As the number of wood-based cellulosic manufacturers in the textile market increases, it is becoming even more important to tackle wrongly labelled products and counterfeiting fibers by ensuring traceability and transparency of fibers. The SAC (Sustainable Apparel Coalition), a global multi-stakeholder non-profit alliance for the fashion industry has recently launched a new program for disclosing data on a product’s environmental impact: the Higg Index Materials Seal. Lenzing has joined SAC’s initiative with the aim to increase Lenzing products’ transparency.
We sat down with Florian Heubrandner, Vice President Global Textiles Business at Lenzing AG and Amina Razvi, Executive Director, Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), to discuss the motivations behind this initiative and explore transparency and traceability in the fashion industry more broadly.
Florian Heubrandner, Vice President Global Textiles Business at Lenzing AG
Amina Razvi, Executive Director, Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)
- What is the Higg Index transparency program and how does it aim to enhance supply chain transparency?
Amina: On May 27, 2021, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), its technology partner Higg, among other global brands and retailers, including Lenzing, launched the first phase of a transparency program for disclosing data on a product’s environmental impact, starting with its materials content.
The purpose of the Higg Index transparency program is to give consumers credible information they can trust, evidenced through data. All products that are part of the program must make claims based on an industry established chain of custody standards and content claim methodologies. These claims pass through an external review process outlined in the verification protocol. Shoppers can get additional supporting information for a product claim by visiting Higg’s Sustainability Profiles website.
Increased transparency in our industry is critical to achieve meaningful progress and true transformation. Our industry has been historically opaque, and without increased transparency, at every level of the value chain, it will be difficult to hold companies accountable for their environmental impact and spur the necessary innovation and collaboration needed to transform the industry and address systemic issues such as climate change.
- What other initiatives are you leveraging to increase transparency and traceability in the fashion industry?
Florian: Lenzing is the first wood-based fiber producer with Higg approval, and we are proud to be able to offer a wide selection of products available in the U.S and Europe. We are supporting brands and retailers using TENCEL™ branded fibers through an authentic verification process to issue new product licenses. This is a critical step to meet the growing demands of brands and consumers alike – without credible certifications, businesses will be unable to authenticate their sustainability efforts. As such, we have created a supply chain traceability platform, incorporating Lenzing E-Branding fabric certificates and a blockchain-enabled traceability platform powered by TextileGenesis™. Lenzing is at the forefront of digital traceability - innovation in this field will help shift brand and consumer behavior towards sustainable solutions for a better future.
Amina: At launch, the Higg Index transparency program will focus on evaluating the cradle-to-gate environmental impact of a product’s materials, pulling its data from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), part of the suite of measurement tools developed by the SAC. Materials are a significant contributor to the environmental impact of a product. By focusing on materials data first, the Higg Index transparency program addresses one of the most pressing environmental challenges the apparel industry faces and empowers consumers to use robust sustainability data to inform their purchasing decisions.
The program will be rolled out in stages so that we can learn and evolve as we grow the program. Over the next 18 months, the transparency program will expand to incorporate environmental facility data, as well as cradle-to-grave product impacts. By early 2023, the program will have expanded to incorporate social data from facilities, becoming the first holistic system for communicating sustainability performance across a product’s lifecycle.
- What benefits will these initiatives achieve for both consumers and brands?
Florian: Through our pioneering traceability platform TextileGenesis™, brands and retailers can now access the full supply chain traceability for TENCEL™ and LENZING™ ECOVERO™ branded fibers and view the results of forensic (physical) verification of fabric samples via the digitally signed E-Branding fabric certificates. This new system gives the entire Lenzing ecosystem an unprecedented level of transparency, vital in a world where consumers are increasingly demanding goods that are ethically produced, sustainable and transparent. Now, more than ever, is the time for brands to communicate exactly where their products come from so that consumers can make purchases knowing the full impact of the products they buy and the companies they buy from.
Amina: The Higg Index transparency program was developed to provide the apparel industry with a unified, consistent, and science-based way to publicly share product-level sustainability performance. We believe that consistent presentation of performance, backed by accessible and credible data will benefit all, particularly consumers demanding to know the impact of the products they buy and the companies they buy from. Businesses that can meet this demand will have a competitive advantage and be able to differentiate their products in the marketplace based on a comparable industry standard. It also benefits people and the planet, by spurring innovation and collective action towards more sustainable products and sustainable ways of producing them– ultimately decreasing our impact on the environment as an industry.
- Why has greenwashing become such a problem for the fashion industry and how can we help to improve it?
Florian: Greenwashing is becoming a growing problem in the industry for consumers, as buzzwords such as “sustainability” or “eco-friendly” have evolved into a box-ticking exercise for many. Brands that mislead consumers who then go on to make unsustainable purchases, are not only operating unethically but are also contributing towards further harm to the environment. For the industry to manage its value chain more sustainably, both brands and consumers must be made aware of the nature and magnitude of the issues within the process. Tracking and traceability of raw materials can ensure they originate from responsible resources and comply with industry standards. Preventing the usage of materials from controversial sources will improve the overall sustainability of the industry, positively contributing to the preservation of our precious planet.
Amina: In the last decade, interest in sustainability has grown, and shoppers, stakeholders, policymakers, and other organizations are expecting increased accountability and transparency from brands and retailers. McKinsey’s 2020 survey on consumer sentiment on sustainability in fashion shows how important it is to build trust and transparency with consumers. 70% of surveyed consumers are sticking with brands they know and trust during the pandemic. COVID-19 has made people more conscious about what’s in their closet.
To date, there hasn’t been a unified way to communicate the environmental or social impacts of products. According to a report from Compare Ethics, only 20% of consumers trust brand sustainability claims. The Higg Index transparency program establishes a much-needed consistent and credible framework that allows companies across the industry to speak the same language and enables shoppers to make purchases based on trusted data.
The purpose of the Higg Index transparency program is to give consumers credible information they can trust, evidenced through data. Higg Index Sustainability Profiles don’t include vague, or confusing statements and labels that lack a clear definition (e.g. eco-friendly, green, sustainable). Instead, shoppers can trust that all information in a Higg Index Sustainability Profile is based on the best available, independently reviewed data. Products that are part of the Higg Index transparency program pass through a rigorous external review process to ensure the information is credible and accurate.
- What are your top tips for consumers wanting to find out more about the origin of their purchases?
Florian: Consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of informed purchase decisions and in return they expect increased accountability and transparency from brands and retailers. The combination of both physical and digital traceability allows brands to easily verify the materials used in their products – this will become a key driver in the textile and fashion industry. When making purchase decisions, consumers can look for the Higg Index Materials seal which recognizes products made with lower environmental impact materials. The production of these materials releases fewer greenhouse gases, uses less water, creates less water pollution, and requires fewer fossil fuels than conventional materials. When shopping online, consumers can look for a brand or retailer’s Sustainability Profile to help them make more informed purchasing decisions.