An organization representing more than a third of the apparel and footwear industries has released a tool for measuring product sustainability after more than a year of field testing.
The Higg Index, designed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), is meant to help clothing and shoe retailers assess the environmental impact of brands they sell.
It is based on several established evaluation tools, including the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index and Nike's Environmental Apparel Design Tool.
"The Higg Index marks the most thorough and complete attempt at measuring environmental performance data from material sourcing through end of life," says Jason Kibbey, SAC's executive director. "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."
The SAC represents retailers, manufacturers, government and non-governmental organizations and academic experts with a stake in the apparel and footwear industries.
The index has been under development since early 2010, and currently covers 150 products from 63 companies. It was field-tested for more than a year before being released more broadly and focuses on measuring water use and quality; energy and greenhouse gas; waste; chemicals and toxicity.
Among the companies that are part of the coalition are Nike, Adidas and PUMA, which were targeted last year by Greenpeace for overlooking hazardous chemical discharge practices in their supply chains. All three companies have since adopted zero discharge strategies.
"During months of pilot testing, we have already been able to use the Higg Index as an environmental indicator in the production of many of our products by all brands," says Karin Ekberg, head of environmental services for Adidas Group. "We intend for the Higg Index to form an increasingly important part of our overall product creation and production strategy in the years to come."
Other SAC members include Columbia Sportswear, The Coca-Cola Company, DuPont, Esprit, Gap, HanesBrand, H&M, JC Penney, Kohl's Department Stores, Levi Strauss & Co., New Balance, Nordstrom, Patagonia, REI, Target, Target and Walmart, to name a few.
A future version of the Higg Index, scheduled for release in 2013, will add key social and labor metrics.
While the SAC acknowledges the need for a consumer-facing index, it has not set a timetable for releasing one.
For more on the Higg Index: