What’s Subsequent for Trend’s Most Controversial Sustainability Software?

Certainly one of style’s most generally used sustainability instruments shouldn’t be used by itself and extra work is required to enhance the underlying information, in accordance with a third-party report commissioned by its maker, the Sustainable Attire Coalition (SAC), in response to a greenwashing controversy that has rocked the trade.

The SAC’s Higg Supplies Sustainability Index (MSI) “may very well be susceptible to misinterpretation” when utilized by itself, the report carried out by KPMG concluded. As a substitute it must be built-in into broader product assessments, which themselves nonetheless must be refined, the report discovered.

The assessment lays out a collection of detailed suggestions for the SAC, which is looking for to revive confidence in its instruments after regulators in Norway concluded its materials scores weren’t sturdy sufficient to again up consumer-facing advertising and marketing claims final yr.

The high-profile scandal uncovered long-standing criticism of the integrity and high quality of the info underpinning the MSI and the validity of its metrics, casting doubt on the style trade’s reliance on self-regulated and corporate-funded requirements just like the SAC’s.

“This isn’t a snug train,” mentioned Jeremy Lardeau, the SAC’s vp of the Higg Index. “That is us placing out the unfiltered opinion of 10 specialists on one thing that has been fairly a sizzling concern.”

Right here’s what it is advisable to know:

Why Is This Assessment Taking place?

In 2021, the SAC started encouraging its 250-plus members to put sustainability scores on their merchandise, utilizing its Higg instruments. However the consumer-facing labels attracted recent scrutiny to the MSI, which had lengthy confronted criticism — each internally and externally.

The supplies software rests on third-party lifecycle assessments, a well-established, however loosely outlined methodology for measuring environmental influence. Critics argue that these may be skewed as a result of there aren’t uniform parameters for measurement; lifecycle assessments for supplies are sometimes carried out by producers and producers, who’ve a vested curiosity in casting their materials in the most effective gentle attainable.

The standard of the out there datasets has additionally been extensively contested as unrepresentative, inconsistent, insufficient and in some circumstances merely previous. Furthermore, the methodology has come underneath fireplace for neglecting to bear in mind necessary influence areas, for example the MSI doesn’t measure the environmental value concerned with disposing of a fabric on the finish of its life.

Final June, Norway’s shopper watchdog dominated product labels backed by materials influence information from the Higg have been deceptive, placing the sustainability scores software on the centre of a greenwashing crackdown that has challenged the credibility of the trade’s environmental efforts.

In response, the SAC suspended the consumer-facing programme, introduced plans to double down on information assortment and commissioned a third-party assessment, the outcomes of which have been revealed this week.

What Do the Consultants Conclude?

The suggestions have been broadly in keeping with steering revealed by Dutch and Norwegian regulators final yr, which referred to as for the SAC to plug information gaps, contextualise claims and confirm findings.

However whereas the report put ahead quite a few suggestions for tactics wherein the SAC’s instruments must be improved, there was additionally restricted consensus among the many 10 specialists consulted, pointing to only how contentious and complicated these points stay.

Key suggestions included:

Extra Readability: The instruments ought to include higher warnings to forestall inappropriate comparisons and guarantee customers — primarily product designers — correctly perceive how one can interpret the info. It must be clear what parameters have been used to make influence assessments and the diploma of certainty across the information’s integrity. The place an evaluation is predicated on a selected geography, that must be visibly signalled.

Extra Protection: For the time being, the Higg materials and product assessments are based mostly on 5 influence classes, equivalent to international warming potential and water air pollution. In keeping with the specialists consulted, that presents a restricted perspective of the environmental toll exacted by the attire and footwear sector; it must be expanded to align with efforts to ascertain a typical measurement for sustainability throughout the European Union, which considers 16 influence classes. New influence areas, like biodiversity and microplastics, also needs to be included sooner or later as consensus round how one can measure them improves.

Extra Information Integrity: The SAC ought to develop an ongoing technique to enhance information high quality and standardise parameters for influence assessments. For the time being, it depends on international averages to normalise the info it presents, however this could result in misrepresentations since a lot of this information is previous and influence can really range loads relying on location, the report concluded. Over time, the SAC ought to look to boost its product assessments with major information collected instantly from factories by way of the Higg portal.

What Occurs Subsequent?

The SAC mentioned lots of the suggestions specified by the report have been already in its roadmap, although not all may very well be enacted straight away.

“Clearly there’s work forward of us to determine one of the best ways to implement among the suggestions,” mentioned Lardeau. “Some are fairly simple and we’ll be capable of incorporate [them] fairly rapidly; some require extra substantive work to determine the how and the when, and that’s what’s forward of us.”

The organisation has already began. It’s spent the final two years working to align the trade on a standardised mannequin to measure the influence of cotton farming, which ought to permit recent information gathering efforts to kick off early subsequent yr. Comparable work has been carried out round metrics for moist processing, the place a lot of the trade’s most vital influence takes place.

Nonetheless, not the entire suggestions have clear options, pointing to broader debates over how sustainability must be outlined and measured.

“We need to have this be a dialog starter,” mentioned Lardeau. “There are lots of issues that aren’t resolved; there’s diverging opinions between the specialists [and] there are suggestions we received’t be capable of implement instantly.”