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Data meets fashion -- and falls short

Fashion brands and measures of their sustainability have come under scrutiny for inaccuracy and greenwashing. Can the opaque “middle” -- manufacturers -- lead change in the industry?

Karen Sim
Published Fri, Sep 2, 2022 · 10:00 AM

IT’S no secret that the fashion industry has an enormous environmental and social impact, accounting for up to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. Many efforts have been made to move the industry towards being more sustainable, such as developing certifications and standards to measure the impacts and communicate sustainability efforts to consumers.

One such benchmark is the Higg Index. Managed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), it is one of the most widely used sustainability evaluation tools in the fashion industry. The index measures a suite of environmental and social impacts from carbon emissions, wastewater, chemical use, to labour conditions.

So when a June 2022 New York Times article called out the Higg Index as using inaccurate, unreliable and outdated data to paint false perceptions of the sustainability of certain brands or products, the industry received a good jolt. This was further strengthened by the Norwegian Consumer Authority’s decision to issue warnings to Swedish brand H&M and Norwegian outdoor brand Norrøna to stop using the Higg Index for marketing purposes.

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