Higg Index Gets A Makeover: Sustainability Stripped Down


The Higg Index, an open-source sustainability assessment tool for apparel and footwear products, helps companies measure the environmental and social impacts of their supply chains. What is new about the Higg Index 2.0?

Transparency is the new black of fashion. First, we saw a rise in Corporate Social Responsibility, then the focus turned to reducing carbon emissions, and now we have dawned upon a culture of systems-based thinking to assess sustainability. As attitudes shift, companies are searching for streamlined, yet concrete ways to quantifiably assess their impact.

The Higg Index is that tool. Launched in March 2011, along side the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the tool aims to create a unified and collaborative way for brands to dissect their level of sustainability. Through a series of yes/no questions, companies can examine each tier of their supply chains. The self-assessment tool identifies environmental and social areas of strength and weakness, in which companies then use as a foundation to drive change within areas needing improvement.

The new model, Higg 2.0 was released on December 11, 2013 with new additions to strengthen the measurements. Major additions include questions regarding social and labor components, as well as expanding to the footwear sector.


Snapshot of HiggIndex Program in action.

image: Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Today, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), and Higg Index users, represent a community of more than 100 member, brands, retailers,  manufactures, trade associations, non-profit organizations, and academic affiliations. This multi stakeholder group represents a culture of collaboration to move the apparel industry towards a more sustainable future. In total, the group encompasses an astounding total of over one-third of the global apparel and footwear industry.

The Higg Index is not a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) tool, but does examine all pieces within the life cycle, such as materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and end-of-life, showing products through a life cycle systems approach.

The index focuses on three major areas of a company: Brand, Facility and Product. The brand component assesses company culture, and in particular, sustainability ideas around guidelines. For example, “Do guidelines exists for product design?” or  “Are designers asked to come up with, and implement, ideas around reducing packaging?” The facility component is mainly focused on energy, water and waste questions regarding the facilities products are actually manufactured in. And the product component, based largely on Nike’s Materials Sustainability Index, measures use of textiles and other materials that go into a product.


image: Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Using these three branches of a product’s life cycle, the index gives a score 0 – 100 — the greater the number the better the sustainability measure. The test is currently self-monitored, meaning the company conducts the test themselves, because for now the measure is only used internally. But as a member of SAC, companies must be willing to address and take action regarding areas that need improvement.

In the future, SAC promises to expand the tool to include retail outlets, too. And furthermore, once the index is perfected a consumer facing piece will be incorporated.

At the heart of the HIGG index are companies working together sharing their ideas, tools, and strategies–rather than competing with one another.

“In our meetings you’ll see the members are unbelievably collaborative and open about sharing their tools with the rest of the industry,” Jazon Kibbey, Sustainable Apparel Coalition Executive Director said in an interview with Triple Pundit. “I think everybody feels that with sustainability there’s much bigger business gain to have from reducing risk overall in the supply chain, improving efficiencies and developing innovation on a larger scale than from developing tools to be used only within the walls of your company.”

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featured image by Juliette Donatelli, with brand splash and logo by Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Juliette Donatelli

Working in the field of sustainability for over seven years, Juliette is passionate about its intersection within the fashion industry. Juliette began studying ecological conservation, and led consumer awareness campaigns around the world from water usage in southern California, riparian restoration in South Africa, food distribution in Paris and bison habitat in the Great Plains. She has launched her passion--consumerism and sustainability--into a place where it hits home--fashion. Juliette is the founder and editor-in-chief of spadesandsilk.com, Director of Sustainability at Manufacture NY, and loves to read, dance, swim and enjoy the occasional glass of champagne.