Supply chain tool for Gap, H&M, Levi's gets a makeover

Supply chain tool for Gap, H&M, Levi's gets a makeover

Shirts photo by Africa Studio via Shutterstock

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has turned its groundbreaking Higg Index, which exposes sustainable business metrics from across the fashion and apparel industry supply chain, into a dynamic Web portal.

The Higg Index is used by the coalition's members to measure metrics such as energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, chemicals policies, waste management and labor practices from factories around the world.

The most dramatic difference between version 2.0 of the index, developed for the organization by Schneider Electric over the past 3.5 months, and the previous edition launched in July 2012 is both the rich array of data that it will contain -- footwear data has been added -- and its ability to let footwear and apparel companies share information far more easily than previously possible with spreadsheets. 

"This allows for benchmarking, comparison and deep analytics," said Jason Kibbey, executive director of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which is rolling out the update systematically to its more than 100 members. Together, these companies represent about 40 percent of the worldwide apparel value chain, he estimated. Members include a who's-who among fashion brands including Hanes, Levi's and Patagonia, along with retailers such as The Gap, H&M, Kohl's, L.L. Bean and Nordstrom.

Although you must be a coalition member to gain complete access to the index, any invited supplier can submit data about its facilities and business practices. This will turn the Higg Index into a valuable Web resource that will help apparel and footwear companies collect and consider environmental and social information from potential suppliers or production resources.

Unparalleled transparency

How would an apparel or footwear company use the Higg Index 2.0?

John Hoekstra, director of sustainability services (Americas) for Schneider Electric, suggests brands could use the site to request information from potential partners and then compare the submitted data according to its sustainable business requirements. The tool also will support comprehensive self-assessment along environmental metrics; the index still doesn't include complete functionality within the social and labor modules. 

For small factories or facilities, the Higg Index 2.0 could be a huge help, but it also will require them to be more transparent if they want to be considered for contracts. By providing information to the coalition for use in the portal, they won't necessarily have to repeat the task for each potential business partner, plus they can keep information up-to-date more easily, Kibbey said. "This is a huge opportunity to make that process more efficient and avoid duplications," he said.

There isn't a charge to be listed in the Higg Index, but full access to the resource for assessment purposes requires coalition membership, which ranges from $5,000 to $50,000 annually depending on a company's revenue.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition currently assesses members on an annual basis, but the Higg Index can be used to refresh information for particular facilities more frequently, Kibbey said. The software behind the new version is the Schneider Electric StruxureWare Resource Advisor, adapted to meet the coalition's needs.

The apparel industry has made sustainability a sharper focus during 2013. Aside from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's resource, companies can consult the EcoMetrics textile guide or benchmarks maintained by Made-By.

Some companies have created their own tools: One example is the Making mobile app developed by Nike to help designers incorporate environmental and social considerations in their new designs up-front.

Shirts photo by Africa Studio via Shutterstock