Launched in 2011, the Higg Index was the birth of a supposedly intricate set of tools to be used in the fashion industry to measure sustianability claims and progress. It was created by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a collection of fashion giants such as H&M, Nike, Patagonia, Levi’s, and Walmart – all in an effort to curb the high emissions from the industry, pertaining to the 10% of carbon emissions that make the industry one of the highest polluters in the world.
However, a recent crackdown of the index has left many questioning its usefulness and transparency when enacting its regulations. As the emissions of fashion continue to rise, important government and industry entities are beginning to uncover the truthfulness behind the coalition.
The Higg Index came under heat once Norwegian and Dutch authorities have expressed concern, claiming the data gathered by the tool was misleading; not holding sufficient evidence that therefore creates a breach in EU’s Marketing Act. With 34% of consumers surveyed by Deloitte confirming they have stopped shopping with environmentally-unconscious brands, brands are seeing “going green” to be a profitable business move, however ensuring your claims are accurate is much harder.
Norwegian’s Consumer Authority’s department head, Tonje Drevland expressed how “You have to know that what you’re saying is correct. You have to have facts supporting what you’re saying”, inaccurate data has the same consequences as no data.
One of the biggest concerns with the index is its lack of incorporation towards sustainability of the full-cycle of clothing. The impact of materials are only measured until the end of production and not the stages after that clothing goes through until its put in the trash or recycled. Therefore, it inaccurately portrays the eco-friendly measures the clothes are (or are not) put through. Because of this and its failure to record all sources of carbon emissions, the NCA banned the index’s use in marketing, urging SAC’s partners to not use the tool as a part of a marketing scheme to attract more customers.
Some other criticisms include the biassed ties the coalition and the index have to the fashion industry, with many of its founders and members being fashion-corporation giants which can pose issues when criticising unsustainable brands within the coalition. This also makes the data that is collected lack transparency, as it only allows it to be accessed by those who will pay the fee.
SAC recently held its annual meeting where regulators discussed how Norway’s guidelines can be used as a catalyst in improving the index to being more accurate and transparent, incorporating eco-friendly energy and circularity within the system to push sustainability further in the industry. The European Union is expected to release official statements towards brands on how to confirm their green marketing claims at the end of November. Meanwhile, SAC is partnering with various sustainable fashion initiatives, such as Textile Exchange, in order to create further understanding and datasets – validating its tools to a new degree. This change showcases the directional change in the fashion industry, pushing the past boundaries into a cleaner, greener space for a better future.
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