On May 27, 2021, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), along with technology partner Higg, launched the first phase of a transparency program for disclosing data on a product’s environmental impact, starting with its materials content. Check out the frequently asked questions below to learn more about the Higg Index transparency program.
1. What is the Higg Index transparency program?
The Higg Index transparency program enables brands and retailers to provide information on a product’s environmental impact in a consistent and consumer-friendly way. Developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Higg Index transparency program provides a consistent way for brands, retailers, and manufacturers to share trusted data on the environmental impact of their products. Transparency is essential to driving systemic change for a healthier planet, and is one of the four core focus areas in the SAC’s new strategic plan. By 2025, the SAC is aiming to achieve 100% member participation in public-facing ratings of sustainable performance that are credible and trusted. This program marks the beginning of a journey toward achieving that ambitious goal, providing a credible way to unify how sustainability information is shared.
2. What does the Higg Index transparency program measure?
At launch, this first phrase of the Higg Index transparency program focuses exclusively on assessing the cradle-to-gate environmental impact of a product’s materials. A product’s overall materials content is compared to conventionally produced materials in the following categories:
- Global warming: the amount of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, from sources such as energy, soil emissions, and refrigerants
- Fossil fuels: the amount of non-renewable fossil fuel resources used in manufacturing, from sources like coal, oil, and natural gas
- Water use: the amount of water removed from local environments because of manufacturing, also factoring in differences of water availability between regions
- Water pollution: the amount of excess nutrient emissions, which can lead to harmful algal blooms and dead zones in bodies of water
A product is then scored as showing at least 12.5%, 25%, or 50% impact reduction, and assigned a rating of level 0 to level 3 for each category (level 0 meaning no significant impact reduction compared to conventional materials, and level 3 meaning at least 50% impact reduction in key categories). The thresholds were selected to ensure that a product achieving the highest achievement level (Level 3) shows impact reductions that are aligned with industry goals around climate change. Each of the other achievement levels represents the halfway point to the next higher achievement level. See question 16 for more information on the process to select these thresholds. To learn more, read about the Higg Index transparency program methodology here.
3. What is a Higg Index Sustainability Profile?
A Higg Index Sustainability Profile is a consistent scorecard for disclosing information on a product’s environmental impact. Brands will be able to create profiles for specific products, which include the following information:
- A general text description of the product’s environmental impact level, and an accompanying graphic comparing its performance to a conventional baseline.
- Additional performance details within specific impact categories, including global warming, fossil fuels, water use, and water pollution.
A Sustainability Profile may be included on a brand or retailer’s product display ecommerce page to help shoppers make more informed purchasing decisions. All Sustainability Profiles will also be hosted on a public-facing section of the Higg platform, at profiles.higg.com.
The first phase of this program will focus exclusively on data related to the environmental impact of producing a product’s materials. Additional phases of the program will expand to incorporate additional data, including manufacturing and corporate responsibility.
4. What is the Higg Index Materials seal?
The Higg Index Materials seal recognizes products made with lower environmental impact materials, when compared to conventionally produced versions of the same materials. The production of these materials releases fewer greenhouse gases, uses less water, creates less water pollution, and requires fewer fossil fuels than conventional materials. Products that feature the Higg Index Materials seal must achieve at least 12.5% or more environmental impact reduction compared to products that use conventional materials. Read more about the methodology here.
Amazon is introducing the seal as a new certification within Climate Pledge Friendly, a program designed to help customers discover and shop for more sustainable products. The seal will appear on select product pages in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Customers also have the option to click a link on the product page that will take them to a Sustainability Profile so they can view additional data about the item’s environmental performance.
5. What is the difference between a profile and the seal?
Every product assessed through the Higg Index transparency program has a Sustainability Profile. The Sustainability Profile is a consistent scorecard for sharing detailed data with customers.
The Higg Index Materials seal is an at-a-glance way for consumers to identify products with lower environmental impact when compared to products with conventionally produced materials. Products designated with the seal have a Sustainability Profile available at profiles.higg.com and achieve at least 12.5% or more environmental impact reduction. The seal was designed to summarize sustainability performance, while still providing shoppers with the option of accessing supporting information.
As a consistent scorecard for communicating impact, there can be products with a Sustainability Profile that don’t qualify for the Materials seal. Products that don’t reach the minimum 12.5% environmental impact reduction required for the seal will be rated as Level 0, meaning no significant reduction compared to conventional materials.
6. Why are companies showing the product sustainability information on their websites in a slightly different way?
The Higg Index transparency program needs to be comprehensive and flexible to meet the diverse needs of the apparel industry. The program itself is consistent yet designed to accommodate a variety of consumer communications channels used by brands globally.
7. How is the Higg Index transparency program different from others that are out there?
- Consistent evaluation & disclosure: All participating retailers and brands will be using the same evaluation criteria, with supporting information on each product’s performance centrally available on Higg’s Sustainability Profiles platform. Instead of conflicting or inconsistent criteria, the Higg Index transparency program enables consistency of evaluation and comparability of performance across different brands. This unified data-backed approach is at the heart of the initiative.
- Comprehensive sustainability framework: While we’re starting with common and familiar elements by looking at the material contents of products, the framework for the Higg Index transparency program will expand over the next two years to include all aspects of product design, plus manufacturing and corporate responsibility. See question 11 for more details on how the program will evolve into the first holistic framework for communicating sustainability performance across a product’s lifecycle.
- Built on reviewed supply chain information: The Higg Index transparency program doesn’t just rely on existing, generic information. Rather, it uses materials and product data directly submitted by the brands, along with chain of custody certifications, which then passes through a rigorous external review process. See question 20 for more information on how the data is verified. As the program evolves to include manufacturing practices and brand corporate responsibility practices, it will allow for the release of more information through primary data gathered consistently across the supply chain using the Higg Index tools.
8. Why is the Higg Index transparency program important for the industry?
In the last decade, interest in sustainability has grown, and shoppers, stakeholders, policymakers, and other organizations are expecting increased accountability and transparency from brands and retailers. To date, there hasn’t been a unified way to communicate the environmental or social impacts of products. The Higg Index transparency program establishes a much-needed consistent framework that allows companies across the industry to speak the same language and enables shoppers to make purchases based on trusted data. And this is just the beginning. See question 11 for more details on how the program will evolve.
9. How does this program combat greenwashing?
The Higg Index transparency program was developed to provide the apparel industry with a unified, consistent, and science-based way to publicly share product-level sustainability performance. We believe that consistent presentation of performance, backed by accessible and reviewed data, can prevent companies from making false and misleading greenwashing claims.
Learn how different elements of the program address the seven sins of greenwashing:
1. Sin of the hidden trade-off
Higg Index Sustainability Profiles don’t have secrets — the information is all out there. The profiles share data across four environmental impacts associated with producing the materials in a product — global warming, fossil fuels, water use, and water pollution (specifically, nutrient pollution in water). These categories were selected by SAC member experts and life cycle assessment (LCA) experts/consultants based on the following criteria and additional impact categories may be added as we further develop the science and data behind our tools:
– Environmental relevance/Importance
– Scientific robustness
– Completeness of scope
– Transparency of data sources
– Degree of acceptance in the LCA community
– Data availability
On a brand website and in a product’s Sustainability Profile, shoppers can clearly see how a given product performs across each category, identify the trade-offs associated with different materials, and make more informed shopping decisions.
2. Sin of no proof
The purpose of the Higg Index transparency program is to give consumers credible information they can trust, evidenced through data. All products that are part of the program must make claims based on industry established chain of custody standards and content claim methodologies. These claims pass through an external review process outlined here in the verification protocol. Shoppers can get additional supporting information for a product claim by visiting Higg’s Sustainability Profiles website, profiles.higg.com.
3. Sin of vagueness
This was one sin we were especially conscious of as we developed the transparency program. We knew that we needed to be very intentional and clear about what we were sharing with consumers to avoid the greenwashing that sometimes comes with sustainability claims. Higg Index Sustainability Profiles don’t include vague, or confusing statements and labels that lack a clear definition (e.g. eco-friendly, green, sustainable). Instead, the Sustainability Profile and Materials seal provide shoppers with clear and easy to understand information that shows how a given product compares to one made with conventional materials.
4. Sin of worshiping false labels
In order to avoid being a false label, we started with information based on a trusted tool. The Higg Index Sustainability Profile and the Higg Index Materials seal are both based on independently reviewed environmental impact data from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI). And every product that’s part of the Higg Index transparency program passes through a rigorous external review process. Learn more in the verification protocol here.
5. Sin of irrelevance
We’re focused on shining a light on issues that have the greatest environmental impact. Each of the four impact categories assessed in the Higg Index transparency program were selected by SAC member experts and LCA experts/consultants, based on the criteria listed above. Environmental relevance is one of the key considerations in this process. As LCA continues to evolve, the SAC will expand the impacts included in the program as we further develop the science and data behind our tools.
6. Sin of lesser of two evils
In other words, giving the impression that one option is better even though, by all accounts, both options are not good. The Higg Index transparency program assures that every product with a Sustainability Profile is consistently assessed across four key categories of environmental impact, with that data clearly provided to shoppers within their purchasing journey. It’s then in the shopper’s hands to weigh the trade-offs associated with different materials and decide what matters most to them. There’s no hiding behind “not good” or “less bad” options — the information is all out there at consumers’ fingertips.
7. Sin of fibbing
This basically means not being truthful about the sustainability information you’re offering. Shoppers can trust that all information in a Higg Index Sustainability Profile is based on the best available, independently reviewed data. Products that are part of the Higg Index transparency program pass through a rigorous external review process to ensure the information is credible and accurate. There are two layers of verification for the data presented in the Higg Index Sustainability Profiles:
The LCA data submitted through the Higg MSI Contributor is independently reviewed through our gatekeeper process (get more details on the MSI gatekeeper process here). All other data is independently reviewed by the LCA dataset providers.
Each product that claims a specific material content (like organic or recycled materials) must substantiate it through a valid Chain of Custody certification, such as Textile Exchange’s GRS (Global Recycled Standard) or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or a content claim methodology, such as Lenzing’s e-branding service.
10. How will the Higg Index transparency program evolve over time?
At launch, the Higg Index transparency program will focus on evaluating the cradle-to-gate environmental impact of a product’s materials, pulling its data from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), part of the suite of measurement tools developed by the SAC. Over the next 18 months, the transparency program will expand to incorporate environmental facility data through the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM), brand and retail operations data through the Higg Brand & Retail Module (BRM), as well as cradle-to-grave product impacts through the Higg Product Module (PM). By early 2023, the program will have expanded to incorporate social data from facilities, becoming the first holistic system for communicating sustainability performance across a product’s lifecycle.
11. How does the Higg Index transparency program align with current or upcoming regulation?
The Higg Index transparency program is a standardized way to communicate sustainability information. Part of this information is environmental impact data (such as global warming potential). In the European Union, there is a project to standardize a methodology around calculating environmental impacts called the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) project. The SAC is a member of the technical secretariat that is developing the methodology for apparel and footwear.
Once a final methodology is approved by the technical secretariat, our plan is to update the Higg Product Module to enable product environmental impact calculations to follow the full PEF methodology. The PM is already built using the methodological framework of life cycle assessment (LCA) and general PEF guidelines. Any methodological changes that impact the Higg MSI, which serves as the materials assessment in the Higg PM, and the transparency program will also be implemented to ensure regulatory alignment across our tools and programs, with consideration given for differing local policies.
12. Will the Higg Index transparency program develop a certification?
As the program matures and scales, we will evaluate whether it needs to evolve to a formal certification, rather than the current private seal and unified scorecard system of today.
13. Who helped create the Higg Index transparency program?
The SAC has been developing the building blocks towards data-driven transparency for the industry over the past seven years in collaboration with our 250+ members. The program incorporates input from many external and internal stakeholders.
A Stakeholder Expert Panel, consisting of academics and NGOs with technical expertise and/or an industry-informing, thought-leading position has provided objective feedback, insights, and recommendations on a variety of topics, including methodology validation, verification protocols, and strategic positioning. Feedback was collected through individual interviews, group conversations, and surveys. This entire process was facilitated and managed by an independent third-party to ensure objectivity and rigor in engagement and input. The dialogue findings and recommendations of the Stakeholder Experts Panel will be made publicly available in June.
The SAC and its members have also led multiple consumer testing activities to better understand consumer expectations and what kind of information is easily understood and actionable.
The SAC Member Expert Team, consisting of subject matter experts from the membership, has and continues to provide technical input, including methodology review, consumer testing, legal review, and CX (customer experience) design through individual interviews, group conversations, and surveys.
- 8 brand and retail members have been deeply engaged leading up to launch conducting consumer insight testing and providing subject matter expertise in each aspect of the program.
- 10 member organizations representing the cotton industry have established the SAC Cotton Forum to inform the evolution of the underlying Higg MSI and Higg Index tools.
- 7 affiliate members and consultants were interviewed to inform the transparency program’s strategy and operational methodologies.
14. How did you select the impact categories that feed into the Higg Index transparency program?
The impact categories featured in the Higg Index transparency program are critical areas environmental scientists use to understand the environmental impact of producing a fabric or material. They were chosen for inclusion into the Higg MSI by SAC member experts and life cycle assessment (LCA) experts/consultants based on the following criteria:
– Environmental relevance/Importance
– Scientific robustness
– Completeness of scope
– Transparency of data sources
– Degree of acceptance in the LCA community
– Data Availability
More information on the selection of these impact categories, including the specific life cycle impact assessment method applied, are described in the Higg MSI methodology here.
15. How did you determine the achievement level thresholds (e.g. 12.5%, 25%, 50%)?
The highest performance level (Level 3, 50% reduction across each impact area) was set so that only products that are on a trajectory to meet the SAC goal of a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will qualify, which is aligned with Science Based Targets guidance for the industry. The other two performance levels (12.5% and 25%) each represent a further halving of the minimum achievement towards this goal. To learn more, read about the Higg Index transparency methodology here.
16. Why is the Higg Index transparency program starting with materials data?
Materials are a significant contributor to the environmental impact of a product. By focusing on materials data first, the Higg Index transparency program addresses one of the most pressing environmental challenges the apparel industry faces and empowers shoppers to use robust sustainability data to inform their purchasing decisions.
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), the first Higg tool to be used in the transparency program, is unique in its focus on enabling change at global scale. The MSI has been constantly evolving for more than 10 years to reflect best available industry data. The MSI uses a life cycle assessment approach that reflects the industry reality in terms of global production volume of materials, rather than niche exceptions. We stand proudly behind it as the best available tool to help the industry produce materials and ultimately products with lower environmental impacts.
17. Does the Higg MSI have bias for certain materials?
No, it doesn’t. The Higg MSI was designed to help product developers, designers, and analysts identify the trade-offs between different material types and is not intended to promote any type of material over another.
The MSI merely takes the best available life cycle assessment data available, and consolidates it in a consistent and easier to use manner for the product design and development community. There are no biases or value judgements in the methodology, and it is entirely third party reviewed for quality and consistency.
Over the past few months, the SAC has accelerated its collaborative work with representatives from a number of different fiber industries to ensure that the best, most up to date methodology considerations and data are being used for the MSI. This has specifically included setting up an SAC Member Expert Cotton Forum, as well as a close extensive engagement with the Leather Industry represented by the ICT (International Council of Tanners), ICHSLTA (International Council of Hides, Skins, and Leather Traders Association) and IULTCS (International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists), and others.
18. Who owns and maintains the Higg Index transparency program methodology?
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) owns the methodology, which was developed alongside our membership and external reviewers to enable consistent claims to be made using Higg Index information. As we continue to expand and develop the program, the methodology will continue to be revised. Click here to read more about the methodology.
19. How is the data verified?
Products that are part of the Higg Index transparency program pass through a rigorous external review process. There are two layers of verification for the data presented in the Higg Index Sustainability Profiles:
1. The life cycle assessment (LCA) data submitted through the Higg MSI Contributor is independently reviewed through our gatekeeper process (get more details on the MSI gatekeeper process here). All other data is independently reviewed by the LCA dataset providers.
2. Each product that claims a specific material content (like organic or recycled materials) must substantiate it through a valid chain of custody certification or methodology, such as Textile Exchange’s GRS (Global Recycled Standard) or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or a content claim methodology, such as Lenzing’s e-branding service.
Read more about the Higg Index transparency program methodology here. Learn more about the review process in the verification protocol here.
20. How does a product receive a Higg Index Materials seal?
Once material claims are verified to be accurately supported through chain of custody standards or methodologies (see examples in previous question), a product may receive a Higg Index Materials seal if it achieves a threshold of 12.5% or more environmental impact reduction compared to products with conventional materials. The SAC has appointed an external reviewer, Sumerra, to support the external review process. You can find more details in the verification protocol here.
21. Are we duplicating industry efforts through the verification process of material claims?
The verification review process by no means is a replacement for existing chain of custody and content claim methodologies. In fact, it is designed to complement and leverage them. You can find more details about the review process in the verification protocol here.
22. Who is the external reviewer that verifies the material claims?
For the launch of the program, the SAC has appointed Sumerra as the external reviewer for verifying product material claims. Sumerra is an advisory firm that is focused on providing oversight for a variety of auditing, assurance, and verification programs. Currently Sumerra provides verification oversight and program management for the SAC’s Higg Facility Environmental Module and Higg Brand & Retail Module, the Social & Labor Convergence Program (SLCP), and the Sustainable Dairy Program. They have developed verifier and verification body requirements and competencies, verification protocols, and also implemented robust integrity/quality assurance programs. Sumerra’s work also spans auditing in the apparel, footwear, and textile industry and improving worker lives.
23. Why isn’t chemistry included as one of the impact categories in the Higg Index transparency program?
Measuring quantitative impacts of chemistry (in terms of human and ecological toxicity) is a very new area of life cycle assessment (LCA). The uncertainty, especially for products like apparel and footwear that use a large amount of different functional chemistry, is extremely high. We include a chemistry impact category in the Higg MSI, but it is only identifying order of magnitude differences in impact, and comparable materials and processes tend to score similarly. The SAC is working with other stakeholders at the EU level to explore the relevance of including the chemistry impact category as measured through LCA in future iterations.
In addition, an assessment of chemical management practices through facility and/or brand/retail performance is an area that is being considered as we add data from the other Higg Index tools to the program.
24. Why isn’t the impact of microfibers included in the Higg Index transparency program?
A widely accepted methodology for microfiber measurement does not exist. Once a peer reviewed, published, consensus methodology is available, the SAC plans to incorporate it into the Higg MSI, and weigh microfiber impacts amongst the other critical issues.
25. Is there a clear protocol for how data is communicated to shoppers?
Yes. Part of the Higg Index transparency program is the delivery of communications guidelines that specify exactly how data can be shown, what text can accompany it, and requires linking back to the Sustainability Profiles platform managed by Higg, that provides all supporting information for each claim.
26. Why does the Higg Index transparency program use relative claims based on differentiated fibers instead of absolute claims?
The Higg Index transparency program uses relative claims because it is the best way to communicate performance improvements for a specific product.
Apparel and footwear products are complex, with no single type of material performing all different functions. Relative claims allow shoppers to quickly and easily understand the magnitude of a materials’ impact reduction across different categories. Just like the percent daily value on a nutrition label tells you how much your snack compares to your daily recommended intake of sugar or carbohydrates, the relative claims in a Sustainability Profile tell you how the materials in a conventional product compare to the materials in another across different categories. Ultimately, this context gives meaning to information that helps shoppers compare and select snacks or apparel products.
27. Is the Higg Index transparency program based on current data?
The Higg MSI uses the best available life cycle assessment data sources for materials commonly used in apparel and footwear. Data within the MSI comes from leading data sources, including Quantis and Sphera. The SAC also regularly invites the industry, including specific fiber associations, to submit new data to continuously improve the tool for all decision makers.
In some instances, data may be older, but this is usually because it is the only scientifically-backed data currently available for certain materials. The data quality ratings for all processes are available within the MSI.
28. Which brands are part of the Higg Index transparency program?
SAC members Amazon, Boozt, C&A, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger (owned by PVH Corp.), Columbia Sportswear, H&M, Helly Hansen, JustWears, Lenzing AG, Norrona, PUMA, Salomon, and Zalando announced their commitment to implement the first phase of the program on a wide selection of products available in the U.S. and Europe, ranging from tops and skirts, to backpacks and purses.
In this first phase of the program, H&M and Norrona will embed Higg Index Sustainability Profiles on their e-commerce platforms in the U.S. and Europe, with plans to scale up to additional products throughout the year. Simultaneously, Amazon announced the addition of the Higg Index Materials seal to its list of trusted certification for its Climate Pledge Friendly program, which helps make it easy for customers across the U.S. and Europe to discover and shop for more sustainable products.
C&A, Salomon, Tommy Hilfiger, and Zalando plan to implement Sustainability Profiles on their platforms in the coming months.
29. Where will shoppers see Higg Index Sustainability Profiles?
Shoppers will see Higg Index Sustainability Profiles on participating brand websites’ product display pages. To learn more about the data behind a product’s environmental claim, customers can navigate to Higg’s Sustainability Profiles website, profiles.higg.com.
30. Where will shoppers see the Higg Index Materials seal?
On Amazon stores, shoppers will see the Higg Index Materials seal on individual product pages featured next to the Climate Pledge Friendly icon. To get additional supporting information, they can navigate to Higg’s Sustainability Profiles website, profiles.higg.com.
31. Why is Amazon first to roll out the Higg Index Materials seal?
Amazon is introducing the Higg Index Materials seal as part of its Climate Pledge Friendly Program to offer shoppers an at-a-glance way of identifying more sustainable products.
The same evaluation data and assessment methodology is used for both the Higg Index Sustainability Profiles and the Materials seal, which speak to the comprehensiveness and flexibility of the SAC’s transparency program. Brands need to communicate sustainability performance in ways that are right for their customers, platforms, and various communications channels. They have the option to use the seal or feature Sustainability Profiles on their product display pages.
32. How many fibers/fabrics are included in the Higg Index transparency program?
All textiles and insulation materials scored in the Higg MSI (77 materials in total) have been assessed with the Higg Index transparency methodology. At launch, 29 different material types show at least the minimum 12.5% reduction in all 4 environmental impact categories required for a product to qualify for our achievement levels. This is not a fiber certification — it’s a measurement of a product’s reduced impacts. So these fibers can be combined into whatever specific product fiber blend a brand is using. As the program is expanded into additional processing stages, the number of possible combinations will grow exponentially (variations of different processing/fiber combinations) and more materials (ex: leather, synthetic leather, foam, etc) will be able to be assessed.
33. Are SAC members required to participate in the Higg Index transparency program?
While the SAC membership requirements already have obligations for members related to transparency, members are not required to participate in the program at this stage. However, development of the program will play an important role in the future evolution of the SAC membership requirements designed to deliver the SAC’s strategic plan. Updates to the membership requirements will incorporate the transparency program as it evolves, be developed through the appropriate membership governance channels, and be communicated in a timely manner.
34. Currently, SAC members use various systems to communicate sustainability performance. How will the SAC address this through the transparency program to mitigate duplicative efforts?
35. What was the process for selecting brands who are part of the launch?
Over the past 18 months, all SAC members have been given the opportunity to join the SAC’s On-Product Transparency working group and participate in the development of the Higg Index transparency program, including consumer testing, through calls for participation during the Global Member Webinars. The brands involved in the launch volunteered to invest significant time and resources into this work because they have a strong commitment to product transparency and wanted to see this work come to life. For this initial launch, the SAC accepted every brand that expressed interest and was able to provide the data/substantiation required for the program.
36. How do we get involved in the Higg Index transparency program?
At this time, the program has limited space. The SAC will soon share a readiness checklist to help members understand the path to joining a future cohort of the program. Members can submit their interest to firstname.lastname@example.org via email by June 11.
37. Is the Higg Index transparency program free of charge?
This first phase of the Higg Index transparency program comes at no cost to the members involved given the program’s infancy, but future phases will be a paid service, as there are many resources required to support the ongoing maintenance and implementation of the verification and other program components. More information on cost will be available in the coming months.