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Nike, Target, Others Launch Sustainable Apparel Index

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a trade association representing more than a third of the global apparel and footwear market, unveiled the Higg Index, a new tool for sustainability measurement across the industry value chain.  

The Higg Index was developed by the SAC's membership, which is comprised of brands, retailers, manufacturers, government and non-governmental organizations and academic experts. It is based on established evaluation tools – including the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index and Nike's Environmental Apparel Design Tool – to better measure the comprehensive environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products. Through use of the Higg Index, companies can identify opportunities to reduce impacts and improve long-term sustainability throughout their supply chain.

"The Higg Index marks the most thorough and complete attempt at measuring environmental performance data from material sourcing through end of life," said Sustainable Apparel Coalition Executive Director Jason Kibbey. "We are confident it will have a positive impact on product sustainability over time and become a model for how industries can collaborate in making a positive impact on value chain performance."

Designed to be a transparent and open-source tool for comprehensive measurement of apparel and footwear products, the current version of the Higg Index focuses on measuring desired environmental outcomes in:

  • water use and quality
  • energy and greenhouse gas
  • waste
  • chemicals and toxicity

The SAC is working continuously to refine the tool further, and a future iteration of the Higg Index, slated for release in 2013, will also incorporate key social and labor metrics. 

The immediate priority of the SAC is to use the Higg Index to drive improvement and innovation in the global apparel and footwear supply chain. While Coalition members see the need and value of a consumer-facing rating for products, the group says it is a long-term aspiration and no timetable has been set for development of a consumer-facing label based on the Higg Index.

"Target currently uses the Higg Index within parts of our supply chain," said Scott Lercel Target's Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability. "This tool allows our teams to make better decisions, improve our supply chain and, most importantly, reduce our impact on the global environment."

The debut of the Higg Index comes after a year of beta testing sustainability impacts of some 150 products from more than 63 companies, and has already provided indicators for improvement of value chain performance.

"This is a commendable industry effort to create products that are ultimately better for people and the planet," said NRDC Health Program Director Linda Greer. "It's a good start, but now brands, retailers and their suppliers must use it to make better, socially and environmentally impactful decisions."

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition launched in February 2011. Members include: Adidas, Arvind Mills, ASICS, Avery Dennison, Bureau Veritas, C&A, Cohesive Trim, Columbia Sportswear, Clariant, The Coca-Cola Company, Cotton, Inc., Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce, DuPont, DyStar, Environmental Defense Fund, Esprit, Esquel, European Outdoor Group, Gap Inc., H&M, HanesBrands, Huntsman, INDITEX, Intradeco, JC Penney, Kohl's Department Stores, Lenzing, Levi Strauss & Co., Li & Fung Limited, L.L.Bean, Inc., Loomstate, Makalot Industrial Company, Marks & Spencer, MAS Active, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Balance, Nike, Nordstrom, Oeko-Tex, Otto Group, Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia, Pentland Brands, Pratibha Syntex Limited, PUMA, Ramatex Group, REI, TAL Apparel, Target, Teijin Fibers Limited, Textile Exchange, Timberland, Tiong Liong Corporation, University of Delaware, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Utrecht University, Verite, VF Corp, Walmart, WL Gore & Associates, and World Resources Institute.

Bart King is a PR/marketing communications consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications. 

Bart King is the principal and founder of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. Follow him @bart_king and on LinkedIn.

[Read more about Bart King]

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