By Environment + Energy Leader
This article was published by Environment + Energy Leader June 30, 2022.
The use of a consumer transparency tool that shows sustainability ratings of apparel products has been suspended by a group of industry leaders because of accusations it isn’t always accurate and could be misleading. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which includes 250 top retailers in the fashion industry, halted its transparency program that uses the Higg Materials Sustainability Index on June 27 after the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) ruled that Norway-based outdoor brand Norrøna and H&M stop using the index to communicate externally. SAC says it takes the ruling from NCA seriously and will work with the organization and other consumer groups to correct problems with the tool.
The June 16 NCA ruling says among the issues with the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) are outdated information and limits in methodology; NCA also says the index produces a score on the sustainability impact of materials used, not on specific products. H&M and Norrøna were the first companies to use the labeling with their products.
Business watchdog Quartz also investigated H&M’s use of the index and found that of 630 products that were labeled with the index on the company’s website, 136 of them had errors. More than half the product ratings included misleading information about their sustainability claims, the investigation found.
Quartz says H&M removed the Higg MSI from its website soon after being informed of the report.
The Higg MSI aims to assess sustainability scores of a variety of apparel industry materials, including textiles, metal, plastics, and leather. According to the SAC’s website, the index “can calculate the impact of millions of possible material manufacturing variations.”
Some factors included in the Higg MSI tool are how much water is needed to make a material or its carbon emissions output.
Sustainability has been a focus in the fashion industry, and tracking progress on business efforts is becoming more common. Examples include a scorecard indicating how top apparel brands are doing with PFAS use and a sustainability index put together by the Business of Fashion. Nearly 300 companies also participate in the Textile Exchange’s Material Change Insight, which tracks how materials are used in the industry.
SAC says it is commissioning a third party to review Higg MSI data and methodology. Additionally, the organization says it will work with its program partners directly to provide accurate data and will restart the Higg MSI only with agreement from NCA and other regulatory bodies.
The Higg MSI and other Higg Index tools are still available to users on the Higg platform during the review, according to SAC. The Higg Index suite of tools was first introduced in 2011, and SAC says the last comprehensive review of the system was done in 2016.
More than 8,000 businesses use the Higg platform, according to SAC. Industry members of SAC include Nike, Target, Walmart, Amazon, and Patagonia.