June 23, 2021

Can transparency become a consistent measurable standard?

5 min read

The SAC (Sustainable Apparel Coalition), a global multistakeholder non-profit alliance for the fashion industry involving players lincluding Amazon, C&A, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, H&M, Helly Hansen, Norrona, Puma, Zalando and Lenzing, has recently launched a new program for disclosing data on a product’s environmental impact: the Higg Index Materials Seal.

Lenzing, a wood-based fiber producer, has joined SAC’s initiative with the aim to increase Lenzing products’ transparency.

Florian Heubrandner, vice president global textiles business, Lenzing, and Amina Razvi, executive director, SAC, explained how they are involved in the project.

What collaboration have SAC and Lenzing started together?
Amina Razvi (AR):
On May 27, 2021, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), its technology partner Higg, and a number of other global brands and retailers 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 industry-established chain of custody standards and content claim methodologies. These claims pass through an external review process in the verification protocol. Shoppers can get additional supporting information for a product claim by visiting Higg’s Sustainability Profiles website.

Amina Razvi, executive director, Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Amina Razvi, executive director, Sustainable Apparel Coalition

As a raw material manufacturer, Lenzing has submitted raw material data to the Higg Material Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) which forms the basis of all material product claims. We worked with Lenzing to leverage their traceability framework to verify product claims on the use of Lenzing’s raw materials, ensuring that claims made by brands are validated by Lenzing and credible.

What are your company’s newest projects meant to enhance supply chain transparency?
Florian Heubrandner (FH):
We’ve just announced our commitment to implementing the first phase of the SAC and Higg transparency program on a wide selection of products available in the US and Europe. Lenzing is the first wood-based fiber producer to have Higg approval and is supporting brands and retailers using Tencel branded fibers through an authentic verification process in issuing new product licenses. With the growing transparency demands of brands and consumers, it is becoming even more important to require manufacturers to achieve certifiable standards that authenticate their sustainability efforts.

To address our stakeholders’ concerns, we created a supply chain traceability platform–incorporating Lenzing E-Branding fabric certificates and a blockchain-enabled traceability platform powered by Textile Genesis. The platform allows brands and retailers not only to access the full supply chain traceability for Tencel and Lenzing Ecovero branded fibers, but to view the results of forensic physical verification of fabric samples via the digitally signed E-Branding fabric certificates. With this new system, the entire Lenzing ecosystem has an unprecedented level of transparency.

AR: Increased transparency in our industry is critical to achieve meaningful progress and true transformation. Our industry has been historically opaque, and without increasing transparency, at every level of the value chain, it will be difficult to hold companies accountable for their impact and spur the necessary innovation and collaboration needed to transform the industry.

How does the program work?
AR:
This first phase of the transparency program focuses exclusively on assessing the cradle-to-gate environmental impact of a product’s materials. A product’s overall material content is compared to conventionally produced materials in the categories of global warming, fossil fuels, water use and water pollution.

While the first phase of this program will focus exclusively on data related to the environmental impact of producing a product’s materials, it’s an important step towards a unified approach for industry-wide transparency. Future phases of the program will expand to incorporate additional data, including manufacturing and corporate responsibility. This will ensure that business and consumers have a holistic understanding of a product’s impacts on people and the planet and can use that insight to drive better, more informed decisions.

What targets do you aim to reach through this initiative?
FH:
At Lenzing, we are committed to greening up the supply chain and are excited about the opportunities that these new transparency initiatives bring. With increasing compliance and reputational risks, more fashion brands have committed to using sustainable fibers, with transparency being a core part of their business priorities.

Florian Heubrandner, vice president global textiles business, Lenzing

Florian Heubrandner, vice president global textiles business, Lenzing

As the awareness of sustainability grows, we see the need to continuously improve the level of transparency and traceability of our products, to make sure our brand credentials are well protected and trusted by industry stakeholders. By extending Lenzing’s effort on supply chain transparency, we hope to encourage the textile industry to become more sustainable, as it is through collective efforts that we can better safeguard the health of our planet.

AR: Transparency is essential to driving systemic change across the industry, and is one of the four core focus areas in the SAC’s new strategic plan. By 2025, the SAC is aiming to achieve 100% member participation in public-facing ratings of sustainable performance that are credible and trusted. The newly launched Higg Index transparency program marks the beginning toward achieving that ambitious goal.

Clothes made with Tencel

Clothes made with Tencel

Are the textile and fashion market asking for higher transparency? And isnt there a risk to fall into greenwashing?
FH:
Fashion is one of the most fragmented industries with highly opaque supply chains, which often makes it difficult for brands and retailers to trace the source of their products. Due to the lack of tracking standards or technology, brands usually can only identify their direct vendors such as garment producers or fabric mills. For other early to intermediary stages of production, it is difficult for brands to assess whether those sources are genuinely credible or ethical. Equally, 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.

Tracking and traceability of raw materials in the final product can ensure raw materials originate from responsible resources, comply with industry standards and thereby prevent usage of materials from controversial sources. In the long run, this will help improve the overall sustainability of the industry.

AR: 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. The Covid-19 pandemic 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 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.

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