It’s easy to claim one product is more sustainable than another. Suston reaches out to outdoor brands and experts to hear how the public-facing transparency program from the Higg Index could help brands prove it.

The Higg Index moved beyond supply chains to points-of-sale earlier this year when it launched a new public-facing transparency program. The first element of the program is the Higg Index Sustainability Profile, which shows how a product’s materials compare with conventional material baselines in terms of global warming, fossil fuels, water use, and water pollution. A brand or retailer can then present these profiles at their various points of sale. Products that truly excel, meanwhile, can additionally be designated with the second element of the program: The Higg Index Materials seal. Only those products that can demonstrate at least a 12.5 percent impact reduction over conventional equivalents can use the Higg Index Materials seal.

Outdoor brand response

One of the first brands to implement this new Higg Index transparency program with one of its products is the Norwegian outdoor brand Norrøna. Director of Innovation and Sustainability Brad Boren shares why the brand was eager to employ the tool:

“We believe the product transparency journey will provide critical information to consumers, while it also teaches us as a brand the responsibility of knowing the materials chain of custody.”

Brad Boren continues to share that in the past, companies the size of Norrøna could not afford to do multiple life cycle analysis and have these available in their decision making processes. With access to Higg’s data, however, it could now find data on how much impact the construction, processing and finishing stages have on specific materials and more.

“This information not only will help consumers understand more about their products, but lets us as a brand know where we must invest towards innovation to make the biggest positive impact.”

The Sustainability Profile for Norrøna’s 29 Cotton Viking T-shirt.

Does this go far enough?

At present, the program focuses solely on environmental impacts related to producing a product’s materials – or from “cradle to gate” – leaving what some have called a very large gap in its goal of unifying environmental impact communication across the industry.

“The Higg Index has rightly received a lot of criticism,” shares Charles Ross, sustainability consultant and university lecturer. Charles Ross points to the fact that there are many other systems to choose from, and that many even do a better job with one parameter or another than the Higg Index.

“But they also all add to the muddied waters surrounding sustainability, not to mention audit fatigue and consumer audit confusion – a situation that serves nobody well.”

Still only the beginning

Within two years, Higg Index aims to broaden its scope to include more stages that these other systems address, namely product design, manufacturing, and corporate responsibility. If the industry continues to show support for this “all-in-one” approach, both Brad Boren and Charles Ross are optimistic that Higg will yet achieve its unifying goals.

“The Higg Index is not perfect,” shares Brad Boren, “but it is a fantastic starting point towards improvement and as we can measure biodiversity, plastic impact and other important impacts in a systematic way, more information will be included.”

“In spite of its current limitations, the Higg Index has my vote of confidence. It has buy-in from a greater number of participants than any other system and covers more territory,” says Charles Ross, before continuing:

“Making the system better is achievable.”



Jonathan Eidse
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