Higg FEM: What’s New in Version 4.0?

The Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) may not hog the headlines, but keeping it spiffed up can go a long way to providing the better breed of data the fashion industry both craves and needs, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) told Sourcing Journal.

Last month, the multi-stakeholder trade group linked arms with Worldly, the impact intelligence platform formerly known as Higg Co, to push out version 4.0 of the tool, a “manufacturer-first” mechanism that captures the environmental impact of product manufacturing at facilities, from water, energy and chemical use to waste management.

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With significant regulatory changes on the horizon, it was time for a “major update,” Jeremy Lardeau, vice president of the Higg Index at the SAC, said of the Higg FEM, which was last revised in 2017. Better usability is one big improvement, as is data assessment that more closely aligns with global industry standards such as the GHG Protocol, Science-based Targets initiative, and ZDHC Roadmap to Zero.

The tool now offers a “deeper look” into environmental issues not previously covered, such as groundwater and soil contamination. Conversely, the questions that make up the assessment have been streamlined so they’re more specific to a facility’s processes. New benchmarking opportunities across facilities can also “aid decarbonization pathways” among suppliers, he said.

Lardeau expects the quality of data to improve. Not only will jettisoning irrelevant questions leave less room for misunderstanding but a new “anomaly detector” designed to identify and flag errors in real-time will also weed out potential inaccuracies, he said.

“Some of the questions in Higg FEM 3.0 did not allow a meaningful, comprehensive analysis on how the industry was performing and/or lacking,” Lardeau said. “Many questions were too generic and inclusive of multiple areas, making it difficult to identify true areas of improvement.”

For suppliers, the Higg FEM can help “prioritize long-term success” by providing a more comprehensive yet consolidated approach that covers key priority areas listed not only in different brand initiatives but also existing and pending regulatory requirements, such as the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. For buyers from Amazon to Zalando, adopting a single assessment and verification program can reduce the duplication of third-party assessments and, in so doing, take a swing at so-called ”audit fatigue,” which fritters away time, money and resources.

Future iterations will also integrate the beleaguered Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), which a recent third-party review suggested shouldn’t be used in isolation but rather in tandem with other tools to present a more holistic view based on regularly refreshed primary information.

The fallout from the MSI has prompted the SAC to change its tack, moving away from its previous efforts at consumer-facing labeling and taking a more action-oriented position with the data it collects, particularly in terms of how it can be translated into tangible impact in partnership with the likes of the Apparel Impact Institute and Textile Exchange. Further change is in the air for the organization, which is seeking someone to succeed long-time head Amina Razvi, who will step down as CEO later this month.

“We acknowledge that the industry is continuously evolving, and we will continue to evolve our tools accordingly,” Lardeau said, noting that more than 400 facilities were involved in testing the latest iteration.

Right now, the tool is the industry’s most comprehensive assessment of a facility’s impacts, one that “pushes for better environmental practices and identifies areas of opportunity,” he said.

“Higg FEM 4.0 is a tool built on member, user and stakeholder feedback,” Lardeau added. “This update was not possible without our community and the feedback that we received over the past two-plus years. We’re proud to have built a tool that reflects the needs and priorities of our members and direct end users.”