Columbia SportswearH&MCalvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger are among the names backing a transparency programme that aims to provide a consistent way for brands, retailers and manufacturers to share sustainability information on apparel and footwear products.

The project is the first phase of an initiative to publicly share data on a product’s environmental impact across categories such as water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and use of fossil fuels. It has been launched by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and its technology partner Higg.

Built on a decade’s worth of tool development, consumer testing, and contributed environmental impact data, the first phase of the Higg Index transparency programme starts with materials content. It is said to mark an important step toward a unified approach for industry-wide transparency in order to provide shoppers with unprecedented visibility into a product’s real impact.

The main components of the programme are the Higg Index Sustainability Profile and the Higg Index Materials seal, both of which are based on independent and externally reviewed environmental impact data from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI).

SAC members Amazon, Boozt, C&A, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger (owned by PVH Corp), Columbia Sportswear, H&M, Helly Hansen, JustWears, Lenzing AG, Norrona, Puma, Salomon and Zalando are to implement the first phase on a wide selection of products available in the US and Europe, ranging from tops and skirts, to backpacks and purses.

At launch, the programme will focus on the environmental impact of a product’s materials and will expand over the next two years to incorporate additional data including manufacturing and corporate responsibility.

A primary component is the Higg Index Sustainability Profile, which is a new scorecard for sharing data on a product’s environmental impact. Beginning this week, H&M and Norrona will embed Higg Index Sustainability Profiles on their e-commerce platforms in the US and Europe, with plans to scale up to additional products throughout the year.

C&A, Salomon, Tommy Hilfiger, and Zalando plan to implement Sustainability Profiles on their platforms in the coming months. Simultaneously, Amazon announced the addition of the Higg Index Materials seal to its list of trusted certifications for its Climate Pledge Friendly programme, which helps make it easy for customers across the US and Europe to discover and shop for more sustainable products.

“Transparency itself is not the end game, but it’s a critical step for transforming the industry and establishing a new era of accountability,” says Amina Razvi, executive director of the SAC. “By leveraging the Higg Index – starting first with environmental data and then expanding to include social impacts – we can help both businesses and consumers make better decisions, and drive collective action at scale.”

Over the next 18 months, the transparency programme will expand to incorporate environmental facility data through the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) as well as brand and retail operations data through the Higg Brand & Retail Module (BRM). By early 2023, it will have expanded to incorporate social data from facilities, becoming the first holistic system for communicating sustainability performance across a product’s lifecycle.

“Change demands real performance data that indicates how well a brand, a supply chain, a product, or a material performs compared to others,” says Jason Kibbey, CEO of Higg. “With the Higg Index established as the industry’s common methodology, our technology can now provide that data out to the public in a consistent and clear way. We aim to serve both concerned shoppers as well as responsible businesses, both of whom are looking for better information to make more sustainable choices.”

Transparency is essential to driving systemic change for a healthier planet and is one of the four core focus areas in the SAC’s new strategic plan. By 2025, the SAC is aiming to achieve 100% member participation in public-facing ratings of sustainable performance that are credible and trusted.