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What’s New in SAC’s Higg Brand and Retail Module Update

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has released an updated version of its Higg Brand and Retail Module following “rigorous” consultation with members and other industry experts.

The tool, one of the five modules of the Higg Index, provides an industry-specific, “holistic framework” for brands and retailers to evaluate and report on supply chain ESG performance. New features include an updated assessment structure and modernized methodology “underpinned by a due diligence approach,” SAC wrote. “The update will encourage brands and retailers to focus on real action, impact and results.”

The assessment is now divided into 11 key areas of focus that fall under three pillars: environmental impacts, social impacts and governance. This will provide greater value to different organizations with varying supply chain issues, allowing them to focus in on key objectives, SAC said. Biodiversity has been added as a new impact area, featuring deeper questions about water and circularity. The questions themselves have also been “revised to align with best-in-class standards,” SAC said—for example, aligning with best practice guidance on responsible purchasing practices.

Scoring methodology has been simplified so it can be shared more easily and openly, it said. “The Higg BRM now provides one finite score out of 100, in addition to score breakdowns per pillar and impact area, making it easier to understand, communicate and benchmark against peers.” It aligns with relevant frameworks outside of the BRM to reduce the burden of reporting.

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The re-release comes after a year consulting with more than 75 stakeholders, including SAC members, the Apparel Alliance, Textile Exchange and ZDHC, which lent their expertise to develop specialized content on materials, biodiversity, circularity and chemicals. The SAC also engaged STTI and the Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives Working Group of the Common Framework of Responsible Purchasing Practice (CFRPP), represented by Fair Wear, which provided insights on responsible purchasing practices.

The update represents “a major milestone for the SAC,” according to Higg Index vice president at SAC Jeremy Lardeau. “This process has allowed us to better align with existing industry assessment frameworks, and make sure we are addressing the needs and expectations of our members and the industry at large,” he said. “Our tools must evolve to continuously improve, and while this update is a step in that direction, we will continue to iterate the BRM as the industry progresses, legislation evolves and we continue to gather insights and feedback from BRM users and other stakeholders.”

The news comes after the SAC—alongside The Industry We Want, Fair Wear and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)—released new insights showing that the apparel and footwear sectors aren’t evolving quickly enough when it comes to purchasing practices, supply chain wages and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. “In order to drive the scale of transformation needed, brands and retailers need a clear and standardized picture of their environmental and social hotspots, to create a clear roadmap for transformation,” SAC wrote.

“The release of the latest version of our Higg Brand & Retail Module is a clear reflection of our mission at the SAC to transform business for exponential impact through groundbreaking tools, collaborative partnerships, and trusted leadership for industry sustainability,” Higg Brand and Retail director at SAC Maravillas Rodriguez Zarco said.

Magnus Dorsch, head of corporate sustainability at German e-commerce retailer About You, said the updated Higg BRM “will serve to help us continue calibrating our ESG strategy to ensure consistency in our progress and reporting and look forward,” and allow the company to support its brand partners “in aligning on a unified approach towards sustainable practices, helping them understand where they stand regarding their sustainability journeys and how to continue to support them to improve and drive progress.”

Textile Exchange (TE) director of stakeholder engagement Sarah Needham praised SAC for providing “crucial updates, including biodiversity, as a new impact area,” and moving closer to TE’s Materials Benchmark program. “[P]roviding a source for raw materials uptake information, and collaborat[ing] to streamline reporting across the fashion, apparel and textile industry” will help the industry reach its 45 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal by 2030, she said.

“Identifying and assessing the risks and negative impacts of purchasing practices in the buyer-supplier relationship is key to mitigate negative effects on suppliers and workers,” added Margreet Vrieling, chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives Working Group on the CFRPP. “By using the responsible purchasing practices as they have been laid down in the Common Framework as input for the BRM responsible purchasing practices questions, the SAC reinforces the importance of collaboration and convergence to drive progress within our industry.”

Another Higg Index module—the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI)—came under fire last year after the Norwegian Consumer Authority’s (NCA) determined that outdoor apparel maker Norrøna had broken the law by marketing its products as environmentally friendly using MSI data. The watchdog also warned H&M that using MSI data to make sustainability claims would be considered “misleading,” and a breach of Norway’s greenwashing laws. Both brands helped pilot the Higg Index Transparency Program, which aimed to give consumers “unprecedented visibility” into a product’s “real” impact.