SAC halts use of Higg Index in face of greenwashing claims
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is an organisation that offers major fashion brands an assessment of their products’ environmental impact. It announced this week that it is pausing its consumer facing transparency programme globally, and undertaking a third party review of the Higg MSI data and methodology. This follows a decision by the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) that Norrøna was breaking the law by marketing their outdoor wear as environmentally friendly based on Higg MSI data. The NCA simultaneously warned H&M that their potential use of the Higg MSI data in marketing towards consumers would be considered a breach of the Marketing Control Act.
The Higg MSI (Material Sustainability Index) is part of the Higg Index suite of tools that scores the environmental impacts of materials. As One 4 Leather has reported before, the index has been controversial among natural material producers, as it regularly scores plastic, petroleum-based materials as more sustainable than natural, renewable materials such as leather, silk, or wool. For example, it scores water impact of materials, but not microplastics potential.
According to The Guardian, Philippa Grogan of the fashion sustainability consultancy Eco-Age, the Higg MSI fails to present a full picture when offering lifecycle assessments: “If you think of a lifecycle assessment as a clock face, the Higg MSI is only looking at midday to 3pm – only a very selective part of the impact. To represent how sustainable a product is, we need the assessment to go from midnight to midnight – so not just from cradle to shop, but from cradle to grave.”
In October 2020 the global leather industry published an open letter to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, asking it to suspend the leather score on its Higg MSI, as it was based on inappropriate methodologies and inaccurate and incomplete data. This meant that the Higg MSI data gave leather a disproportionality high score.
While the Higg MSI data is primarily used by fashion industries, members of One 4 Leather have found that some auto manufacturers use it as part of their consideration of the impacts of materials.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of updates to the EU consumer rules to prevent greenwashing and empower consumers. The proposed updates introduce a ban on greenwashing as well as bans on planned obsolescence. They oblige traders to provide consumers with information on products’ durability and repairability. This is a powerful reminder to everyone of how sustainable genuine leather truly can be.
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