As an organization focused on driving positive environmental change in the fashion industry, the SAC takes the notification from the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) extremely seriously. To read our statement on the NCA and Environmental Claims, click here.
The following FAQs provide information about the current status of the Higg Index Transparency Program and the notification from the NCA.
What does the NCA notification mean for the industry?
Our industry is under constant evolution and we’re in agreement that there is always a need for better and more robust LCA data. However a lack of clarity on the requirements for the data, and an unharmonized approach risk leading to a fragmented landscape of regulation. We believe that this lack of harmonized regulation will hinder industry progress at a time when environmental progress must be accelerated.
How is the SAC taking action with regards to the NCA notification?
It is important we act decisively and with urgency to ensure the changes that are needed both in the industry and at consumer level are accelerated, and not delayed, by the lack of harmonized legislation and clear guidance for companies on how to comply with current directives. In light of this and based on discussion and approval from the SAC Board we are:
- Pausing the use of the consumer-facing Higg Index seal and scorecard from the participating online retail platforms, while we engage with the NCA and other key stakeholders over the coming months.
- Working to fully understand what is required by the NCA and how we can address this feedback within our tools.
- Engaging with other consumer agencies, regulators, and stakeholders to better understand how we can move towards an internationally aligned and workable approach to empowering consumers with product level impact data.
- Conducting an independent third-party review of the Higg MSI data and methodology.
- Continuing to work to gather and radically improve environmental impact data quality and accessibility for the industry through industry collaborations and partnerships. For example, we have been working with cotton producer programs to standardize data submission requirements and modeling approaches to accelerate the review and inclusion of new cotton data in the MSI.
- Accelerating the testing of full product cradle-to-grave footprint claims, as well as facility traceability and environmental performance claims.
Does pausing the use of the consumer-facing Higg Index seal and scorecard impact any of the other Higg Index tools (MSI, PM, BRM, FEM, FSLM) or their respective self- disclosed claims made in line with the Higg Index Communication Guidelines?
No. All five of the core Higg Index tools are still active and available to all users on the Higg platform and will remain so during this time. All data published or self-disclosed by users or members can still be disclosed as long as it follows the appropriate Communication Guidelines. Any changes in the Communication Guidelines will be communicated to all users.
Where is the SAC seeking more information from the NCA?
We respect the decision of the Norwegian regulator and take the suggestion that LCA data could be used to mislead consumers extremely seriously. We have therefore scheduled a meeting with the NCA in August, to seek a better understanding of the guidance provided by the authority. This includes review of the following:
- We believe that the use of global averages should be allowed in certain cases where it reflects the reality of material sourcing, and need further guidance as this has been common practice in many other consumer goods sectors.
- We are seeking clarification on requirements for primary data to support consumer-facing claims of products.
- We believe that some aspects of the methodology behind water scarcity data in the Higg MSI have been misunderstood. Our current methodology (AWARE) is aligned with current best practice in water scarcity assessment and the EU’s Joint Research Commission guidance.
- The NCA proposes a different methodological approach from the EU Joint Research Commission on the allocation of cow impacts to manure which causes fragmentation and challenges for the industry looking for clear guidance on operating in the EU.
We hope that through this engagement we will be better enabled to determine appropriate ways to meet the existing need for better and more transparent information on environmental claims, backed by the best available data.
What does this mean for the Transparency Program?
While we work to fully understand the requirements of the NCA, the SAC Board has decided to pause the consumer-facing elements of the Transparency Program globally. This specifically means temporarily removing the published Higg Index seal and scorecard from the participating online retail platforms while further evaluation takes place. During this time, we will be working with the NCA and other consumer agencies and regulators to better understand how the Transparency Program can address the consumer need for product level impact data. The Higg MSI and other Higg Index tools are still active and available to all users on the Higg platform and will remain so during this time.
The SAC’s Transparency team is still actively working with member experts to develop the methodologies and capabilities required to eventually provide more transparency into full product cradle-to-grave footprints, as well as facility traceability and performance.
We will also be engaging more proactively with key stakeholders as well as our critics in order to develop a better understanding of their perspectives and the opportunities for a global and harmonized system for the industry.
We will work with program partners directly on how this pause will affect live activity from an operational standpoint, while keeping them completely updated on next steps for the program moving forward.
Does pausing the Transparency Program mean it’s not fit for purpose?
- This is not the case. We are pausing the Transparency Program while we work to fully understand the requirements of the NCA notification.
- While we remain committed to the use of standardized data to empower better decision making with all stakeholders, we recognize the additional challenges that come from translating LCA data to consumer-facing information.
- We will be working with the NCA and other consumer agencies and regulators to better understand how to substantiate product-level claims with trusted and credible data, and hope to reactivate the program upon alignment with the NCA and other regulatory bodies.
Can you provide more information on the independent third-party expert review of the Higg MSI data and methodology?
The SAC will be commissioning an independent third-party organization to lead a Higg MSI review panel, which will include a number of subject matter experts who have deep experience with life cycle assessment and materials. The panel will review the MSI methodology and data. These experts will be identified and selected in the coming weeks. We expect the MSI review to take several months to complete, in order to have the time to do an in-depth assessment. We will share more details about this panel as it is developed and report the findings of the review panel in a transparent way.
Will any other Higg tools undergo third-party review?
As several of the Higg tools are undergoing an update this year, there are other third-party review processes attached to these updates.
The NCA is concerned about the use of global averages to make product-level claims. How does the SAC validate the use of these LCAs and global average data given criticism about regional variations and data quality?
- While LCAs have their limits, it is important to recognize that the LCA methodology is the agreed upon best practice for quantifying the environmental footprint of products and services by the scientific community.
- If we disregard LCAs, we risk hindering industry progress at a time when environmental action must be accelerated.
- We’re in agreement that there is always a need for better and more robust LCA data – this is why we are actively seeking additional data as part of our response to the NCA’s notification.
- In the Higg MSI, specific regions are included only if data for a particular raw material or process has been submitted, and that process always takes place in that specific region. Otherwise, a global average is used to represent the materials and processes shown in the Higg MSI. The Higg MSI aims to capture specific production processes that may typically take place in particular regions that lead to impact differentiation and specify those production processes in the tool.
- An example of region-based impacts: The Higg MSI uses the AWARE method to analyze water scarcity. This is the new consensus method to measure water scarcity, recommended by the EU Joint Research Center and included in the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology. The AWARE metrics represent the relative Available WAter REmaining per area in a watershed after the demand of humans and aquatic ecosystems has been met. So, water used in more water scarce areas is more impactful than water use in an area without water scarcity issues. For global processes where the specific manufacturing region is undefined the Higg MSI uses the EF method global AWARE water scarcity factor.
You say the Higg MSI is based on the “most up-to-date currently available LCA data.” Are you effectively saying that it’s the best we have and therefore better than nothing?
- While all data that is applied to the Higg MSI is independently reviewed, we acknowledge that there is a constant need to evolve and develop the insights available. To help ensure the users of our tools and the wider industry can have confidence in the Higg MSI, we are conducting an independent third-party expert review of the Higg MSI data and methodology.
- We are confident that the Higg MSI enables a benchmark for continuous improvement and the lessening of environmental impacts when used in the right context and the right use cases, and as such it has been a hugely valuable tool for sustainability professionals across the industry.
- While we remain committed to the use of standardized data to empower better decision-making with all stakeholders, we recognize the additional challenges that come from translating LCA data to consumer-facing information. We will be working with the NCA and other consumer agencies and regulators to better understand how to substantiate product-level claims with trusted and credible data, and hope to reactivate the program upon alignment with the NCA and other regulatory bodies.
The NCA says the use of Higg data on consumer-facing product labels is prohibited in Norway and potentially across the EU. Are you planning to appeal the decision in Norway?
There is nothing to appeal yet. There’s been no court or administrative ruling. We’ve received a notification of the NCA’s interpretation of the industry regulations.
Our current focus is on working with the consumer agency in Norway, and others, to help clarify for the industry what is the right approach to substantiated environmental claims.
Is the Higg MSI leading your members to prioritize fossil fuel fibers?
- Although some have suggested that the MSI prioritizes fossil fuel fibers over other fibers, this is untrue and is a misunderstanding of the MSI. In fact, our Higg Index Communication Guidelines explicitly prohibit the comparison of different material types using the MSI.
- The 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 identify hotspots in production, evaluate environmental tradeoffs, and make more informed innovation, design, and development 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.
Some have raised concerns that Higg MSI data doesn’t account for the full lifetime of synthetic textiles, including the extraction of fossil fuels and microplastic pollution. How do you answer this?
The Higg MSI is a cradle-to-gate assessment and it considers impacts associated with material production only. As such, extraction of fossil fuels is absolutely included, in line with LCA methodology ISO standards. Impacts from subsequent lifecycle phases (including use and disposal as part of a product) are not in the MSI, but are considered in the Higg Product Module (since materials are an intermediate product with their full cradle to grave impacts determined by the specific type of product they are used in).
The Higg MSI only leverages methodologies that are more broadly accepted as inputs. A widely accepted methodology for microfiber measurement within the context of an LCA footprint does not yet exist. Once a peer reviewed, published, consensus methodology is available, the SAC plans to incorporate it into the MSI, with microfiber impacts listed alongside the other impact categories. This is an area that SAC is watching closely.
As an industry, we need better and more primary life cycle assessment/production data. As better and more credible data becomes available, we continue to improve and evolve our tools. We regularly call on the industry to help us close the data gaps that currently exist and strongly appeal to all parts of the materials and fiber industry to submit their data to the MSI for better data to accelerate progress on climate issues. This is essential if the relevance and applicability of this dataset is to remain current.
How do you address the perceived lack of transparency with regards to the Higg MSI data?
- The MSI represents the first attempt by the industry to pool data for collective benefit. Before the MSI, there were no universally comparable tools that allowed companies to understand and benchmark the impact of their material choices.
- The underlying data from the MSI comes from a variety of different sources: public sources where LCA information is public and published; directly from materials companies that share some or all of their information; directly from materials companies where the LCA information may contain trade secrets where underlying information isn’t shared because it would allow their materials to be copied; and from other private databases such as Gabi that have their own license terms which allow some underlying data to be shared and some that cannot be shared.
- We don’t own the underlying life cycle inventory data, and there is a wide range of allowed uses for that data that prevents us from simply opening up the underlying datasets for public use. Even the European Commission’s database for Product Environmental Footprinting has to rely on a dataset with a patchwork of allowed uses.
How does data get added to the Higg MSI? Who decides whether an LCA is suitable for inclusion in the Higg Index?
The Higg MSI uses a variety of data sources. The main background data source is GaBi. Primary data inputs come from manufacturers, databases, literature, and trade organizations. Data sources for each material or process are listed in the Higg MSI under ‘Meta Information’ when any user clicks on a specific raw material or production process. Anyone may submit data to the SAC to be reviewed and used to score materials in the Higg MSI through the MSI Contributor.
The MSI database is updated twice yearly to include any newly submitted data (which can be submitted by a materials manufacturer or a third-party). There are several ways in which data in the Higg MSI may be updated:
- The first is when the background database is updated, such as annual GaBi Service Pack updates. In this case, the model isn’t changed and just the impacts are updated.
- The second is when a higher quality data model is available that better represents the specific process. The data quality is determined using four factors listed in the metadata and include the precision of the model and how recently the primary data was collected. In this type of change, the process scores tend to change more – sometimes up, sometimes down – but always with the intention that it is more accurate than before.
- The third is when new processes and materials are added to provide more detailed raw material and manufacturing options to choose from. This means that materials can be modeled with more specific impacts, allowing better accuracy and detail when measuring material impacts.
Higg MSI Contributor data is reviewed by the data management team and an independent third-party (or gatekeeper) with expertise in industrial ecology. The team is responsible for critically reviewing data to ensure that methods used to carry out the data submission are consistent with agreed upon requirements and guidelines, and that the data is scientifically and technically valid. Upon approval by the gatekeeper, a final review is conducted by Higg and SAC to ensure full compatibility with the Higg MSI scoring framework.
Anyone may submit feedback to SAC regarding what materials are missing and should be added. SAC and its members review this feedback and prioritize those data needs based on what would make the tool most usable. Once a list is prioritized, SAC can ask data providers, such as SAC members, Sphera, or Quantis to collect and create LCA information. If data is available from manufacturers, those manufacturers are encouraged to submit data directly via the MSI Contributor.
- The SAC brings together more than 280 organizations across the industry value chain to align on a common framework and centralized and standardized data, while sharing knowledge and best practices in a non-competitive space. Without this, the industry relies on disparate and disjointed data, and progress will be slow and fragmented.
- We provide access to trusted, credible, and scientifically rigorous tools that help organizations measure the impact of producing industry materials and goods. But measurement in itself is not change, but rather, it provides a benchmark for continuous improvement.
- The tools we provide are called the Higg Index, which has been developed by members of the Coalition and is central to the SAC’s mission to transform business for exponential impact. It is comprised of a core set of five tools that assess the social and environmental performance of the value chain and the environmental impacts of products, including the Higg Facility Environmental Module, Higg Facility Social & Labor Module, Higg Brand & RetailModule, Higg Materials Sustainability Index, and Higg Product Module. We developed the methodologies of the Higg Index over ten years using the latest scientific research, in partnership with SAC members, consultants, stakeholders, and industry experts.
- We will continue to work to find common ground with all parties, because our focus, like theirs, is ultimately to improve the environmental impact of our industry. We live in a climate emergency, and it will take all actors from across the value chain to drive change. This is what we were set up to achieve, and what we remain ardently committed to.
We want to thank you for your deep commitment and engagement on this journey with us. We know it has been challenging at times, but we’ve learned a considerable amount along the way and we could not have done it without your support. We believe that this will ultimately allow us to improve our work, engage our stakeholders on the journey, and achieve our vision to empower consumers to make better decisions with trusted and credible data. Thank you again for your engagement and please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any further questions.