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The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), global multi-stakeholder non-profit alliance promoting sustainable practices for the consumer goods industry has collaborated with its technology partner Higg to launch Brand and Retail Foundations (BRF), a sustainability assessment for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).

Higg director of analytics, Cashion East, spoke to Just Style about how the new streamlined BRF would help smaller brands and retailers.

“Understanding sustainability within your own operations as well as in your value chain is very complex, and we realised there was an opportunity to guide small brands and retailers at the start of their sustainability journeys with preliminary questions to help them understand their social and environmental impact,” they told us.

“Brand and Retail Foundations is an introductory set of sustainability questions that help companies measure and improve the impact of their brand and retail operations. Foundations can be completed in a few weeks and provides brands and retailers a great way to begin to evaluate their corporate sustainability practices.

“Available on the Higg platform, Foundations is based on the more comprehensive Brand and Retail Module (BRM), whose methodology is developed by our content partner, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. By accessing the assessments on Higg, brands and retailers can easily share data and intelligence within teams, with their business partners, and access features like benchmarking and analytics to help contextualise data and see how they’re progressing towards corporate sustainability goals.

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“While Foundations does not formally sit within the Higg Index suite of tools, it provides an accessible, streamlined solution for small brands and retailers just starting their sustainability journeys. Foundations features some of the same introductory questions that can be found in the BRM; it also helps brands begin to understand some of the social and environmental gaps they may need to address to comply with future supply chain due diligence requirements.

“The Brand and Retail Module goes into greater detail and granularity about logistics and operations, particularly for larger brands. The more comprehensive assessment is ideal for brands that have more established sustainability programs and specific sustainability goals. The data from Foundations can easily be transferred to the BRM, so when businesses are ready to transition, this can save them time.”

Director of the Higg Brand and Retail programme, Maravillas Rodriguez-Zarco, spoke about the new tool in an SAC blog post, explaining Foundations can be used by third-party retailers that need to assess the performance of non-SAC member companies in a more accessible way, and ensure that quality data is produced.

“For non-member companies that don’t necessarily have the bandwidth and/or capabilities to complete a full length Higg BRM assessment, this tool will provide an on-ramp to enter the greater Higg ecosystem,” she said.

In the streamlined questionnaire, SAC curated which questions would be considered critical and chose those that would allow the user to identify the foundational building blocks for a sustainability strategy. Like the full BRM, it covers the same sections, but with fewer questions, covering only the absolute essentials.  

Meanwhile, bigger companies, like third-party retailers, can use Foundations to assess their SME brand partners to ensure they are meeting the company’s sustainability standards. It makes it easier for the SME (especially those who are not SAC members) to complete the request, and thus be able to sell on a retailer’s platform.  

SAC hopes to expand the scope of the BRM evaluation to include: 

  • Brands that need to assess the performance of their franchises 
  • Licensors that want to assess their licensees  
  • Brands that want to assess their wholesale customers and/or their licensees. 

In the full BRM, the questions are ranked in order of importance (critical and level 1 being the highest, and level 3 being the lowest). Foundations only includes critical and level 1 questions, along with a few level 2 questions to be able to dive deeper into certain impact areas.  

Additionally, like the full BRM, each life cycle stage is also represented: Distribution centres, management systems, offices, packaging, product, stores, supply chain: product and textiles, transportation, use and end of use. 

Because Foundations is a more accessible tool, SAC says it hopes it will be widely adopted and scaled across the industry, giving retailers greater visibility to assess all their brand partners. If a retailer has a sustainability target, this tool allows them to assess which brands are a match for their goals. For smaller companies, Foundations is far less overwhelming, giving them a starting point to create a strategy to improve sustainability performance.  

SAC plans to keep updating the Foundations tool to include a verification process by 2023 and while Foundations doesn’t have scoring or benchmarking like the main BRM, it still allows measurement of progression. 

Toward the end of last year, SAC executive director Amina Razvi said cross-industry collaboration will be the key to unlocking a sustainable future for the fashion industry and hitting climate change targets of a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.