As we've said before, the fashion industry is inherently not very sustainable. As organic a fabric is or ethical a production facility, producing, promoting and shipping clothes will have some ecological footprint no matter what. Of course, some labels are more sustainable than others and a new system aims to take all the factors that go into determining sustainability to provide companies with a comprehensive way to measure their own.
The Higg Index, introduced in today's WWD, is a three-part scoring system developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and is readily available for companies to use for free on apparelcoalition.org. It can be used to measure the environmental performance of apparel products and later versions will incorporate footwear and take social performance into account as well. According to WWD, the index has the following three parts:
• A brand module that zeros in on details such as how goods are designed and whether or not product life cycle, transportation and the use of restricted substances are taken into account.
• A product module that looks at the sustainability of fabrics, how much waste is left on the cutting-room floor, what finishes are used and so on.
• A facilities module that examines areas such as how factories deal with wastewater and how much energy is consumed.
Some pretty big companies including Adidas, Gap Inc., H&M, J.C. Penney and Nike have tested the index. It would be interesting to learn what rating something like H&M's organic line, for example, had.
Jason Kibbey, executive director of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, tells WWD, “This looks holistically and tries to make a judgment of the whole impact of the product rather than just go with the trend of the day.”
For consumers, we think this could be great because it takes sustainability out of the hands of marketers and provides a more reliable picture of how sustainable something is. A brand can slap the phrase "eco-friendly" on just about anything, sometimes without really explaining why. Presently, it seems this tool serves only as a way for companies to see their own sustainability index and, if they're so inclined, make the necessary changes to improve it, which is great. But if it's somehow made available to consumers, allowing us to make more informed decisions about the clothes we buy, kind of like the health department grades on NYC restaurants, that might be even better.