The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is dropping the criticized Higg Material Sustainability Index score, effective Jan. 4.
As a multi-stakeholder partnership with membership boasting combined revenues of more than $750 billion, the SAC is a formidable industry influence. The organization is the primary manager of the standards and methodology for the Higg Index, now a suite of five sustainability measurement tools catered to the apparel, footwear, home and textile sectors.
Late Monday, the SAC revealed it would retire the aggregated single score used in the Higg MSI “to advance integration of the Higg Index suite of tools and accelerate apparel industry decarbonization efforts.”
“Our decision to move up the planned retirement of the MSI single score reflects not only our intended evolution of our focus from materials to the product level, but also to address some of the concerns among materials stakeholders,” Amina Razvi, SAC executive director, said in a statement.
The news comes after a period of increased criticism of the Higg MSI revolving around claims of bias for synthetic fibers and oversight in its methodology, mostly from natural materials groups. Higg MSI’s aggregated material scores sought to compare the industry’s most widely used materials — including polyester, cotton, viscose, silk, leather, among others — on a like-for-like basis.
Razvi wrote an accompanying reflection on the SAC’s blog, providing further context around the decision and detailing its next steps.
“Given the increasing use and adoption of the tools globally, I wanted to take this opportunity to openly address some concerns that have recently been raised by representatives of raw materials groups and talk about how we’re engaging and moving forward,” Razvi said. “One of the five core tools we’ve developed and that many of our members highly value — the Higg Materials Sustainability Index or Higg MSI — has recently been the focus of a coordinated campaign of critique.”
Razvi reemphasized the importance of collaboration, dialogue (which is ongoing with industry groups) and transparency.
“In addition to the continuous and ongoing engagement with our members on tool iteration, this feedback has provided another opportunity for our team to continue to evolve the tool and to meet the needs of the industry. As I write this article, we’re in the midst of that growth and ongoing conversations with those industry organizers, and I’m thankful for their openness and willingness to engage with us. I wanted to reflect here and share my thoughts on what’s happened so far, how we’ve responded, and why I’m excited about what this means for our work,” she wrote.
The SAC remains enthusiastic about the spring 2021 launch of the second edition of its Higg Product Module, which is a tool designed to encourage Higg Index users to focus on the impact of an individual product.
“We believe this update to the Higg MSI will ultimately empower members to shift their focus to the product level, where we can achieve a greater impact,” Razvi said. “Working together is the only way for those of us committed to sustainability within our industry to achieve lasting, systemic change.”
In its statement, the SAC included a reminder invite to users and materials experts to contribute material data to the tool’s growing library of materials. Submissions are reviewed by third-party experts, as part of its routine behavior.
Additionally, the SAC pledged to step up its efforts to solicit new and updated life-cycle assessment data by establishing member working groups to create alignment and enhance the submission process. Details on the workshops are expected in the coming weeks.
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