The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has released the latest version of the Higg Brand & Retail Module (BRM), one of the five assessment tools in the Higg Index.
The SAC says it has invested in a major update of the Higg tool, which will feature a new assessment structure and updated methodology, underpinned by a due diligence approach. The update will encourage brands and retailers to focus on real action, impact and results.
The Higg BRM is a leading, holistic framework that creates an industry-specific method for brands and retailers to evaluate, report on and improve Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance along their global value chains.
It is one of the five tools that comprise the Higg Index that together assess the social and environmental performance of the value chain and the environmental impacts of products. They include Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM), Higg Facility Social & Labor Module (FSLM), Higg Brand & Retail Module (BRM), Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), and Higg Product Module (PM).
The SAC announced a review of the Higg Index suite of tools after it was deemed to be “misleading” by several European advertising watchdogs.
Higg Index controversy
H&M and Norrona had been reprimanded for green claims made in their clothing marketing, with Norwegian Consumer Agency (Forbrukertilsynet) saying it believed Norrøna was “breaking the law” through its marketing claims, which were based on the Higg Index.
Specifically, the watchdog said while it welcomed steps to make the industry more environmentally friendly, it was concerned over the use of the SAC’s Higg MSI tool to make environmental claims, since the tool gives a standardised measurement of the environmental impacts of different textile types in the manufacture of clothing. However, it only “measures” the environmental impact of different types of textiles until the fabric itself is finished – ie not the entire environmental impact of a finished garment you buy in the store. This “measurement” is based on average figures for the environmental impact of the various types of textiles that have been sourced from different regions and countries in the world.
Last autumn, the SAC said it was continuing to explore ways to communicate environmental information to consumers after Forbrukertilsynet indicated claims in general, and based on Higg data, must be sufficiently documented and qualified.
Tool upgrade to accelerate sustainability efforts
In its update regarding the Higg BRM, the SAC says recent findings from it together with The Industry We Want, in partnership with Fair Wear, and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) have revealed the apparel and footwear industry is not making fast enough progress on purchasing practices, supply chain wages and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to drive the scale of transformation needed, brands and retailers need a clear and standardised picture of their environmental and social hotspots, to create a clear roadmap for transformation.
This new version of the assessment has been reorganised across 11 key areas, split across three pillars (environmental impacts, social impacts, governance) to be more relevant to where the industry needs to drive change, faster. The assessment has added biodiversity as a new impact area and now features more in-depth questions on water and circularity as key impact areas and levers of change in the tool. The questions have also been revised to align with best-in-class standards; for example, alignment with best practice guidance on responsible purchasing practices.
Additionally, the scoring methodology has been simplified so it can be shared with users openly. The Higg BRM now provides one finite score out of 100, in addition to score breakdowns per pillar and impact area, making it easier to understand, communicate and benchmark against peers.
The assessment has been restructured to provide greater value for different organisations to prioritise the industry’s pressing ESG issues and focus on impacts and results. Other benefits include the reduction of reporting burden through alignment with relevant frameworks and by eliminating duplication across the entire questionnaire.
The update is based on research by the SAC’s Higg BRM team and is the result of one year of consultations with over 75 stakeholders including members and industry experts to ensure close alignment with standard assessment protocols. It has been developed in collaboration with members, key partner organisations including Apparel Alliance members who contributed to the development of specific content on materials, biodiversity, circularity and chemicals.
The SAC also engaged STTI and the Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives Working Group of the Common Framework of Responsible Purchasing Practice (CFRPP), represented by Fair Wear, who provided input and feedback on the responsible purchasing practices section of the assessment. SAC members across all territories were also consulted and the SAC hosted three regional roundtables to ensure all geographies were represented.
Jeremy Lardeau, vice president, Higg Index at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, said: “This update is the result of an incredible level of engagement with experts and stakeholders from across the industry, to whom we are truly grateful for the time and input provided. This process has allowed us to better align with existing industry assessment frameworks, and make sure we are addressing the needs and expectations of our members and the industry at large. Our tools must evolve to continuously improve, and while this update is a step in that direction, we will continue to iterate the BRM as the industry progresses, legislation evolves and we continue to gather insights and feedback from BRM users and other stakeholders.”
Maravillas Rodriguez Zarco, director, Higg Brand & Retail, at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, added: “The release of the latest version of our Higg Brand & Retail Module is a clear reflection of our mission at the SAC to transform business for exponential impact through groundbreaking tools, collaborative partnerships, and trusted leadership for industry sustainability. From the new assessment structure, to the updated methodology, we are proud of the work we have done to get to this point, we believe the latest version will provide deeper insights and value for brands and retailers and we look forward to continuing supporting them on their sustainability journeys.”
Magnus Dorsch, head of corporate sustainability, About You, said: “Since joining the SAC in January 2021 and adopting the Higg BRM, we have supported our brand partners in aligning on a unified approach towards sustainable practices, helping them understand where they stand regarding their sustainability journeys and how to continue to support them to improve and drive progress. We believe the updated Higg BRM will serve to help us continue calibrating our ESG strategy to ensure consistency in our progress and reporting and look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve to meet the needs of the industry.”
Sarah Needham, director of stakeholder engagement, Textile Exchange, added: “It is exciting to see the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s investment to move the Higg Brand & Retail Module in this direction, adding crucial updates including biodiversity as a new impact area and moving to closer alignment with our Materials Benchmark program (formally known as Corporate Fiber and Material Benchmark).”
Klaas Nuttbohm, ZDHC implementation director said: “The integration of the ZDHC Brands to Zero Assessment (BtZ) into the Higg BRM means a big step forward for both our organizations. This is a major advance for the apparel alliance partners to align the programmes and tools which will lead to the opportunity for our Contributor Brands to benefit from utilizing the BtZ results in the BRM reporting.”
Margreet Vrieling Fair Wear, chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives Working Group on the CFRPP, said: “We welcome the efforts of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to seek closer alignment to the Common Framework for Responsible Purchasing Practices, developed by the MSI working group, within its Higg Brand & Retail Module. Identifying and assessing the risks and negative impacts of purchasing practices in the buyer-supplier relationship is key to mitigate negative effects on suppliers and workers. By using the responsible purchasing practices as they have been laid down in the Common Framework as input for the BRM responsible purchasing practices questions, the SAC reinforces the importance of collaboration and convergence to drive progress within our industry.”
The updated Higg BRM is now available for brands and retailers to measure and report on their ESG impacts to understand their progress and identify areas for improvement with clarity and transparency.