Improving Sustainability in the Apparel and Footwear Industries with Higg FEM


Sustainability has been a major concern for the apparel and footwear industries for several years. In this article, we look at how the Higg Index Facilities Environmental Module (Higg FEM) can help businesses measure and drive improvements in the performance of their facilities.

Consumers are increasingly demanding products that are sustainable, and regulators can no longer ignore the impact of harmful production processes associated with the production of clothes and footwear. The full environmental impact of these industries is now well understood, with many operators looking to improve their manufacturing sites to make them more sustainable.

Several different programs have been developed to help manufacturers improve their environmental footprint. These include the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) program, the Amfori BEPI platform, and initiatives by both the Leather Working Group and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).

Successful implementation of these programs requires the operator to adopt a tool that enables them to accurately assess their improvements. When considering what self-assessment tool to adopt, they should consider:

  • How well the tool is adopted?
  • Does it promote continuous improvements?
  • Does it cover the needs of the client?
  • Can it be easily rolled out to cover the scope of the organization?
  • Is it widely used within the industry?
  • Does it reduce audit redundancy?


Whichever tool they choose to use, it must provide them with the right information to allow them to see where they are making improvements and where further effort needs to be placed.

Higg Index Facilities Environmental Module (Higg FEM)

Launched in 2012 by SAC, a nonprofit group founded by fashion companies, non-governmental organizations and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Higg Index is a self-assessment tool to help operators in the textile, apparel and footwear sectors evaluate their sustainability. The latest versions include greater integration between the chemical objectives of ZDHC, the Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) and SAC.

Higg FEM has the widest adoption of any assessment tool, with nearly 13,000 facilities completing a self-assessment this year. In addition, between 2,000 and 2,500 of these facilities will have their results verified by an independent third-party organization operating in accordance with SAC Higg verification protocols.

A key advantage of adopting Higg FEM is that operators own their own module. The means they can share their information with stakeholders, thereby improving trust in their operations and reducing the need for extra audits. The system is contained on an online platform, making it easy to share and also easy to rollout across long supply chains.

Higg FEM covers the main environmental aspects that are critical for the textile, apparel and footwear industries. These include the management of:

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Wastes
  • Air emissions
  • Wastewater effluent
  • Chemicals


The tool contains qualitative criteria for assessing the management system, as well as quantitative metrics for measuring performance.

Businesses that choose to have their Higg FEM assessments verified, must work with an approved independent organization, such as SGS. Verification is conducted on an announced or semi-announced basis and can be performed either onsite or offsite, although an offsite verification cannot be publicly shared. In addition, if the facility uses chemicals as part of its production, the audit will only be able to cover Levels 2 and 3 of the Higg Index following an onsite assessment by an approved chemical specialist verifier.

Higg FEM assessment follows an annual cycle. Facilities will begin Higg FEM 2020 in November 2020. They have until April 2021 to complete their self-assessment and can start sharing their results with stakeholders from January 2021. The verification cycle starts in January 2021 and ends in December 2021.

SGS Solutions

SGS operates the largest global network of Higg FEM qualified verifiers and are continuously growing our capabilities to match the expansion in demand for these services. Verification can either be performed offsite or onsite, with the latter offering a more robust review of the facility that will generate greater trust among its stakeholders. Additional services include onboarding seminars, consultancy services and data analytics to help improve performance.

Learn more about SGS Environmental Audit Services.



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