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Dutch, Norwegian Regulators Issue Guidance on Controversial Higg Tool

An example of Higg's product sustainability profiles
An example of Higg's product sustainability profiles. Higg and SAC.

The Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) and Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) have jointly authored an 11-page document outlining how the Sustainable Apparel Coalition should improve the underlying data, claims and presentation of its Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) tool to avoid misleading consumers and falling foul of greenwashing.

The Higg MSI tool measures and benchmarks the environmental impact of preferred fibres relative to their conventional counterparts. After years of being used by SAC members, it was rolled out as a consumer-facing label for a small number of products and brands in May 2021.

The authorities’ guidance calls for the SAC to better substantiate the Higg MSI’s claims, seek an independent third-party review of data and methodologies, and regularly review data that may be outdated or not intended for comparison. Claims about a product’s environmental impact should also be put into context, with the limitations of the data’s scope clearly explained and presented to consumers, the document says.

The guidance is not legally binding, instead offering the authorities’ interpretation of EU consumer law. The SAC said it will “work through this guidance with legal and topic experts to explore the feasibility of application while ensuring any resulting methodology and communications are in line with the wider European framework,” in a statement issued Tuesday. It also highlighted that the Higg MSI is currently undergoing a third-party review.

This is the latest development in the SAC’s brush with regulators and troubled rollout of its consumer-facing product labels. Earlier this year, after banning Nørrona and warning H&M against using the labels, the NCA ruled that brands’ use of Higg MSI data in consumer marketing had the potential to mislead customers, prompting the SAC to suspend the labels.

It also comes amid a broader crackdown on fashion companies’ sustainability claims in European markets. Last month, H&M and sports retailer Decathlon dialled back their green claims and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to sustainability causes, in order to avoid sanctions by the ACM. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating the green claims of retailers Boohoo, Asos and George at Asda.

Learn more:

How Brands Should Navigate Fashion’s Greenwashing Crackdown

Companies including Boohoo, Asos and H&M are in the crosshairs, as mounting scrutiny of green claims ratchets up the pressure on brands to credibly back up any sustainability messaging.

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