We may know the cost in Euros, but what is the true cost of the gear we buy? Meet the outdoor industry’s leading toolbox for measuring social and environmental impacts.

What is Higg, and why is it needed?

What is the carbon, water, energy, social and labor impacts of a product or process? And what would be the tradeoffs and benefits of exchanging one material for another? Being able to answer such questions is critical to creating a lower impact product – but doing so is anything but straightforward.

Attempting to even begin answering these questions first requires some form of common language and measurement from which to compare two or more different things in order to identify the better choice. In other words, it requires standardization.

To aid in the development of products with lower social and environmental footprints, industry actors make use of various tools that use standardized scores for different fiber types, treatments and production methods based on their respective impacts.

Launched in 2019 by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (though now an independent entity), Higg is the most prominent such platforms used in the apparel and footwear segments of the outdoor industry today.


What Higg tools are available, and what are their uses?

To meet the demand of brands, retailers, suppliers, and consumers for more sustainable products, Higg offers an array of tools. Perhaps the most well-known are the Higg Product Tools. The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI), for example, uses the industry’s most comprehensive life cycle assessment databases to calculate environmental impacts and translate them into comparable scores. By exchanging variables relating to fiber type and production methods, product designers can easily see the relative environmental costs, benefits and trade-offs of different materials and make more informed choices.

Going beyond the material level, the Higg Product Module (Higg PM) then assesses the cradle-to-grave (everything from raw resources, manufacture, transport, use and care, and disposal/recycling) environmental impacts of a complete product based on five categories: Global Warming Potential, Nutrient Pollution in Water, Water Scarcity, Fossil Fuel Depletion, and Chemistry.

Even further behind the scenes of a product lies a vast network of facilities producing the various components used to make it. Here, a range of Higg Facility Tools provide standardized social and environmental assessments that are designed to improve production safety and sustainability along the entire supply chain.

Products and materials aside, business operations themselves also have impacts, and this is where the Higg Brand & Retail Module (Higg BRM) comes in. The Higg BRM offers a standardized way of measuring an organization’s sustainability performance. This then enables brands and retailers to benchmark their performance against similar companies and, more importantly, helps them identify where the greatest room for improvement lies.


What are the benefits and limitations of Higg?

In today’s complex globalized market, it is exceptionally expensive if not impossible for most brands to determine the impacts of their products all the way down the value chain. But what if many companies were to join together in this effort and share their data?  This is the primary strength of Higg, where thanks to having the greatest degree of buy-in from the industry, it now sits on a massive database from brands, retailers, and suppliers. With this aggregate data in hand, fairly accurate assumptions can be made on material, product, and organizational impacts. And as more data is collected, the better still it becomes.

But this is also where its greatest challenge lies. Aggregate data can miss very important details on the ground, such as individual fiber producers that perform far better than the industry average. Furthermore, most data is supplied via self-assessments by the industry-actors themselves. This is problematic as it means that not only is the data often not third-party verified, but that these databases may be representative only of those willing to share their data.  In other words, the data from poor performers may not be included in the aggregate data, even if they may be major producers in their particular market.


Is there a consumer version of Higg?

With the use of Higg’s tools gaining widespread acceptance across the apparel and footwear industries, in 2022 Higg rolled out a public-facing version of Higg MSI that provided a visual scorecard of a product’s impacts to help consumers quickly identify the more sustainable products. The initiative quickly ran into legal issues, however, which stemmed in part from the above-mentioned limitations of aggregate data. While industry can freely use such data for their own internal purposes, consumer protection laws require a far greater degree of specificity and accuracy to any product claims. As such, the roll-out of the public-facing Higg MSI has been set on hold pending an internal review, expected to be complete by summer 2023.


About Higg

Higg is a set of tools developed to measure the environmental and social impact of apparel and footwear products throughout their life cycle. It provides a standardized approach to measure and score a company’s sustainability efforts, covering areas such as water use, greenhouse gas emissions, waste, labor conditions, and chemical use. Higg aims to drive sustainability improvements across the fashion industry and promote transparency and accountability. It is used by leading apparel and footwear brands and suppliers globally, and has become a widely recognized sustainability standard in the industry.

Visit website.


Lead Illustration: Nadia Nörbom

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