We’ve reached a critical point in business when most leaders and stakeholders recognize that social and environmental performance are critical to an organization’s success and future. According to this piece in the Harvard Business Review, “sustainable business went mainstream in 2021”. As someone who has been involved in this work for most of my career, I have witnessed sustainability efforts gain traction over a long period of time. This tipping point is long overdue, but I’m proud to say that in the 10+ years since the SAC has been in existence, we have been building the necessary foundation for the industry to meet this moment.
The SAC was founded ten years ago because there was a clear need to get the industry on the same page with achieving the highest standards of social and environmental performance. To address this, we developed the use of the Higg Index tools to standardize how we measure these metrics across the value chain. We have always believed that partnership is the new leadership, so since the beginning, we have continued to facilitate, develop, and build the strategic partnerships necessary to achieve this vision within and outside of our Coalition.
Challenges have continued to proliferate across the industry, resulting in additional factory-related tragedies and human rights violations despite the wake-up call of Rana Plaza in 2013. After all of these years, the industry still struggles to establish and scale proper systems that efficiently manage the protection of environmental resources and prioritize the health and safety of workers across the value chain. Again, finding a solution to this is long overdue, but with the state of the world post-pandemic, there is a new urgency to solve this as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and to do so in partnership with others.
Here at the SAC, we have actively worked across the industry for more than a decade to address these problems by facilitating intentional partnerships that accelerate the impact of our tools and programs. A recent example is the work we’re doing with the Apparel Alliance ( a collective of four organizations including Textile Exchange, ZDHC, and Apparel Impact Institute) to collectively move the industry towards using the same environmental & social/labor assessments to minimize duplicative work, and set a new standard for how these metrics are assessed and measured.
With thanks to a new 1 million euro grant from GIZ* as part of their Initiative for Global Solidarity (IGS) program, the SAC, SLCP, ZDHC and Aii aim to further consolidate environmental and social assessment and improvement frameworks. A crucial success factor for the project will be the widest possible adoption of the data standards amongst producers, auditors, sustainability organizations, and brands. By doing so, we can improve on supply chain transparency and achieve the widest possible adoption of a common language across the industry. By engaging with the right stakeholders to design, develop and roll out data models for large scale use, we will make it easier for all players to collaborate across the value chain.
Second, we recently started collaborating with The Industry We Want (a multi-stakeholder initiative with Fair Wear Foundation and the Ethical Trading Initiative) on an industry dashboard that measures the apparel and footwear industry’s progress on three metrics: wage gap, purchasing practices, and GHG emissions. Our role focuses on contributing to the further development of the environmental pillar. We are proud to have been able to work with our ecosystem partner Apparel Impact Institute to translate the six levers to reduce GHG emissions in line with the 45% reduction target by 2030 into the metrics measuring GHG emissions on an annual basis. This will provide the industry with a framework to monitor its progress towards the 45% target. This dashboard recently debuted at the recent OECD Forum on Due Diligence for the Apparel and Footwear sector this month.
Third, back in 2019, we collaborated with Global Fashion Agenda and the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry to launch Policy Hub- Circularity for Apparel & Footwear, an organization uniting the industry in one voice to propose policies that will accelerate the industry’s transition towards circularity. We are continuing to partner with Policy Hub to ensure that we are creating tools and programs that will help the industry prepare for upcoming regulations that will demand a new level of transparency and accountability from companies. As we shared in our recent OECD side session, new legislations are being proposed to track and monitor sustainability claims and to prevent greenwashing across major markets. This is a move we support and we want to be included in these conversations as it will be a major lever in galvanizing businesses to shift their operational systems towards responsible practices.
As the Policy Hub works to lead the charge on proposing policies, we are working in synchrony with members and partners to ensure that we provide the right tools and programs to enable this transition for our members. For example, our Higg Index transparency program is positioned to become a comprehensive impact tool for the industry. Built on the core suite of Higg Index Tools, the first phase of our transparency program allows companies to publicly share data on a product’s environmental impact that is comprehensive, credible and verified. Soon, we will begin integrating and leveraging data that can determine the impact of manufacturing facilities, and eventually, social impact and the impacts arising from brand and retail practices. In the spirit of collective action, we are working with partners across the industry and supporting development of our members’ public-facing ratings of sustainable performance by 2025.
As the SAC moves from the phase of tool development to tool programs, our goal is to push for industry-wide adoption of the Higg Index tools. Why? Because when we standardize these tools, we can all have a clear definition of how to measure performance, and thus align on a common approach on how to improve them. The programs we are developing will make it easier for brands, retailers, and manufacturers to optimize the benefits of the tools, and give the industry a common & consistent approach to communicate what success looks like- especially for consumers.
Collective action and collaboration are themes that I often stress repeatedly in my work leading the SAC. While the idea of coming together towards a common goal sounds simple, it requires a level of vulnerability and commitment to put trust in others, as well as an openness to compromise in order to make partnerships work. Yet, as we aim to scale progress across our industry, partnering with intent is critical in ensuring that we are writing the next chapter with a strong foundation built on science, proven expertise, and most of all, community.
Regardless of what role you play in the industry, each of us has a responsibility to do absolutely everything we can to accelerate the speed of positive impact with urgency. As the leader of the SAC, it is my duty to ensure that we engage with companies, partners and policymakers as a connector and a collaborator. It’s what we do best. Our goal is to develop tools, programs and partnerships to set sustainability leaders up for absolute success, and to help them execute leading initiatives that will then transform the rest of the industry. When an organization joins the SAC, we commit to equipping them with tools and resources and the support needed to become leaders in the industry. Because building a Coalition of leaders is what is required to truly transform our industry. Will you join us?
*Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH