urging brands and retailers to consistently improve their social and environmental performance. We’re very excited about the possibilities and how consumer demand could drive transparency.

2. How is the Higg Index different from Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index?
The Higg Index empowers brands, retailers, and manufacturers to assess and improve social and environmental sustainability performance year over year. It assesses the social and environmental performance of brands, retailers, facilities, and products in detail. The Higg Index offers the most comprehensive assessment available to measure a company or product’s sustainability impacts – the Higg Brand & Retail Module has up to 2,000 questions.

The Higg Index can be used at global scale. More than 15,000 facilities use the Higg Index today. All the SAC’s brand and retailer members (100+) must complete the Higg Brand & Retail Module.

The Fashion Revolution Transparency Index uses a broad brushstroke approach. It has been designed to give stakeholders an illustrative look at how much brands disclose about their supply chains, what kind of policies they have in place and, importantly, how much they share with the public about their practices and products.

Fashion Revolution and Ethical Consumer have partnered to publish a Fashion Transparency Index which ranks companies according to their level of transparency based on a questionnaire and publicly available information about supply chain issues. The Fashion Transparency Index is a research and communication tool, not an auditing measure, and it surveys 40 of the biggest global fashion companies. (Source: Fashion Revolution website)

3. How is Higg Transparency different from other environmental labels?
The Higg Index offers the most comprehensive data and insight on a product’s environmental sustainability performance and the most comprehensive social and labor sustainability data available for a facility’s performance. It measures performance from the material selection process and design of a product, to the manufacturing of a product, logistics, sales, use, and (in 2021) end of use. Higg Index Transparency will be informed by this common standard, enabling the most accurate company-to-company sustainability comparison available at global scale.

4. How can I trust the Higg Index if companies are reporting self-assessed and not verified data?
Higg MSI process data is initially third-party verified by a Higg MSI Gatekeeper. The MSI Gatekeeper is a life-cycle assessment expert with extensive experience reviewing LCAs and knowledge of apparel materials. Once it is approved, a final review is conducted by Higg Co as it is scored for the Higg MSI.

The majority of Higg MSI process data uses ISO compliant commercial datasets and any additional modeling notes are included in the metadata. Material-specific Higg MSI scores and impacts reported are unverified at this time.

1. Is the Higg Index redundant of the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)?
The SAC is working to ensure that there is no redundancy between the Higg Index and the PEF. The Higg Index includes the Higg Product Module (Higg PM) to calculate the environmental impacts of products using consistent methodologies. More than 60 companies have collaborated with one another to develop this methodology over four years. Now, SAC is leading the development of the Global Apparel and Footwear PEF Category Rule (PEFCR) with SAC members and non-members, using Higg PM methodology as the basis for this work. We are leveraging all of the discussions and insights from Higg PM methodology development to inform PEFCR methodological conversations.

2. Why should the EU Commission support the Higg Index?
The Higg Index is the first standardized assessment that empowers the industry to assess performance, compare data at global scale, and easily share assessments with value chain partners so that together, the industry can foster collective improvements.

The Higg Index offers a full array of tools to measure and evaluate the social and environmental sustainability performance of brands, retailers, facilities, materials, and products. The SAC is developing communications Higg Index users can publish to empower consumers to make more informed sustainability decisions.

The Higg Brand & Retail Module (Higg BRM) is a tool that measures the social and environmental performance of brands and retailers.It supports the deployment of robust due diligence practices, following the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines, and helps brands identify areas they can improve to become more sustainable. Thanks to the development of a verification program and of Higg Index transparency work, the Higg BRM will be the most comprehensive tool available to global brands to report their practices in a comparable way, empowering consumers to make more informed purchasing their choices.

The Higg Facility Environmental Module (Higg FEM) and Higg Facility Social & Labor Module (Higg FSLM) evaluate the environmental and social performance of global facilities, helping improve the industry’s sustainability performance.

The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) assesses the environmental impacts of materials. It helps designers and product developers to understand environmental impacts of the materials they choose. The Higg Product Module (Higg PM) calculates the environmental performance of a product. The Higg MSI and Higg PM are uniquely positioned to inform industry stakeholders.

1. What is the purpose of the Higg Product Module?
The purpose of the Higg PM is to empower consumers and companies producing products to reduce environmental impact. By providing an industry-applicable consistent methodology for calculating a product’s environmental footprint, the Higg PM allows companies to assess the environmental impacts of products and helps them to reduce that impact.

The three main reasons that the Higg PM was created are:

  • To allow companies to assess impact and develop more sustainable products consistently
  • To support industry in the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) process in Europe through submitting a meaningful (pre- aligned) approach
  • To create a basis for future consumer-facing communication

The Higg PM provides unique differentiating characteristics that add to its value. Not only is it the industry-applicable consistent methodology for calculating a product’s environmental footprint, it also expands based on a user’s knowledge, which improves the user experience. Consistent assumptions are applied where primary information doesn’t exist, with the option to enter primary data to refine the results. Using a methodology on which an industry has aligned, the Higg PM improves the quality of life cycle assessment (LCA) data and analysis for better decision making in product creation and innovation. Use of this tool incentivizes an industry-collaborative effort in data collection to improve data quality and the accuracy of Higg PM assessments. The Higg PM provides consistent and comparable environmental impact results that can be analyzed and benchmarked against company and industry averages. There are other tools which can also calculate impacts consistently, but the Higg PM provides a streamlined scoring approach based on robust data which can pave the way for end user/consumer communications.

2. What impact areas does the Higg Product Module assess?
The Higg PM is a life cycle assessment tool that guides brands, retailers, and manufacturers to calculate product and supply chain performance in five environmental impact categories. These categories include: global warming potential, water scarcity, eutrophication, fossil fuel resource depletion, and chemistry.

3. Why is the Higg PM being released in two phases?
The Higg PM will be released in two phases because, while it is a very complex tool to build, we don’t want companies to wait until next year to be able to complete a product assessment. The first phase, launched September 16, 2020, offers product assessment from cradle to factory gate, including materials production. In other words, it measures impacts from the point of resource extraction to finished product assembly.

In this first phase, companies can use the Higg PM to communicate materials data information with value chain partners. Integrated with the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) on the Higg.org platform, the Higg PM lets Tier 2 manufacturers share materials and data with Tier 1 manufacturers and brands that use the Higg MSI. The Higg PM uses this data to calculate the environmental impacts of the materials in the products companies design and manufacture.

Phase two of the Higg PM (expected to launch in 2021) will include assessments of product distribution, use, and end of use, covering the “cradle to grave” impacts of products.

The Higg Product Module builds off of the work of the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) and offers visibility of environmental impacts beyond material production. Assessing the same impact areas creates continuity between the tools and ensures that any materials that are created and assessed in the Higg MSI can be used in the Higg PM.

4. How were these impact areas selected?
The impact areas the Higg PM assesses were selected in consultation with independent third-party experts using the following criteria: environmental relevance, scientific robustness, completeness of scope, transparency of sources, degree of acceptance, and data availability. Appendix C of the Higg Index Methodology Document available at howtohigg.org explains how each of these impact areas and their scientific models (as well as others considered) match against these criteria. The SAC plans to add more impact categories over time as they emerge and evolve.

5. Is there a verification program for the Higg Product Module?
After the Higg PM is released, we will develop a verification approach. We think it’s most important for Higg Index users to have access to the Higg PM as early as possible, so they can start to understand how the tool works and what the data requirements are. This will give users time to start collecting important product data and entering the required information in the Higg PM.

Critical user feedback will then inform the verification process developed. As we develop the verification approach, there will likely need to be tweaks to the content and guidance to ensure the user experience is clear and consistent across industry. Scalability will also be a key consideration of the verification approach. The verification approach developed will need to support accurate verification of hundreds to thousands of products a year for each company.

Even without verification at this time, the Higg PM will encourage users to learn more about their supply chain and production processes, which are a benefit to the industry as it assesses and improves its environmental impacts.

6. Who can use the Higg Product Module?
The Higg PM is available to be used by brands and manufacturers to assess the impacts of the products they manufacture and sell. The Higg PM requires the use of primary manufacturing data to complete an assessment and without this information no results can be generated; however, the results and insights from the Higg PM are intended to be shared with retailers and consumers to inform them about the environmental impacts of products.

7. How will the Higg PM communicate sustainability information on products?
Select SAC members are currently testing and exploring how consumer-facing Higg Index data may appear on products. The Higg PM, for example, does not provide a single aggregated sustainability score. Instead, environmental performance is reported per each of the five impact areas to provide more visibility into each category — global warming potential, water scarcity, eutrophication (nutrient pollution in water), fossil fuel depletion, and chemistry.

8. Does the Higg Product Module assess the full life cycle of a product?
The first phase of the Higg PM launch offers a cradle-to-gate assessment up to and including the impacts of product manufacturing. The second phase of the Higg Product Module, expected to be released in 2021, will include the impacts of logistics, retail, use, and end of life for a full cradle-to-grave assessment.

9. What methodology does the Higg PM use?
The Higg PM uses a methodology developed by SAC members that expands upon the Higg MSI methodology. The first edition of the Higg PM offers “cradle-to-gate” product assessment, which includes the material, trim, and packaging impacts of the Bill of Materials (assessed using Higg MSI) as well as the finished goods manufacturing processes. Both Higg PM and Higg MSI share the same impact categories, though the Higg PM does not deliver a single score, rather all environmental impacts are reported separately for a holistic look at a product’s environmental sustainability performance. The Higg PM methodology was independently reviewed by LCA experts before being implemented and the entire document can be downloaded from the How to Higg website.

10. How does the Higg PM consider circularity?
Circularity of product and regeneration of natural resources is an ultimate goal of the apparel and footwear industry. Collecting data and assessing the impacts of products is a critical first step to getting to circularity.

The Higg PM considers circularity in several ways. For example, one of the key measures of circularity, the elimination of waste and management of hazardous chemicals, is already factored into the Higg PM assessment framework. 

Additionally, recycled materials and previously used products are modeled using the cut-off approach in the Higg PM and Higg Materials Sustainability Index. This means that new materials and products that are on their “first life” are allocated the full manufacturing impacts. Once a material or product has reached its end of life and is recycled or refurbished (reducing waste), only the impacts of recycling and refurbishment are included in that subsequent material or product. In a practical sense, this means users don’t receive credit for potentially recycling a product, rather they receive credit once they’ve actually recycled it. This measures the impacts of the circular actions that have actually been implemented instead of focusing on what may potentially be implemented.

This results in a reduced impact from using recycled materials. In the second edition of the Higg PM, expected in early 2021, products will also be rewarded for definitive actions that the seller takes to contribute to circularity. For example, consider two companies. Let’s say one company uses recyclable textiles in its products and it takes action to facilitate the actual recycling of those materials into future products after it is used through a takeback program. Let’s say another company uses recyclable textiles in its products but does nothing to ensure that those textiles are actually recycled. The first company will receive better Higg PM results.

The second edition of the Higg PM will further consider factors related to circularity, specifically around the longevity of the usable life of a product. Quality parameters are used to determine if a product is designed for a longer usable lifetime. If a company has repair programs, for example, this also extends the usable lifetime in the Higg PM. Such factors are not usually included in life cycle assessment, which typically uses a fixed lifetime. The SAC is developing and refining this area of the Higg PM methodology to ensure these circularity considerations are recognized and quantified. 

The second edition of the Higg PM will also measure the duration of service (longevity) of products based on repair programs that are in place as well as the product quality characteristics that can be measured and tested. The Higg PM makes default assumptions around product lifetime and use impacts that are based on data. If data shows that a type of product lasts longer, this data is built into the default assumptions. It’s important to note that the Higg PM is adjustable based on the most current data available. There are lots of data points that are based on current research that the SAC can update and adjust over time as new data becomes available and as the industry changes.

11. Why is the Higg Product Module being released now if it doesn’t include a full life cycle assessment?
The first edition of the Higg PM, launched in September 2020, offers product assessment from cradle to factory gate, including materials production. In other words, it measures impacts from the point of resource extraction to finished product assembly. Purchased Goods and Services is the largest category of Scope 3 emissions for most brands and retailers, and it’s very valuable to track this information to clearly understand how the apparel, footwear, and home textile industry may reduce its environmental impacts. 

In the first edition of the Higg PM, companies can use the tool to communicate materials data information to value chain partners. Integrated with the Higg MSI on the Higg.org platform, the Higg PM lets Tier 2 manufacturers share materials and data with Tier 1 manufacturers and brands that use the Higg MSI. The Higg PM uses this data to calculate the environmental impacts of the materials in the products companies design and manufacture. 

The second edition of the Higg PM (expected to launch in 2021) will include assessments of product distribution, use, and end of use, covering the “cradle to grave” impacts of products. 

The Higg PM builds off of the work of the Higg MSI and offers visibility into environmental impacts beyond material production. Assessing the same impact areas creates continuity between the tools and ensures that any materials that are created and assessed in the Higg MSI can be used in the Higg PM.

Higg tools are continuously evolving. We believe in releasing tools or features as soon as they are ready to enable the industry to progressively integrate these within their sustainability performance efforts.

12. How is the Higg Product Module aligned with the Product Environment Footprint (PEF) Project in Europe?
The Footwear draft PEFCR (Product Environment Footprint Category Rules) and Key Learnings and Recommendations document were used as a basis to create the Higg PM methodology. Where the PEF methodology had gaps or weaknesses, the SAC worked with itsour global membership to advance and improve the methodology. The SAC is a member of the Technical Secretariat that will create the Global Apparel and Footwear PEFCR and is sharing its learnings and methodology with the Technical Secretariat. Once a final PEF methodology has been approved, the SAC plans to ensure the Higg PM can be used to assess products using the PEF methodology.

13. How does the LCA cradle-to-grave approach work in regards to measuring circularity?
Circularity of product and regeneration of natural resources is an ultimate goal of the apparel and footwear industry. Collecting data and assessing the impacts of products is a critical first step to getting to circularity. There’s a criticism of life cycle assessment and its limitations in terms of looking at the total picture of a product’s impacts. As data emerges and methodologies become more refined in terms of circularity measurement, the SAC anticipates the Higg PM and other Higg Index tools will evolve to support the industry to meet its ambitions. First, we must meet these foundational steps.

The second edition of the Higg Product Module methodology, which will consider the full product lifecycle, will give users credit for efforts that extend beyond the conventional parameters considered in an LCA assessment, such as consumer take back and recycling programs.

14. Will efforts around durability, product use phase, re-use, consumer take back and recycling feature in the second edition of the PM?
Yes. The second edition of the Higg PM, expected to launch in early 2021, will help companies better understand and assess the effectiveness of their circularity programs by assessing the environmental impacts of  their overall circularity efforts. For example, a company with a program that repairs, takes back and/or recycles products will be rewarded with a better score than a company with no repair or take back program.

1. Why do synthetic materials like rayon and polyester score better than natural materials like wool, cotton, and silk?
“Natural” does not mean that a material will have a lower environmental footprint. Conventional agriculture can come with significant environmental challenges, as the Higg MSI shows. Fossil fuels are still needed to run farm equipment and to process the fibers into a usable form. Irrigation can deplete natural water reservoirs. The over-application of fertilizers leads to nutrient runoff to bodies of water (eutrophication). This does not mean that natural fibers are bad! There are many existing programs that are working to reduce agricultural impacts. Currently, most of the data in the Higg MSI represents conventional agriculture because that is the only LCA information that is available. Our hope is we will continue to see data submissions for these agricultural programs that promote lower impact production methods. 

It’s also worth noting that, while natural fibers may have higher impact when evaluated on a per kilogram basis (the scoring metric in the Higg MSI), synthetic fibers are produced in much higher quantities. This means that the aggregate impacts from synthetic fibers can still be much higher than for natural fibers. However, what the Higg MSI shows is that simply switching from a synthetic fiber back to a natural fiber is not going to lessen our environmental footprint – the impacts of tripling our agricultural footprint for textiles would be immense. We need to get better at closing the loop and ensuring we are using any fiber (natural or synthetic) responsibly.

In the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI), natural materials often score higher, reflecting a worse score than petroleum based materials. This is because the Higg MSI is a cradle-to-gate assessment and scores are dependent on the impact areas chosen. It is also due to the fact that different fibers are physically heavier than others, so oversimplified comparisons can be misleading. It is important to note that, by volume, synthetic textiles represent the greatest volume of materials in use in global footwear, apparel, and textile production. If natural fibers were used at similar volumes globally, the overall environmental impact would possibly be even higher due to the natural resources required for production and processing. 

The LCIA impact areas featured in the Higg MSI were chosen because they meet the following criteria: environmental relevance, scientific robustness, completeness of scope, transparency of sources, degree of acceptance in the scientific community, and data availability. Appendix C of the Higg MSI Methodology document on howtohigg.org lists all considered impact areas and how it does or does not meet the criteria for each. 

All included impact areas are weighted equally in the tool and bio-based materials typically have a lot of resource use associated with raw material production compared to conventional counterparts. In the new Higg MSI, we have separated the impact areas so that the impacts are much more obvious to users and they can better understand and consider the impact trade-offs versus referring to the single material score.

A new addition in the MSI is the inclusion of biogenic carbon content on a raw material’s metadata page. It is not included in the material score because it is not guaranteed that carbon sequestered during the cultivation of natural materials will be captured long-term. If a garment enters a landfill or otherwise decomposes after it’s in a consumer’s care, the carbon will be released into the atmosphere, canceling out the carbon sequestration. However, biogenic carbon content is declared separately, which is standard practice in cradle-to-gate life-cycle assessment (LCA).

It is also important to note that materials are scored on a per kg basis. Lighter fabrics, such as silk, need more material yield to weigh one kilogram. More material generates more impact, ultimately resulting in a worse score. In the new Higg MSI, users can enter yield density information about a custom material. Then users can calculate the results for a specific yield of material (e.g. m2 or yard) in the Trims and Components section.

2. Does the use of proxy data in the Higg MSI make it misleading?
There are very few processes in the Higg MSI that are based on proxy data. Processes are modeled from background datasets using common assumptions (such as electricity grid mix for global processes). This is not an uncommon approach as almost all LCA reports need to use background data in their model. It is important to note that using the Higg MSI consists of assessing materials by choosing the correct production processes, assigning chemistry-related certifications, and creating blends. This process is referred to as ‘creating a custom material’ and the data choices that are made are based on user primary data and information. The end result is the calculation of representative scores and impacts for each material. Example materials serve as a starting place from which users can further customize their materials based on the degree of information they have available.

In some cases, the background datasets may not be overly specific and/or proxies need to be selected. It would be ideal if we always had high-quality primary data to use in the Higg MSI. However, all LCA reports use background and proxy datasets as part of their modeling, so this is not an issue specific to the Higg Product Tools. For example, to update cotton fiber data, we need data quantifying the inputs (materials, water, land, chemicals) and outputs (material, waste, wastewater, emissions) of cotton production. To obtain the best quality data, it could be collected for a specific farm, representing the specific production practices during a specific time of year, and constantly updated to remain accurate at all times. This could be represented in the Higg MSI if it were submitted. But would that be helpful to brands? Rarely do companies have traceability to this level of detail since the cotton from many farms is combined in ginning and further downstream processing.

Similarly, even if data was collected and reported on an increased frequency, at what point does it stop driving good decisions and start driving regrettable choices? If a single year experiences a drought, then the impacts could be higher than the average (driven by increased need for irrigation and/or lower yields). But the crop has already been grown and choosing to avoid purchasing because of higher impacts would just exacerbate a bad year for the farmer. This is why it is preferred to have multiple production years averaged together to get a sense of typical impacts without driving unintended consequences. However, anything less than specific farm-level and production-level impacts is no longer primary data and is often viewed as proxy data.

In the Higg MSI, our goal is to keep material options relevant to companies, listing production practices that they would actually know and that could be verified (conventional, organic, recycled, Cotton made in Africa, etc.). We can get more specific than this where it’s helpful for the industry and where good data exists to support different options. For example, we are looking into adding cotton from different global regions to account for further regional differences, as some brands do have visibility into their cotton’s country of origin.

Since the Higg MSI is publicly available, the SAC is fortunate to have a global industry actively engaged in reviewing and updating the data used with increased representative sources and manufacturer-specific, primary data. The data quality meets or exceeds the expectations set forth in the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint Category Rule (PEFCR) work – the basis of future product labeling in Europe. The data quality is transparent to all users on the Metadata page for each process. These pages can be accessed by clicking on a specific process or raw material and scrolling down to the Data Quality section.

To ensure the highest accuracy of Higg MSI data, the SAC encourages the industry to continuously submit new and updated LCA data. The Coalition urges organizations to share data with the SAC for the benefit of the entire industry. The SAC and Higg MSI third-party gatekeepers conduct the data verification and scoring at a limited cost to contributors. The SAC makes the results publicly available for the benefit of the entire industry as well as external stakeholders. In addition, the Higg MSI data is updated approximately twice a year to include new data submissions and additional sources and to respond to customer feedback.

3. Why is some of the data used in the Higg MSI several years old?
The Higg MSI leverages the best available data sources for materials commonly used in apparel and footwear. Sometimes the data received is from new LCA sources and updated, and sometimes it is based on older LCA data, but is the only data available for that material. Rather than exclude important materials completely, the data is included but has a poorer Data Quality Rating (DQR).

The DQR provides context into how much confidence there is in the data and model used for a process. It covers elements of time (i.e. when the primary data collected) and technology (i.e. how closely the model matches what is being represented) among several other criteria. DQRs also provide a framework for when data shouldn’t be used. For instance, only submitted data with a DQR of “Fair” (3) or better is included in the Higg MSI. And they provide a framework of when a different data source should be used to represent a process. DQRs can be found on metadata pages for all raw materials and processes in the Higg MSI. As the industry submits more current data, we can continue to improve the Higg MSI over time. We urge the industry to help us continue to evolve the Higg MSI through current data submissions.

4. There seem to be some materials missing.
The Higg MSI includes hundreds of raw material and production processes enabling the customization of millions of material variations, however, it is limited to the data available to the SAC. Databases can always be more comprehensive. As the industry submits more current data, we can continue to improve the Higg MSI over time. The SAC strives to add more raw material and process options over time, improving data granularity and accuracy. One of the best ways to expedite this process is to submit data via the Higg MSI Contributor. This will add more options to the tool, increasing data quality and detail for all users. We urge the industry to help us continue to evolve the Higg MSI through an increase in data submissions.

5. Why does the Higg MSI exclude important lifecycle phases, like consumer use and disposal?
The scope of the Higg MSI includes raw material from extraction/production to a finished material that is ready to be assembled into a product. The Higg MSI considers intermediate products because it is at that phase it is known how the material will be used. However, the SAC has long recognized the importance and industry need for a tool that assesses these impacts. The Higg Product Module (Higg PM), which is currently in development, will help to address the consumer use phase and end of life, assessing the environmental impacts of completed products, while also accounting for consumer impacts.

The Higg PM will consider the full life cycle of a product. It will have a functional unit that considers the number of times the product is washed during its lifetime. It even includes novel methodologies that improve results if a company takes specific actions to increase the lifetime of a product, such as demonstrated quality levels or repair programs. The EU Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint Category Rule, currently in development, will further confirm or inform the functional unit of study in the Higg PM.

6. Why does the Higg MSI exclude some impacts, like microplastics?
The SAC recognizes the importance of assessing impacts of fiber shedding (not limited to microplastics) and is investigating ways to incorporate it. We only include well-vetted scientific assessment methodologies into the Higg MSI and Higg PM. Active research on this impact is taking place in the industry and we hope that soon there will be LCIA methodologies created that we can test. Read more about SAC’s commitment to including this impact in this Apparel Insider article.

Similarly, there is not a strong scientific consensus regarding a methodology for assessing biodiversity in life cycle assessment. We are aware of active research taking place in the scientific community. As soon as a viable approach is available, we will consider adding it to Higg Product Tools.

7. How does the Higg MSI align with ISO standards?
The fundamental purpose of the Higg MSI is to guide apparel, footwear, and home textile designers and developers toward making more sustainable products. Its primary purpose is to support decision-making. The Higg MSI does not make claims about products. Rather, the Higg MSI is an index and a supporting database for assessing the embedded impacts of materials, which is one component of Product Category Rules (PCRs), the rules for calculating a specific type of product’s impact in LCA. Data is verified with the same methodology used for all materials, so there is consistency and relativity between these materials.

The Higg MSI data conforms with ISO LCA requirements and is suitable for ISO 14044 studies. While the Higg MSI does not conform to ISO standards because it does not provide a full report (this would be up to the company making the declaration), the data itself can be used similarly to other commonly used databases as it is independently verified and often more detailed than many LCA data inputs. Therefore it can be used as a database for studies conforming to ISO 14044.

When available, the Higg Product Module (Higg PM) methodology will be aligned with the Global Apparel and Footwear PEFCR. The current work of the SAC around the Higg Product Tools is consistent within the ISO 14025 process to develop background information that would be used for a PCR, or specifically the PEFCR. The Higg Product Tools build further capacity to understand what scope, methodology, data collection, and user needs will be necessary for PEFCR to be successful. Throughout this work, SAC is working to ensure  alignment with standards as much as possible, even as those standards emerge and change.

8. Why does the Higg MSI offer a single score?
We understand the challenges with a single score. Through extensive member engagement over the past ten years, a single score has been collectively requested. SAC members, staff and industry stakeholders have worked on a reasonable way to normalize and weigh the impacts (see Higg MSI methodology documentation). In the new Higg MSI (v3.0) the material libraries clearly show a breakdown of the score by impact. This is meant to ensure that users are taking a deeper look into the five different impacts and considering all in their analysis. Following the launch of the new Higg MSI, the SAC will determine if the single score is still necessary in the Higg MSI, or if the separated impacts are proving to be more valuable to Higg MSI users.

The Higg PM will not have weighting and normalization. The results will be shown in their impacts only (such as kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, cubic meters of water, etc.) instead of a single number.

9. How does the SAC collect and manage Higg MSI data?
Transparency is paramount to the work of the SAC. Our Coalition aims to be as transparent as possible in all of the work we do. The Higg MSI features modeling notes in the tool’s metadata. These notes include an overview of where the data is sourced from and any other relevant modeling notes. Please refer to the Higg MSI Contributor and Higg MSI Methodology document for complete and in depth information on how we collect, verify, and manage Higg MSI data.

10. What boundary methodology does the Higg MSI use?
The Higg MSI uses the same methodology and boundaries for all materials. System boundaries are established in LCA for consistency across the product systems. Identifying the system boundaries ensures that comparisons between two products include the same process stages.The boundaries in Higg MSI are “cradle to gate;” from the impacts of raw material extraction (cradle) to the material factory gate (finished material before it is transported to the assembly/finished goods processing) are included. For example, boundaries for cotton fabric are fiber cultivation through to a finished fabric ready to be assembled into a product. Similarly, the boundaries for polyester fabric include fossil fuel extraction to a finished fabric ready to be assembled into a product. Each production stage (raw material, yarn formation, textile formation, etc.) also has gate to gate boundaries (or cradle to gate for raw materials), which are kept as consistent as possible to allow direct substitution. Read more in the Higg MSI Methodology Document.

1. What is the status of Higg FEM verification?
Verification determines the accuracy of a facility’s responses to the Higg Facility Environmental Module (Higg FEM) self-assessment. Verification ensures a self-assessment is credible and accurate, and is required to share Higg FM data publicly.

The Higg FEM verification program launched in 2017 with select facilities and qualified verifiers. As of 2020, the program has grown, now consisting of more than 200 qualified technical experts as approved verifiers who have completed more than 2,000 Higg FEM verifications.

Verification protocols ensure Higg FEM verifications have a strong foundation. Higg FEM verifications must abide by a strict quality assurance process to ensure consistency between results. In addition, the SAC continually issues calibration guidance to the Higg FEM verifier community to improve and comparability of verifications. 

Detailed information about the verification program can be found here.

2. Can any facility in the world use the Higg FEM?
Any facility in the world with internet access can use the Higg FEM. Higg FEM self-assessments and verifications can be completed in any country. While the current version of the Higg FEM 3.0 targets facilities in the apparel, footwear and home textile industries, the assessment questions are also relevant to similar textile industries, like the soft toys industry. The SAC is developing Higg FEM 4.0, an enhanced version of the current assessment, expected to launch in November 2021. Higg FEM 4.0 is expected to scale to industries beyond apparel, footwear, and home textiles.

3. Do facilities communicate their Higg FEM scores publicly?
Facilities are encouraged to publicly communicate their Higg FEM scores and performance to their customers and value chain partners. The Higg Index Communication Toolkit – Beta, which features Higg FEM communications guidelines, was provided to eligible SAC manufacturer members in June 2020 and to all eligible Higg users in August 2020. At this time, eligible facilities include those that have verified 2018 Higg FEM and 2019 Higg FEM assessments onsite by SAC approved third-party verifiers. Currently, Higg Co offers this Higg Index Communication – Beta Toolkit free of charge. At the start of the 2020 Higg FEM cycle (in November 2020) the toolkit will be made available to facilities for a discounted price of USD $49.99. Over time, the SAC will continue to refine the Higg FEM Communication Toolkit to enable more transparency on Higg FEM scores and Higg FEM performances.

4. Where can I find a list of Higg Index facilities?
The SAC does not provide a public list of Higg Index facilities.

1. What is the status of Higg FSLM verification?
Verification of Higg FSLM self-assessments determines the accuracy of a facility’s Higg FSLM self-assessment. While the SAC does not require Higg FSLM verification, it is encouraged to ensure data accuracy. The Social & Labor Convergence Program (SLCP) manages verification for the verified Higg Facility Social & Labor Module (Higg vFSLM). Currently, more than 28 brands accept SLCP verified data, including Higg vFSLM assessments. 

SLCP is currently available in the following countries and regions:

  • Africa: Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Tunisia
  • Americas: Argentina, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, the USA
  • Asia: China, Hong Kong, India, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey
  • Europe: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain
  • Asia: Bangladesh*, Indonesia*, Vietnam*

*ILO-BetterWork countries: (full) roll-out possibly not until (end of) 2021. The phased global roll-out of SLCP will continue in 2021. (Source: SLCP website)

Currently, about 25% of Higg FSLM assessments are verified. Click here to learn more about SLCP verification.

2. How can you attribute a score to social and labor impacts?
The SAC believes that the apparel industry cannot manage what it does not measure. As advocates for sustainability improvements, the SAC believes scoring is essential to drive progress in our industry. 

Scores are a key attribute to the Higg Index and one of the fundamental elements that sets it apart from other industry measurement standards. Scores help companies benchmark their sustainability performance and understand their progress year over year. Scores also help companies understand their performance in comparison to others and help drive collective action and a sustainability race to the top among leading companies, effectively improving the industry. 

Because it is difficult to attribute a numerical value to social and labor sustainability performance, the SAC chose to weigh each section of the Higg FSLM a score of 100, equally weighted across all the other sections. The final score is presented out of 100 total points. Higg FSLM scoring will launch later this year.

1. What is the status of Higg BRM verification?
The Higg BRM Verification Program will ensure Higg BRM data provided and shared through the Higg.org platform is credible and trusted, so that it can be communicated publicly. The Higg BRM Verification Pilot is starting this fall with the support of three to five SAC member companies and verifier bodies. The goal of the pilot program is to gather feedback to directly inform and shape the Higg BRM verification program and improve the verification guidance in the How to Higg Guide v2.0, slated for launch in 2021.

2. When will brands disclose their Higg BRM scores publicly?
To ensure equal partnership in the communication of Higg Index data, the SAC is committed to exploring how Higg Index users may share both facility and brand and retail sustainability information with consumers. When the SAC tests consumer-facing Higg Index communications in Q4 2020, it will explore how Higg BRM data may be communicated to consumers. Pending the test results, the SAC will   develop Higg BRM consumer communications toolkit and guidelines in 2021.

3. How is the Higg BRM scored?
Higg BRM scores communicate a brand or retailer’s social and environmental impacts and identify hotspots for sustainability improvements. Higg BRM scores consist of section scores and life cycle assessment scores. 

Section Scoring
The Higg BRM assesses up to five sections (depending on applicability to your organization): management systems, brand, retailer, stores, and operations and logistics. Each section features an Environment Score and a Social Score. Each question is equally weighted within its section. In addition to the two scores for each section, users also receive a total Environment Score out of a possible 100%, and a total Social Score out of a possible 100%. Questions are also equally weighted in the total score, out of a possible 100%.

Life Cycle Stage Scoring
Higg BRM users also receive a score for each applicable life cycle stage. These scores are not divided by environment and social subcategories – only one score is provided for each life cycle stage. There is no total score for life cycle stage scoring. The Higg BRM assesses nine life cycle stages: distribution centers, management systems, offices, packaging, product, stores, supply chain: product & textiles, transportation, use and end of use. 

Levels are assigned to each question based on Level 1, 2, and 3 practices identified in the content. Levels are addressed at the end of the module in the Results section. 

The Higg BRM scoring approach includes four parameters:

  1. Top level scoring only, with partial credit offered for many questions throughout the assessment to recognize performance on sub-questions
  2. Equal weightings across all sections
  3. Equal weightings across all questions
  4. Levels decoupled from scoring so all questions are visible in the assessment

Higg BRM benchmarking will debut in October 2020, enabling Higg BRM users to compare their performance to anonymous data from other Higg BRM users. 

While there is no perfect scoring approach, the SAC believes the scoring approach developed for the 2019 Higg BRM cycle most effectively meets all user needs and encourages improved sustainability practices for the 2019 Higg BRM cycle. The SAC will continue to explore how Higg BRM scoring can be improved for future tool versions. See the How to Higg Scoring Guidance for more detailed information.

4. Do all SAC member brands and retailers use the Higg BRM?
In 2020, all SAC member brands and retailers that have been members of the Coalition for one year or longer are required to complete and post the Higg BRM on Higg.org. At a minimum, holding companies must post one module either at the brand or group level. 

In addition to honoring the SAC’s equal partnership principle, brands and retailers that have been in the SAC for two years or more are required to share their posted Higg BRM with their supply chain partners on the Higg.org platform by December 31, 2020. 

The SAC is currently updating the Higg Index adoption requirements for 2021 to 2023.

5. Is a Higg BRM Excel export available on the Higg.org platform?
Yes, an Excel export of a company’s Higg BRM assessment is available on the Higg.org platform. This feature allows brands and retailers to download a spreadsheet of all answered and unanswered Higg BRM questions. This feature allows the sustainability manager or project manager managing the Higg BRM assessment to assign questions to different teams offline and then collect and input the answers in the platform online, maintaining the integrity of the online assessment. 

While the Higg BRM Excel download cannot be imported to the Higg.org platform, the spreadsheet provides a snapshot of the online assessment at the time the export is downloaded. The Excel download shows all answered questions in green. Unanswered questions indicate available answer options. See more information, including a demonstration here on How to Higg.

6. When will Higg BRM benchmarking be available?
The benchmarking feature on Higg.org highlights a brand or retailer’s performance per impact category in comparison to other Higg BRM users. Benchmarking for the Higg BRM will be available in October 2020, after the 2019 Higg BRM cycle ends.

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