The SAC announced a review of the tool after it was deemed to be “misleading” by several European advertising watchdogs.

The background – 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.

The update – Higg Index review

“As many of you will be aware, the last comprehensive review of the Higg Index was back in 2017. This saw approximately two dozen independent academics examine the methodology and workings of the MSI tool and provide their recommendations for further strengthening and development. Five years on, as we announced towards the end of last year, we’re seeking further expert guidance to inform the next phase of the Higg Index evolution,” Jeremy Lardeau, VP, Higg Index, SAC, said in a blog.

“The review is being carried out to ensure continuous improvement, the context in which the tools are used continues to evolve, and with it so must the tools. This is true of almost any system, database, or tool for measurement. We are committed to ongoing improvement to help ensure we are providing the industry with the strongest tools available to enable social and environmental change.”

The SAC said it is working with KPMG to coordinate the project including the recruitment of three panels of independent experts. There will be a panel for the FEM review, one for the BRM, and another for the MSI and Product Module. Each of these panels will be made up of approximately ten independent professionals with a cross-section of expertise and background. This will include technical and environmental specialists, academics and representatives from civil society. None of the individuals will be from member organizations and none will have previously worked on the Higg Index tools.

The SAC is expecting the results of the report in June 2023.

“Once received, and in the spirit of transparency, we will publish the report in full for members, stakeholders and interested parties from our industry and beyond to read. It’s at this point that we will take stock of what action to take forward, how and when.

“The review is independent, comprehensive, and an indication of the commitment SAC has to ensuring the Higg Index tools continue to play a crucial role in improving the fashion and apparel industry and in reducing its negative impact the planet and its people.”