Design & Sustainability on

The Higg Index Debuts

— By: The Team at Nau
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Remember the Eco Index? Last year, we profiled the evolution of this industry-wide, sustainable business tool in our three-part blog series and how Jamie—our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability—has been an integral part of its development. Fast-forward a year, and here we are, staring down the launch of the much-anticipated index (now known as the Higg Index). This week in the Thought Kitchen, Avery Stonich, Communications Manager for OIA, gives us an insider’s perspective on the tool that promises to change the way an industry does business.

You might think that the outdoor industry is a bunch of tree huggers, and to some extent that’s true. After all, we’re in this business because we love being outdoors, and protecting natural resources and quality places to play goes hand-in-hand with that. But what if I told you that this collective concern for the environment has translated into an industry-wide movement toward sustainability that is changing the way the world does business?

That’s right. Hundreds of outdoor industry companies have been collaborating for years on identifying and implementing best practices in sustainability—specifically, ensuring that the gear we use in the outdoors is made in a more responsible way. And this work is now reverberating to other industries. Pretty cool.

How did it all start? Nearly six years ago, several leading outdoor industry companies recognized that they could make more meaningful progress toward sustainable business practices by working together. So these competitors sat down together and started hammering out quantifiable, measurable ways to create more sustainable products, starting with apparel.

As this effort gained momentum, these companies and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) formed the OIA Sustainability Working Group (SWG) to put even more muscle behind the work. In 2010, the industry finalized and piloted the OIA Eco Index, a standardized way to assess product sustainability. It went so well that another group—the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)—adopted the open-source index last year, blended it with a tool Nike developed, and created a more robust indexing tool.

This is a big deal because the SAC encompasses about a third of the global apparel and footwear market and includes a lot of big names—like  Walmart, Target, Nike, and H&M. So having the SAC on board opens the door to this sustainability tool being adopted on a very broad scale.

And now… drumroll, please… this tool—now called the Higg Index—launched on July 26th. Companies can use the Higg Index to get a clear view of where to make improvements in their supply chains to reduce the environmental (and eventually, social) impacts of their products. It also provides a consistent framework and language that companies can use to assess and compare product sustainability.

Just how big of a deal is this? Consider this: The White House recognized the OIA Sustainability Working Group as a Champion of Change for Corporate Responsibility earlier this year. They don’t hand this sort of recognition out freely. You have to earn it.

While we are celebrating, our work is far from complete. This is just the beginning. The OIA Sustainability Working Group will continue to contribute to the evolution of the Higg Index for apparel. And we are continuing work in other areas—developing indexing tools for footwear and equipment, identifying how to manage chemicals in the supply chain, tackling materials traceability, and creating best practices in social responsibility and fair labor.

To learn more, check out the OIA website, and support the companies that are involved in our Sustainability Working Group. They are contributing passion, money and sweat equity to a cause that is bigger than themselves. Together, as an industry, we are developing new practices that can fundamentally change the way we do business and make the world a better place to live, work and play.

Reprinted with permission from the Outdoor Industry Association and National Geographic.