The Higg Index
For those of us lucky enough to have basked in the glory of pristine wilderness areas and protected natural wonders, it's no great surprise that most of us understand why measures need to be taken to keep such areas as is, free from new development so future generations will be able to experience these places the same as they can be experienced today. Not everyone gets to have such experiences, however, and so it makes just as much sense that some people advocate for more roads and buildings, more factories and less trees in the name of job creation and financial gain. Why try to protect something you don't know anything about? There's a bigger question at play here: How do you get people thinking about these issues?
Writing for National Geographic's Beyond the Edge blog, Avery Stonich, the communications manager for the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), shares one way consumers might become more familiar with vital issues of environmental stability by doing little more than buying sportswear manufactured by some of the world's most popular brands. As the OIA press release explains: "The Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group (OIA SWG) is a volunteer collaboration among more than 250 outdoor industry brands, retailers and suppliers working to identify and improve the environmental and social impacts of their shared global supply chains." Building on established supply chain protocol used by various companies, which include Walmart, Nike, Target and H&M, members of this global organization have compiled their resources to form the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) Higg Index. As Stonich explains: "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."
Here's more from the press release: "Designed to be a transparent and open-source tool for comprehensive measurement of products, the current version of the Higg Index focuses on measuring desired environmental outcomes in the following categories: water use and quality, energy and greenhouse gas, waste, chemicals and toxicity. The SAC is working continuously to refine the tool further, and a future iteration of the Higg Index, slated for release in 2013, will also incorporate key social and labor metrics."
Obviously, it serves these companies to have people know that they are making manufacturing and delivery decisions based on factors beyond the bottom line, in the name of environmental and social responsibility. Such actions do help bring a larger conversation to the fore in unlikely places, like bog-box retailers. It would be naive to think that these organizations and companies don't have their own livelihoods in mind, but there is definitely value in consumers knowing that myriad decisions are made about the materials and methods used to get a jacket or pair of shoes in a store and that these decisions do in fact have an impact on the world at large.
Stonich writes: "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." Yes, pretty cool indeed.