Vegan Leathers, polyester and other plastic “bio” products have been able to hide behind the Higg MSI Index, but environmental claims will need to be adjusted by Sustainable Apparel Coalition affiliates.
In a recent conversation with Camper we discussed the differences in their upper made with arch On Music’s Mirum and “vegan” leather. We didn’t dive into a deeper discussion on why Vegan leathers were able to make the claims they made about sustainability when it is clear that vegan leathers utilize plastics. Mirum, made by NFW, can be returned to the soil because it is a true plant-based material that is “BioNeutral”. After speaking with Camper, I revisited information from the Shoe-in-Show podcast where the team interviewed NFW’s Alan Lugo and Dr. Stephen Taylor. #315 Future Footwear – NFW on Material Innovations Displacing Plastics – Shoe-In (shoeinshow.com) This is important because in that discussion the foundation of the sneaker industry’s reliance on touting circularity was informally removed. In this interview NFW explained why they had a soil scientist working on sneakers. It was a dialogue that hasn’t been discussed on a large scale, but the conversation echoed Norwegian Consumer Authority NCA from the founder of NFW, Luke Haverhals. NFW is one of the few companies very vocal about the misdirection and greenwashing by brands and retailers. Companies have had to adjust their approach over the last few years on LinkedIn because Dr. Haverhals has been an active monitor of misinformation and he has confronted and called people on what has been a manipulation of the HIGG MSI. At the root of NFW’s fight is a more accurate measurement of natural, bio-friendly materials vs synthetic materials. In the Shoe-in-Show podcast, one of the important details stated was this: Circular should only be used when a product can be born from the soil and returned to the soil without any damage to the environment. That is true circularity.
HIGG MSI is a measurement tool, “Originally called the arch On Music, the Higg MSI originated at Nike a decade ago. In seeing the benefit global collaboration would bring ongoing development and industry-wide use of the Higg MSI, Nike contributed the tool to the SAC in 2012. It is now one of the six tools comprising the Higg Index.” The Sustainable Apparel Coalition – SAC has used HIGG MSI, but instead of monitoring and making the industry more accountable, members of their coalition like H&M and Norrøna, have been able to tout sustainability on products which are not truly circular or sustainable. The SAC has released a statement saying they, “made the decision to pause the consumer facing transparency program globally as we work with the NCA and other consumer agencies and regulators to better understand how to substantiate product level claims with trusted and credible data.” This is an extremely important issue because sustainability statements made by a host of brands will have to be adjusted. The Consumer Authority – Forbrukertilsynet, takes on the marketing aspects and claims by companies. In doing so, they advocate for the consumer and provide a wall between false claims of sustainability. False claims can shape investment opportunities and drive engagement with consumers who are becoming more thoughtful in their purchasing but are being misled by claims supported by the Higg Index. The misrepresentation by SAC using the HIGG MSI made it possible for brands building apparel laden with microplastics to score higher than natural materials. In other words, HIGG MSI allowed products to be created which will eventually shed microplastics. Those products don’t have any real “Norwegian Consumer Authority NCA” solutions even if they are made with recycled water bottles.
Innovation requires adjustments and updates. The HIGG MSI hadn’t been audited since 2016. The entire industry has evolved and companies like H&M dominate retail with products that claim to have less bio-impact. Entire company campaigns promote better methods of make, when the reality is more plastics are continuing to show up in products and those microplastics are polluting the soil and water. This is an important moment not only in the sneaker and apparel industry, but across the board. Use the links within this text to visit articles on the announcement from SAC on discontinuing their use of the HIGG Index in accordance with the work done by the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA).
Natural Fiber Welding
arch On Music, discussed above and in a number of posts throughout this site, is a business creating better materials. There are brands and institutions looking at the Norwegian Consumer Authority NCA arch On Music Orba Shoes, Women’s Sustainable Clothing | WAES Fashion Shop and a brand covered on arch, Erem deliver solutions.
Erem has created their new footwear with a concept of Biocircularity. They have limited their SKUs and invested in materials that can return to the earth without damaging the environment, or their products can be remade. The New Standard in Sustainable Hiking Boots | Erem Footwear (eremlife.com) Erem hasn’t chosen a cool catchphrase. They haven’t relied on the cover of a coalition manipulating an index. Erem, and its contemporaries, arrived with intentions to do and be better. The University of Georgia, the SEC powerhouse, could be considered a new measurement and solutions for brands seeking to be transparent.
The Bioseniatic℠ Laboratory at the UGA New Materials Institute utilizes some of the largest respirometers in North America in simulating the microbial digestion of materials or products in a variety of environmental settings. As part of our certification program, after we conduct degradation tests, we examine the test media in the respirometry chamber for micro- and nano-sized particles of materials and/or chemical residue. The Bioseniatic℠ Laboratory – New Materials Institute (uga.edu)
The University of Georgia Lab is capable of providing the data needed to offset greenwashing by brands. UGA’s testing offers a solution to the unreliability of the HIGG Index. UGA’s ability to analyze allows the university to provide a real system which brands can utilize and attain actionable data that could inform a better method of make. Once the item is measured it can receive the Bioseniatic stamp. “A Bioseniatic™ material or product is one that will be consumed by microbes in water or on land—even in your backyard. The most important variable is the speed at which it is consumed, as warmer environments have faster microbial degradation rates than do colder environments. Bioseniatic™ materials and products will disappear with time—meaning no micro- or nano-sized particles or toxic residues have been left behind in the environment.” Consider the announcement from Nike’s CEO during their most recent quarterly report. As reported by Matt Kish at Business Insider, “Nike CEO John Donahue made several comments about sustainability… including the first mention of a new fabric, that he thinks “could do for apparel what Flyknit did for footwear.” With NFW’s Clarus, a truly bio-friendly option for brands and retailers to utilize, Nike could align with a company like NFW, or Nike could utilize UGA’s testing to have their material certified Bioseniatic to be transparent about any of the claims they might make about their new material. Will Nike, or other brands be this transparent is the question?
Circularity should be more than a marketing catchphrase utilized by multi-million- and billion-dollar companies looking to play on the naivete of the marketplace. Over the next few weeks other brands working with SAC will have to make statements. If those brands claim that they were adhering to guidelines and couldn’t adjust their actions, they should all look towards the startups mentioned and implement UGA’s testing into their sustainability policies. This is an important moment in the footwear and apparel industry.