As indicators of the health of our planet continue to decline, Patagonia recognizes that production of consumer goods is impacting the planet's natural capital and ecosystem services. By measuring this impact on biodiversity, Patagonia and other companies can make more informed decisions that lead to reduced negative outcomes. The expansion of the Higg Index, the primary measurement tool, is a critical step in alleviating some of the strain on natural systems.
Patagonia and a graduate working group from the University of California, Santa Barbara's (UCSB) Bren School, will assess the impacts of land use on biodiversity for four Patagonia T-shirts, each made from different materials: wool, polyester, organic cotton, and lyocell. These materials have different supply chains with different land use requirements: wool requires grasslands, polyester requires petroleum extraction, cotton requires land and water, and lyocell requires the use of trees (lyocell is a fiber derived from the cellulose of Eucalyptus trees). Furthermore, impacts to selected ecosystem services will be assessed including erosion regulation, freshwater regulation, and water purification.
The project will analyze impacts across various geographic regions. Facility-specific data will be gathered at each step in each product's supply chain. These supply chains have broad geographic scope: raw materials come from the United States, Chile, Argentina and South Africa; spinning and fabric mills are located in China, Mexico, the Netherlands, Thailand and Korea; and, cut/sew facilities are in El Salvador, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Data will also be collected at sites within the U.S.
The methodology developed will provide a model for integrating land use and biodiversity metrics into the Higg Index. Using the methodology to develop new Higg Index scores for operations at both the product and factory levels, Patagonia will gather additional data and critical experience in implementation. Higg Index scores and feedback from the process will enable the company to begin understanding and addressing impacts in 2015, and incorporating new strategies at the product design level by 2016.
The work plan for the first phase of the project will be finalized in June 2013.
Data collection will take place between June 2013 and September 2013. Information will be collected for each step in the products' supply chains on the amount of land used, length of time that the land has been used, and the type of land use at each location. Other information such as the amount of material ordered from vendors and suppliers will be obtained within Patagonia.
This data will be used to assess impacts to biodiversity. Biodiversity damage potential (BDP) will be used as the impact category, with species richness as an indicator and measurement of impact. Species richness, or alpha diversity, is a measure of biodiversity that counts the number of species in a habitat. Characterization factors for species richness for various land use types and regions/biomes will be used to quantify the impacts of land use to biodiversity within Patagonia's four supply chains.
Using land use data, impacts to three ecosystem service categories will be assessed: erosion regulation potential (ERP), freshwater regulation potential (FWRP), and water purification potential (WPP). To measure impacts to these categories the following indicators will be used: erosion resistance, groundwater recharge, and physiochemical/mechanical filtration.
The final report, delivered March 2014, will provide a comprehensive comparative assessment of the life cycle impacts on biodiversity from land use for four Patagonia products and materials: wool, lyocell, cotton, and polyester. A critical review will assess the effectiveness and weaknesses of the methodology, and suggest future improvements. Comparable tools for assessing impacts to biodiversity will also be reviewed and included in the final report.
March 2014- Fall 2014, Patagonia will pilot this approach throughout their supply chain.
Fall 2014-Fall 2015, the company will re-score products using these new additions to the Higg Index. Once the scores are in hand, Patagonia will be able to influence sourcing decisions with this knowledge. It will allow the company to make changes in raw material purchasing based on fact and not intuition.
Approximately 80 percent of the environmental impact of apparel from cradle-to-gate is in the supply chain. Managing this impact starts with measurement. In 2007, 80 companies in the Outdoor Industry Alliance (OIA) trade organization began a three-year project to create a tool, the Eco Index, that measures impacts along the value chain of consumer products: land use, manufacturing, packaging, shipping, use and care, and end of life. Building on this work, in 2010 Patagonia co-founded the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). SAC's focus is to create and implement an index, now called the 'Higg Index,' to measure the environmental and social performance of apparel and footwear products.
Ultimately, the Higg Index will help companies understand and quantify the environmental impacts of apparel and footwear products, alleviate redundancy in sustainability measurement efforts, and create a common means to communicate with stakeholders. The Higg Index, based on life cycle thinking, represents the leading effort to develop a practical and widely used supply chain measurement and management tool. It helps companies standardize their approach, and it enables the identification of opportunities for improvement and collaboration between stakeholders. Given the complexity of global apparel supply chains, the Higg makes measureable reductions in impact possible.
The Higg Index 1.0 is now being implemented in the supply chains of SAC members (100 companies representing over 30 percent of global apparel dollars). Nearly 10,000 facilities have been measured in all parts of the world. With measurement, management of the impacts in those facilities is proceeding. In fall 2013, SAC will release the Higg Index 2.0 that will include social and labor measurements, a module for individual product impact, and a Higg Index modified for footwear. This commitment expands the Higg Index to include land use and biodiversity measurements.