The Higg Index is an apparel and footwear industry self-assessment standard for assessing environmental and social sustainability throughout the supply chain. Launched in 2012, it was developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a nonprofit organization founded by a group of fashion companies, the United States government Environmental Protection Agency, and other nonprofit entities.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higg_Index
I had no clue that such a thing existed, but it would seem that a lot of apparel stores use this index as a way to advertise the fact that the products that they’re selling have been produced in a sustainable manner.
The Higg Index is spread across three categories: product tools, facility tools and brand and retail tool.
I came across the Higg Index in a New York Times article that warns us about depending too much on an index of this sort:
An explosion in the use of inexpensive, petroleum-based materials has transformed the fashion industry, aided by the successful rebranding of synthetic materials like plastic leather (once less flatteringly referred to as “pleather”) into hip alternatives like “vegan leather,” a marketing masterstroke meant to suggest environmental virtue.https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/12/climate/vegan-leather-synthetics-fashion-industry.html?searchResultPosition=1
Underlying that effort has been an influential rating system assessing the environmental impact of all sorts of fabrics and materials. Named the Higg Index, the ratings system was introduced in 2011 by some of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers, led by Walmart and Patagonia, to measure and ultimately help shrink the brands’ environmental footprints by cutting down on the water used to produce the clothes and shoes they sell, for example, or by reining in their use of harmful chemicals.
But the Higg Index also strongly favors synthetic materials made from fossil fuels over natural ones like cotton, wool or leather. Now, those ratings are coming under fire from independent experts as well as representatives from natural-fiber industries who say the Higg Index is being used to portray the increasing use of synthetics use as environmentally desirable despite questions over synthetics’ environmental toll.
I don’t know enough about the Higg Index to able to tell you about whether it ‘makes sense’ or not, but this is a good way to start to think about incentives.
When you meet an index such as this one, some simple questions are worth asking:
- How long has this index been around?
- Who created it?
- Who funds it?
- Who uses it?
- What did it replace, and why?
- Are there other indices that do a similar job?
Try and answer these questions for the Higg Index, for example. The NYTimes article carries a slightly sceptical tone about the Higg Index (but is, ultimately, a balanced take) – once you finish answering these questions, try giving it a read, and then reach your own conclusions about its reliability.
And as usual, the most important lesson of them all: all the other indices that you may have come across, apply the same set of questions!