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Zalando, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Higg Co introduce new global sustainability standard

By Simone Preuss

28 May 2020

Online fashion retailer Zalando, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and technology company Higg Co have announced their new collaboration, a new global sustainability standard for fashion brands and retailers, meant to accelerate sustainability industry wide. With SAC’s updated version of the Higg Brand & Retail Module (Higg BRM), Zalando - the first retailer to use this tool - will make sustainability assessment mandatory for brands selling on its platform.

As part of this push toward industry-wide change, Zalando will gather comparable sustainability data from its partner brands to understand where the challenges of the industry are both individually and collectively while Higg BRM data will help the e-tailer identify trends and explore how to develop solutions to drive meaningful and lasting improvement in collaboration with its partner brands.

“As Europe’s leading online platform for fashion and lifestyle, we want to raise the bar, act first and bring our partners on the journey to address today’s most important issues: climate change, use of resources and worker rights. As part of our sustainability strategy, do.MORE, we have made assessments around ethical and sustainable parameters for our brand partners mandatory. The Higg BRM will help us achieve our goal to continuously increase our ethical standards and by 2023 only work with partners who align with them,” comments Kate Heiny, director of sustainability at Zalando, in a press release published on Thursday morning.

German retailer Zalando setting sustainability requirements

The Higg BRM tool provides brands and retailers with a comprehensive way to assess their performance around ethical and environmental parameters such as human rights, fair wages and carbon dioxide emissions and can organise their sustainability priorities based on the results. According to the organisation, all SAC brand and retail members will eventually use the Higg BRM to measure their sustainability performance and progress, making it possible for the apparel industry to compare sustainability at brand level.

“Zalando’s decision to require its partner brands to use the Higg BRM will serve as a catalyst for bringing the industry together towards a standard system for sustainability measurement. This is how we can implement and achieve lasting change,” says SAC executive director Amina Razvi in the press release.

The new tool wants to streamline the current use of hundreds of certificates, labels and initiatives that can be confusing, especially given that brands and retailers have their own assessments and different goals. The new global sustainability standard wants to close this gap with a common method to measure sustainable performance.

Standalone technology company Higg Co was spun out of the SAC in 2019 to address this gap and develop technology behind the Higg Index and its suite of industry tools, including the Higg BRM, to accelerate global supply chain sustainability beginning with the fashion industry. Higg Co is currently working with Zalando to support the company and its partners during the implementation of the tool.

“The Higg BRM will establish a global standard for fashion brands and retailers to measure and talk about sustainability performance. For the first time we will have comparable data at brand level to identify improvement areas and work on solutions collaboratively. The SAC as an independent and globally structured organisation is positioned to drive this necessary change in the fashion industry,” explains Heiny.

“More strikingly than ever, the coronavirus crisis has brought to light many of the challenges the industry faces. Maintaining strong business relationships, leading with values of sustainability and compassion for the health, safety and well-being of workers around the world, and leveraging sustainability as a lens for both recovery and rebuilding will be critical for the industry,” adds Razvi.

While most brands and retailers put sustainability somewhat high on their agenda and follow at least some sustainable goals, measuring them in one comparable standard has been a challenge so far, leading to companies either getting away with sustainable goals that are too weak or not publicising their (strong) efforts enough. An industry-wide tool would certainly help, however, it remains to be seen how implementation efforts are progressing. As one of Europe’s largest online fashion retailers offering products from more than 2,500 brands, Zalando spearheading this move could have the desired effect of more big industry players coming on board.

Photos: Kate Heiny and Amina Razvi courtesy of Zalando