How the Sustainable Apparel Coalitions Higg Index could appear on a label or a hang tag

How the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's Higg Index could appear on a label or a hang tag

Suppliers may need to undergo only one audit a year on their sustainability and environmental credentials if an eco-index initiative by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) takes off.

Speaking at the Sri Lanka Design Festival today (16 November), SAC index manager Ryan Young said that the Higg Index, which was launched in July this year, could lead to suppliers being audited on its framework just once a year, with that information shared among its members.

The SAC, whose members include NikeMarks & SpencerLevi Strauss and Wal-Mart, is working to build a "common understanding of what sustainability means, what it is and what it isn't, and also that there is a common framework that measures the sustainability of individual products".

The future that the SAC envisions would enable designers to make better decisions on the materials they use by having access to information on which ones are more sustainable than others.

Buyers would also have details of individual facilities and how sustainable they are. Facilities would also have clear expectations of what would be demanded of them, Young added.

"Because this framework would be shared across the industry, you would now have a situation where you would be audited once a year and, because brands have all of this shared understanding, would be willing to share that across brands. So you wouldn't be audited on one standard by one brand on one week, then another standard by another brand the next week," said Young.

The Higg Index is based on established evaluation tools, including the Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Index and Nike's Environmental Apparel Design Tool.

It is designed to measure everything from water and energy use to greenhouse gas emissions, waste, chemicals and toxicity, and has been released after a year of beta testing the sustainability impacts of some 150 products from more than 63 companies.

Young said the index, which quantifies sustainability attributes, giving them a score between zero and 100, "could show up on a label or a hang tag, so that everyone has the same information - including the consumers - about the impact of a product".

According to Young, the SAC represents over 30% of the market for apparel and footwear. Its members also include suppliers like MAS, Li & Fung and TAL Apparel.

The next version of the Index, set to be released in 2013, will include key social and labour metrics.