Apparel Industry Moves towards Sustainability

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition—a trade group of over 60 members including brands Nike and Gap, Inc., retailers Target and Nordstrom, and a plethora of suppliers, NGOs and government agencies—has launched a sustainability tool called the Higg Index, which will enable the industry to assess the sustainability of products.

It’s hoped the Higg Index will provide a means of standardizing the measurement and evaluation of a product’s environmental performance across the supply chain at the brand, product and facility levels.

The index spans the entire apparel lifecycle including materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and end-of-life and encompasses not only environmental impacts—energy and water use, waste, and air emissions—but also social and labor indicators, as well as guidelines and resources for improving performance at every stage.

For the time being the Higg Index will act as a self-assessment tool that enables the identification of environmental sustainability hot spots – a starting point of engagement, education, and collaboration among stakeholders in advance of more rigorous assessment efforts, the coalition says. But there’s heavy support amongst coalition members for consumer-facing reporting whereby Higg Index scores would be communicated on the labels of clothing.

Currently the tool is geared toward assessing the sustainability of existing products, but there are plans to integrate it into design and manufacturing processes so that apparel companies can gain insight into the possible impact of decisions—which materials and packaging are best for example—early on.

Several coalition members, such as Nike, already have their own internal lifecycle assessment tools to improve the sustainability of their products, and those tools have helped to inform the Index.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition believes that the Higg Index will probably end up being integrated into existing design and lifecycle assessment tools.

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