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Higg Product Tools: How you can help scale sustainability in the apparel, footwear, and home textile industries

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Here, The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, in collaboration with WhichPLM, shares an overview of The SAC, The Higg Index, The Higg Materials Sustainability Index, The Higg Design & Development Module and integrating with PLM.This exclusive piece acts as a ‘call to action’ for all of our readers to collaborate; PLM integration with the Higg MSI and DDM has the potential to significantly increase tool adoption and reduce environmental impact.

THE SUSTAINABLE APPAREL COALITION

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is the apparel, footwear and home textile industry’s foremost alliance for sustainable production. It was born from a dynamic and unconventional meeting of the minds when in 2009, Walmart, America’s biggest retailer, and Patagonia, one of the world’s most progressive brands, came together with a radical mission: to collect peers and competitors from across the apparel, footwear and textile sector and, together, develop a universal approach to measuring sustainability performance.

Today, the Coalition has nearly 200 members and represents more than $500 billion in revenue of the global apparel supply chain. Its focus remains the same: develop a standardized supply chain measurement tool for all industry participants to understand the environmental, social and labor impacts of making and selling their products and services. By measuring sustainability performance, the industry can address inefficiencies, resolve damaging practices, and achieve the transparency that consumers increasingly demand. By joining forces in a Coalition, members can address the urgent, systemic challenges that are impossible to change alone.

THE HIGG INDEX

The centerpiece of the SAC’s work is the Higg Index: a suite of assessment tools that empower brands, retailers, and manufacturers to measure their environmental, social and labor impacts at every stage of the product lifecycle.  For those just starting to implement sustainable practices, the Higg Index guides their important first steps, helping to distinguish strengths and opportunities for improvement. For those already deeply engaged, it has more advanced potential, such as benchmarking sustainability performance of their supply chain partners and against industry peers, identifying risks and performing targeted research and analytics.

With the Higg Index, the SAC aims to accomplish the following goals:

  • Understanding and quantifying the sustainability impacts of apparel, footwear, and home textile products;
  • Reducing redundancy in measuring sustainability in apparel, footwear, and home textile industries;
  • Driving business value through reducing risk and uncovering improvement opportunities;
  • Creating a common means and language to communicate sustainability to stakeholders

The Higg Index suite of tools is identified below.

INTEGRATING HIGG WITH PLM

The Higg Index Product Tools discussed in this document include those specifically tied to assessing impacts of products that require integration with PLM systems to scale:

  • Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI): a cradle-to-gate Material scoring tool using a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to engage product design teams and our global value chain in environmental sustainability.
  • Higg Design & Development Module (DDM): a tool for use early in the product creation process by designers and developers. The output is an environmental sustainability design score that can be used for decision-making surrounding different design scenarios.

HIGG MATERIALS SUSTAINABILITY INDEX (MSI)

The Higg MSI was originally developed by Nike and, in 2012, was adopted by the SAC and incorporated into the Higg Index. Since then, the SAC has been working to expand this index into a tool that can provide value for the entire industry. The updated Higg MSI was publicly launched in November 2016.

The SAC believes that the Higg MSI will bring the industry closer to a common language around material sustainability, and:

  • Reduce redundant data requests of material vendors;
  • Be critical for future product labelling efforts;
  • Reduce significant industry impact

Higg MSI Taxonomy

The Higg MSI database holds material production data that is third party reviewed, modeled to determine impacts, and scored according to the Higg MSI scoring framework. This database is organized according to a very specific taxonomy determined by SAC members. This taxonomy defines the following:

  • Material Categories: Categories of full Materials commonly used within the apparel, footwear, and home textile industry. Current MSI Material Categories include Textiles, Leathers, Synthetic Leathers, Plastics, Rubbers/Elastomers, Foams, Metals, Wood-Based Materials, Insulation Materials, and Barriers.
  • Production Phases: Material production steps for which various processes could be used. A specific set of Production Phases is associated with each Material Category. More than one Production Phase is used to create a finished Material.
  • Base Materials: Common, generic Materials commonly used in the apparel, footwear, and home textile industries. Base Materials are made up of multiple processes defined by the SAC. There are currently 78 Base Materials.
  • Processes: Actual production processes used to create materials. Different processes could potentially be used within each Production Phase. These processes can be swapped in/out of Base Materials to create something more specific. This, as well as the ability to create blends, allows for thousands of “custom materials” to be created in the Higg MSI.

WHY USE THIS TOOL?

Today, companies are collecting an extraordinary amount of information from their supply chains, but they are using different methods and approaches to understanding environmental impacts. This makes it impossible to compare environmental impacts of materials and empower the industry to make more sustainable choices.

The apparel, footwear, and home textile industry needs the ability to compare materials and make informed choices that are more sustainable for the planet. The Higg MSI empowers this by measuring environmental impacts of material production in a common way. The Higg MSI provides access to a large amount of relevant information about the impacts of material production. Users can leverage the information in different ways to get a clear understanding of what is causing different types of material impacts, and different production processes that can be used to reduce those impacts.

WHAT CAN IT DO?

In general, the Higg MSI accomplishes the following key elements:

  • Enables companies to compare their materials against others;
  • Makes comparable environmental data available to the public;
  • Can be used to empower product development teams to make more sustainable choices during materials selection

It accomplishes this through the functionality listed below for Public and Member Versions of the tool.

Public Version: The publicly available version of the Higg MSI allows anyone to do the following:

  1. View material scores and benchmarks in the Materials Library (Figure 1)
  2. Compare materials (Figure 2)
  3. Create “custom materials” by assigning specific material production processes and creating material blends. These are saved for twelve hours. (Figure 3)
  4. View metadata (Figure 4)

Figure 1. Higg MSI Materials Library

Figure 2. Higg MSI Material Comparison

Figure 3. Material Customization

Figure 4. Metadata

Member Version: The member version of the Higg MSI allows SAC members to do the following:

  1. Everything listed above for the Public Version
  2. Save custom materials to a brand-specific Custom Materials Library (Figure 5)
  3. Access lifecycle impact assessment (LCIA) results (e.g. kg CO2e for each material)
  4. Download an Excel export of all MSI and custom material data

Figure 5. Custom Materials Library

The Higg MSI is a cradle-to-gate material scoring tool, which addresses impacts that range from the extraction or production of raw materials, through manufacture and finishing, to when the material is ready to be assembled into a final product. The Higg MSI alone does not address the impacts of complete apparel, footwear, or home textile products. The Higg Design & Development Module considers apparel, footwear, or home textile product lifecycles, including product manufacturing, consumer use, and end of use, in addition to Material production. The Higg MSI informs the Higg DDM Materials section only, in which users select Materials with associated Higg MSI scores.

HIGG DESIGN & DEVLOPMENT MODULE (DDM)

Designers and developers can control upwards of 80% of a product’s environmental impact. Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) members quickly realized that designers were not appropriately equipped with tools that teach them how to reduce this impact. Together, members created the Higg DDM to give their design teams quick and simple guidance to reduce the impact of a product. This tool is meant to be used very early in the product creation process, before the impact has already been made by producing a sample.

HIGG DDM CONTENT

There are four sections in the Higg DDM:

  1. Materials and Trims: Users can list the types and amounts of Materials and Trims used in their designs. The Materials and their scores are pulled into the Higg DDM from the Higg MSI (both Base Materials and custom Materials).
  2. Manufacturing: Users list the product-level finishes applied, and the number of parts in the upper, midsole, and outsole if the assessment is of a footwear design.
  3. Care & Repair: Captures any high-impact care requirements for the garment and whether or not the product is designed for easy repair.
  4. End of Use: Asks about the compatibility of the product with recycling or composting schemes.
  5. Quality & Lifetime: Users indicate the durability of a product by selecting how long the product is guaranteed to last.

WHY USE THIS TOOL?

Designers and developers can control upwards of 80% of a product’s environmental impact. To reduce significant impact, they need to be equipped with tools to learn how. In the Higg DDM, designers and developers can quickly answer a few questions about their designs to receive a design score and learn how they can improve the sustainability of a product. The Higg DDM also encourages performance improvement by showing designers where they have the most control over the impact, and how they can improve their score.

The results are given meaning through provided benchmarking and analytics. Designers and developers can understand whether their products score well or poorly from a company or industry standpoint.

The Higg DDM also prepares brands for external communication. The scores are internal-facing for an organization, but force companies to think about how designers can influence impacts throughout the entire lifecycle of a product – something that will be publicly communicated at some point in the future.

WHAT CAN IT DO?

SAC Members have access to the following functionality:

  1. Enter, sort, and organize products in a brand Product Library (Figure 6)
  2. Score products. Product scores are internal-facing to the organization and feed company and industry benchmarks when final (Figure 7)
  3. Compare up to three products with each other, to a company average, and an industry average. Users can see a breakdown of scores and answers for each section (Figure 8)
  4. Compare defined groups of products with each other (Figure 9)

Figure 6. Product Library

Figure 7. Product Scoring

Figure 8. Product Comparison

Figure 9. Group Comparison

HOW CAN PLM SUPPORT THIS?

A myriad of companies want to use the Higg MSI and DDM applications directly to score their products and train employees in sustainability. However, in order to scale MSI & DDM use for thousands of materials and products (possibly each season), PLM integration will be required. SAC Members have enthusiastically requested MSI and DDM PLM integration to drive sustainability within their organizations. Based upon the request of our members, we reached out to WhichPLM to connect with the PLM community to see how we can meet this industry demand for data and systems integration that scales sustainable design and sourcing.  

The WhichPLM business is completely independent and is known across the globe for it’s unbiased independent research, news, reports, end user surveys, certified education on the subject of RFA-PLM processes & platforms and Extended-PLM solutions.  Furthermore WhichPLM has been involved in PDM & PLM since it’s inception back in the late 1980’s and are continually pushing the boundaries of NPI (new process introductions) that help to extend and advance the value of RFA-PLM in todays fast fashion sector.  They are continually evaluating the leading RFA- vendors solutions and at the same time they are looking at new developments including processes, R&D and future roadmap strategies.  WhichPLM have recognized the value that the Higg-Index (MSI, DDM and new developments) will bring to our industry and to that of  the leading PLM platforms.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

PLM integration with the Higg MSI and DDM has the potential to significantly increase tool adoption and reduce environmental impact. The SAC and WhichPLM would like you to be a part of this progress in advancing industry sustainability and would welcome your support in helping our members to realize the benefits via the development of a new API to support the Higg-Index.  If you are interested in learning more or moving directly to developing an API then please contact our Editor, who can put you in direct contact with the SAC.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.

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