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  1. Interviews
April 29, 2022

INTERVIEW: Higg director says climate change won’t wait for perfect eco measuring tool

Higg's director of analytics, Cashion East, talks exclusively to Just Style about how his company's integrated sustainability insights platform is helping fashion companies become responsible for their environmental impact throughout the supply chain.

By Fi Forrest

Higg is the technology platform that provides access to the Higg Index and other frameworks that enable businesses to measure the social and environmental impacts of their value chains.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which is a global, multi-stakeholder non-profit alliance for the fashion industry, developed the Higg Index in 2019 to provide a standardised measurement of value chain sustainability. It aims to give fashion companies and brands a way of measuring sustainability from raw materials to products, factories to stores and from carbon emissions to working conditions. 

The Higg Index 

The Index is made up of five core tools that together assess the social and environmental performance of the value chain as well as the environmental impact of products. It features five different modules, including the Higg Brand and Retail Module (BRM). Most recently, Higg has introduced a shorter, streamlined version of the Higg BRM, which is called Brand and Retail Foundations. It was introduced to serve a broader audience within the apparel industry and help small and medium-sized companies who might be at the start of their sustainability journey.

“Higg is the best solution on the market today to understand where your impact lies so you know where to start making change,” East tells Just Style exclusively. 

Higg, SAC, and how it all fits together 

Higg was launched in 2019 as a public-benefit corporation, East explains, and it is the exclusive licensee of the Higg Index, which he describes as the industry-leading value chain measurement methodology developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. 

East says: “The Higg platform provides access to assessment frameworks, analytics, and other tools that show a company’s progress from measuring and managing to sharing supply chain impact data.”

He points out the Higg Index is just one of the social and environmental measurement frameworks available on Higg. Businesses can also access the recently launched carbon management programme developed by Carbon RESET for manufacturing facilities that work with the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii).” 

East believes Higg’s greatest challenge was starting the business with more than 10,000 customers already committed to using the Higg Index methodology.

He explains: “Our immediate focus was meeting the pent-up demand for enterprise level software. We needed to scale and proliferate the Higg Index facility and materials tools across our customers’ supplier bases and then rapidly build the brand, retail and product tools to help them go deeper into their value chains.”

Apparel and the Higg Index 

The Higg Index’s Brand and Retail Module provides a comprehensive picture of value chain sustainability by assessing both environmental and social impact areas, which allows brands and retailers to embed their sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies into operations.  

“Brands and retailers can identify hotspots and opportunities for improvement within their value chain logistics and operations,” he explains. “The Higg BRM also assesses the multiple life-cycle stages of a product from material sourcing to end of use. This is ever more important given upcoming legislation such as the European Union’s directive for corporate sustainability, the French Labelling Act, or the proposed New York Fashion Act in the US.” 

The BRM also allows for integration of Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) data, says East, which helps to streamline reporting and allows brands to connect with value chain partners and share results with key stakeholders.  

BRM

Greenwashing claims and Higg 

A recent report from the Changing Markets Foundation is highly critical of initiatives, such as the Higg Index, that use metrics and accreditations regarding sustainability claims. 

“The allegation that the organisations and companies named in the report have a nefarious agenda to promote ‘greenwashing’ amongst brands is disturbing,” comments East. “In fact, the Higg platform has been developed to enable transparent sharing of data as we believe this is an accelerator for change. While we fully acknowledge that Higg does not provide the perfect solution to solve the climate crisis, the planet doesn’t have time to wait for perfection and we stand behind the comprehensiveness and intent of the Higg Index and other tools we make available to our users. 

“In light of the 2022 IPCC report, global emissions of CO2 would need to peak within three years to stave off the worst impacts. We can’t wait and must use the best tools that exist today to measure and manage our sustainability goals. The Higg Index was developed 10 years ago to help solve this massive problem, and it remains the only framework that can scale at the speed and complexity needed.” 

He believes any suggestion that existing approaches create more harm than good, could encourage businesses to wait for perfection. However, he says we need movement right now combined with the ability to evolve as new science emerges.  

“While Higg supports regulation, we can’t wait until governments and policymakers agree on the best path forward, so we must use the tools that exist today. Delaying or hindering these efforts will only make the effects of climate change worse. Higg is the best solution on the market today to understand where your impact lies so you know where to start making change. We will continue to design and build to accommodate any new credible data sources and regulatory requirements as soon as they are available.”

analytics

Using blockchain with Higg 

The traceability partner programme features Higg and other emerging technology solutions such as atma.io, FibreTrace, and TrusTrace, explains East. He explains it is independent of the Higg Index or SAC’s industry transparency programme, although it’s intentionally complementary to both organisations’ shared goal of providing transparent industry impact data. 

“The traceability programme was created to enable comprehensive traceability across the global supply chain. It helps Higg customers wishing to delve deeper in their chain of custody efforts, to gain access to integrated sources of data on the platform. The purpose is to fast-track global brands’ efforts and uncover the hidden impacts within manufacturing processes, ensure fibre integrity, and to understand, communicate, and accelerate product sustainability. It will also allow consumer brands to identify and share the supply chain provenance of billions of items with their upstream value chain partners, highlight and disclose sustainability information – on their own and other e-commerce platforms – to the public and other stakeholders.” 

Social and labour benchmarks 

Earlier this year (February 2022), Higg updated the Higg Index to include social and labour performance benchmarks. The Social and Labour Convergence Programme develops the Converged Assessment Framework, which the SAC then uses to inform the Facility Social and Labour Module (FSLM) points out East.

Higg launched a benchmarking feature so FSLM users could glean greater social and labour insights from the tool via the platform. Social and Labour performance benchmarking is extremely important for two reasons.  

“First, most solutions focus on a single environmental impact area such as carbon or chemicals. Higg’s approach of providing insights for social, labour, and environmental performance, allows businesses to start gaining a comprehensive picture of their impact. Higg is unique and the first to offer a complete performance measurement across the full value chain, including carbon, water, energy, social, and labour impacts. 

“Second, Higg users can compare the environmental and social impact within their own value chain and against industry peers. This, too, gives businesses a new perspective on their own performance and informs strategic decisions to meet sustainability goals.” 

Transparency 

Policy and the availability of transparent data is expected to play a critical role in incentivising accelerated change in the apparel industry. East says: “The Higg Index methodologies were developed to accommodate the European Due Diligence and Product Environmental Footprinting (PEF) requirements to support companies as they evaluate their supply chains and the environmental impacts of the products they create.  

“Ultimately, science-based targets will continue to inform how the measurement tools evolve and how they continue to provide companies with an increasingly comprehensive view of their performance and data.

East Concludes: “From a technological perspective, our goal is to continuously improve how we can use technology solutions and complementary data to better deliver the tools and services we give our customers, including the Higg Index.” 

US$50m Series B funding round

Higg is keen for other sectors to be able to use its value chain sustainability index and on 27 April, the organisation announced a successful US$50m Series B funding round as part of its plan to make this a reality.

Higg explains the new funding will accelerate its delivery of technology solutions and expand the use of the Higg Index in consumer goods categories, such as outdoor, automotive, toys, and home goods. 

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