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June 27, 2022

SAC halts consumer programme on ‘misleading’ green claims concern

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has paused its consumer-facing transparency programme after backlash from Norway’s advertising watchdog which claims is resulting in misleading environmental claims from brands.

By Hannah Abdulla

In a statement issued today (27 June), CEO of the  SAC, Amina Razvi, confirmed the decision to “pause the consumer-facing transparency programme globally” as it works with the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) and other consumer agencies and regulators to better understand how to substantiate product level claims with trusted and credible data.

Last week the  Norwegian Consumer Agency (Forbrukertilsynet) said it believed Norrøna is “breaking the law” in marketing clothes as environmentally friendly and it issued a warning to H&M Group against using the same type of environmental claims. The Norwegian Consumer Agency has concluded that this tool from the SAC is “not sufficient as a basis for the environmental claims they have used in marketing.”

The watchdog said while it welcomed steps to make the industry more environmentally friendly, it is concerned over the use of the SAC’s Higg MSI tool to make environmental claims, specifically 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.

Razvi said since the notification from the NCA, the SAC had taken time to reflect and consider the implications it may have across the apparel industry.

“As an organisation focused on driving positive environmental change in the fashion industry, we take the notification from the NCA extremely seriously. It is critical we seek to understand how to improve this work and act urgently and decisively to ensure the changes that are needed both in the industry and at consumer level are accelerated, and not delayed by the lack of harmonised legislation and clear guidance from regulators. We know how important it is that our members and the wider industry have trust not just in our mission, purpose and approach, but also the data and insights that sit behind our tools. 

“We have made the decision to pause the consumer-facing transparency programme globally as we work with the NCA and other consumer agencies and regulators to better understand how to substantiate product level claims with trusted and credible data. While we remain fully committed to the use of standardised data to empower better decision-making with all stakeholders, we recognise the additional challenges that come from translating LCA data to consumer-facing information. We will be working with our program partners directly to determine how this will work operationally and hope to reactivate the programme upon alignment with the NCA and other regulatory bodies.”

To further support this, the SAC is “with urgency” commissioning an independent third-party expert review of the Higg MSI data and methodology.

“This review was last carried out in 2016 and is a planned action that we are accelerating in light of the NCA notification. We are also working on a comprehensive programme, through industry partnerships, to gather and update the environmental impact data quality and accessibility needed for the industry to drive more informed decisions. 

“The SAC brings together over 50% of the apparel industry in aligning on a common framework and approach to standardised data, while sharing knowledge and best practice in a pre-competitive forum. Without this, the industry relies on disparate and disjointed data, and individual company initiatives, resulting in slower and fragmented progress. We want to engage better with our key stakeholders as well as our critics to understand their perspectives and develop a shared understanding of the need to accelerate standardised global frameworks, supported by effective harmonized regulation. This dialogue and understanding will help us achieve our vision of empowering consumers to make better decisions with trusted and credible data. We remain ardently committed to playing our role in supporting transforming the fashion and apparel sector become more responsible for the better and look forward to partnering and collaborating with others towards aligned goals for our industry.”

Razvi reiterated thoughts from Joyce Tsoi, director of Collective Action at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) shared with Just Style last week. “Change won’t happen without collaboration; we are using this opportunity to encourage other industry voices and stakeholders to get in touch with ideas, changes or suggestions for how we might work together to accelerate transformation.”

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