Interview with Jason Kibbey

Jason Kibbey
Jason Kibbey
Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)
Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)

Compliance isn't enough
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is the apparel, footwear and textiles industry's alliance for sustainable production. The coalition's Higg Index is a standardised supply chain measurement suite of tools for the industry. The tools measure environmental and social and labour impacts across the supply chain. With this data, the industry can address inefficiencies, resolve damaging practices and achieve the environmental and social transparency consumers are demanding. CEO Jason Kibbey discusses sustainability measurement, responsible practices and more in an interview with Fibre2Fashion.

How has the SAC evolved since its inception in 2009?

The SAC began in 2011 through a commitment between Patagonia and Walmart. These brands sought to unite the apparel industry and establish a common system of sustainability measurement. This would enable companies anywhere in the world to assess environmental and social supply chain impacts in a standardised way and drive improvements across the chain. Today, 230 organisations belong to the SAC; they represent global brands, retailers, manufacturers, academic institutions, governments, and NGOs.

What were the initial thoughts behind developing the Higg Index? What were the parameters set?

By developing the Higg Index, the SAC aimed to establish a globally-recognised set of measurement standards so that companies could assess the environmental and social and labour impacts of their supply chains. Today, the Higg Index offers a holistic suite of tools that measure these impacts across the chain. From assessing materials to measuring a product's final footprint, the index enables users to benchmark sustainability performance. Using this trusted data, they can then make improvements to reduce negative environmental impacts and strengthen the communities where they operate.

Which apparel and footwear brands and retailers have high Higg index scores? Are those displayed in the care labels or hangtags?

This year, we launched a third-party verification programme for the Higg Facility Environmental Module. Through this programme, the Higg Index facilities can verify their self-assessments. Third party verification is a basic pre-requisite for transparently sharing information. We will begin to offer SAC members guidance, so that organisations can share their sustainability journeys with stakeholders. When we have comparable, credible and scaled data, we will offer members and Higg users guidance on how they can share scores publicly.

Which regions are more pro-active when it comes to adopting more responsible practices?

The apparel, footwear and textiles industry operates all over the world. There are examples of responsible practices in every region, and we recognise we still have a long way to go before everyone is following these examples. The entire industry must commit to responsible practices.

With so much greenwashing around, consumers are confused over what is sustainable/organic/eco-friendly/bio-degradable/recycled and what is not. What are your thoughts on this?

As the industry commits to implementing and sharing results from the Higg Index, consumers will gain a clearer understanding of how companies measure sustainability and how they perform. As the Higg Index provides the first common global "language," it will equip the industry and all its stakeholders, including consumers, to clearly understand sustainability and sustainability measurement.

How ethical are labeling and certification schemes?

We can't speak for other baselining and certification schemes. But we believe that sustainability information must be credible, comparable and independently verified to be publicly shared.

Are the Higg Index standards feasible for just big companies?

Any organisation in the apparel, footwear and textiles industry, regardless of size, can use the Higg Index. The SAC comprises both sustainability veterans and organisations brand new to measuring impact. The SAC offers all Higg Index adopters, regardless of company size, the guidance and support needed so that they can successfully implement the tools. By benchmarking performance, all companies can start to make improvements and move forward.

Does the Higg Index take into account better working conditions and fair labour practices?

Later this year, we will release a pilot version of the Higg Facility Social Labor Module, a Higg Index tool that will be informed by the Social & Labor Convergence Project (SLCP). The tool will assess a factory's workforce standards, its community engagement, and its external engagement on social and labour issues with other facilities or organisations. The SAC and SLCP will collaborate on successfully developing the first globally-recognised tool that assesses social and labour impacts in a standardised way.

A lot of big brands and apparel companies still have not disclosed the names and addresses of their supplier factories. What is SAC's take on making supply chain disclosure a part of the criteria for member companies or brands?

We recommend disclosure of supplier lists, but it is not a membership requirement.

What are the top supply chain challenges related to sustainability in the global apparel industry?

Brands and retailers must achieve transparency within their own operations, so they know from where their products are sourced and who works on their supply chain and begin continuous improvement on their whole supply chain. Basic worker health and safety as well as basic environmental safeguards still aren't guaranteed across the supply chain. The industry is still focused on compliance instead of continuous improvement - compliance isn't enough. (HO)
Published on: 13/06/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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