Greenwashing, sustainability

Sustainability Index Tools – a Potential Greenwashing Promoter?

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), a fashion brands alliance, has declared that it will stop making sustainability claims based on the Higg MSI assessments due to greenwashing suspicions raised by fashion sustainability activists and the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA).

Launched in 2021 by the SAC, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) is a tool used to measure the environmental impact of materials in the apparel, footwear, and textile industry. The scores are calculated based on industry data and various product life-cycle assessments, thus facilitating benchmarking and comparability across multiple brands and companies.

250 companies including H&M, Norrøna, Nike, Primark, Walmart, Boohoo, Amazon, and Tommy Hilfiger have already implemented these rating systems on their product advertisements. They form the basis for the companies’ claims about sustainability, such as that certain products use over 80 percent less water compared to conventional materials or have a 10 percent lower environmental impact.

Fashion sustainability activists have heavily criticized this model, labeling it as a greenwashing tool that misleads consumers and spreads wildly inaccurate data about clothes and footwear. The reaction is in line with other concerns claiming that the SAC uses research funded by the synthetics industry to convince people that petroleum-based products are more environmentally sound than natural fibers.

After investigating Norrøna’s sustainability claims, the Norwegian Consumer Authority concluded that the data was misleading and the sustainability claims unsubstantiated. Moreover, it threatened the H&M group with economic sanctions unless it stops using MSI-related marketing messages by 1 September 2022.

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Catalina Sparleanu

Working with top experts to identify how the latest innovations and disruptive technologies will impact businesses, industries, and society. I have an academic background in social science (Ph.D. in Sociology), an MBA degree, and experience in private companies and NGOs.

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