How the Higg Index is Transforming Environmental and Social Practices in Footwear Manufacturing

To be upfront: the Higg Index has no teeth. There are no bonuses for strong performance. There’s no punishment if scores are sub-par. So why is OrthoLite fully committed to an environmental and social welfare tool like the Higg Index?

The answer is integrity and leadership.

The Higg Index is the most sophisticated tool available for manufacturers to secure a cleaner, healthier future for people and for the planet. The fact that it meets brands where they are, instead of being punitive, is a central tenet of its strength. Companies that follow and report Higg standards are paving a path toward a better tomorrow by helping to elevate practices industry-wide.

We report to the Higg Index because we’re not working for a gold star. We’re working for clean water, less trash, healthier working conditions, and more sustainable operations. And through the Higg Index, we’re ensuring that the positive steps we make don’t exist in an OrthoLite vacuum. We’re sharing our successes, failures and tools with other manufacturers so we can accelerate the mission on a bigger scale.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re not proud of our scores! But more on that later.Higg Index Logo with Icons for Sustainability Manufacturing & Community

What is the Higg Index? A primer

For those not steeped in it, the Higg Index can be confusing because it’s both a guideline and a moving goalpost. At its core, it’s a tool for footwear and apparel manufacturers to gauge our environmental and social wellness management.

Originally established by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) in 2012, the Higg Index is now operated through Higg Co., the technology arm of the Coalition. The distinction allows for hyper-focus on solutions for participating brands. As Higg Co. states on its website, it intends to be nothing less than “…a vehicle of global change for massive environmental, social, and labor impact across manufacturing sectors.”

Companies report performance measurements across a variety of topics, including: water use, carbon emissions, and labor conditions. There are five optional modules with which to engage: brand and retail; materials sustainability; product; facility (environmental); and facility (social and labor). Based on data reported, scores are given to indicate how a company is performing against the current global standard.

The genius in the Index is that it aggregates all the information provided to consistently establish higher standards and best practices. Brands, retailers, manufacturers, government, and NGOs are now using the tool. The more participants, the stronger the data.

Transparent reporting means organizations at every stage of sustainability have access to a road map forward. Once a global benchmark is set, the goal is to raise the bar to encourage increased performance year over year.

OrthoLite is Consistently Delivering Top Scores

Richard Bevan is our VP of Operational Excellence and a champion for sustainability. In addition to our internal sustainability efforts, he engaged OrthoLite with the Higg Index in 2019, and oversees the intensive annual reporting.

“After nearly four years in the Higg process, we can be very proud of our scores and where we are,” says Bevan. “We’re at 90 to 92 in Vietnam, 52 in Indonesia, and we anticipate a score in the 80s in China. Globally, we are well ahead of the competitors.”

We’re using Higg in conjunction with our OrthoLite Manufacturing System (OMS), which builds on the concepts of LEAN manufacturing and amplifies the efforts across many performance categories. Combined, these tools are objectively deepening our knowledge base around sustainability and workplace well-being.

In practice, this means we’re able to make better choices and implement more beneficial practices for the environment, our teams, and the surrounding communities.

OrthoLite’s leadership in this realm, when partnered with the comprehensive information gathered via Higg, will help other manufacturers uplevel their practices, too. All companies engaged with the Index have access to credible, scalable processes — regardless of where they are on their path to more sustainable operations. We all learn from one another, and everyone benefits.

For our part, we are proud to be among the Higg score pacesetters. But sustainability is neither a zero sum endeavor, nor is it an endpoint that we reach someday. For OrthoLite, these scores represent our ongoing commitment to operational integrity and continual improvement.

Recognizing that all of our choices have environmental and human cost is fundamental to our ability to remain agile. We continue to seek better ways through our own innovations, through listening to our teams, and through learning from our industry peers.

Consumers Seek Transparency in Supply Chain Sustainability; Higg Will Deliver Credibility

As more consumers choose to align with brands that operate with environmentally-sound values, more brands are requiring the same from their suppliers.

A key goal of the Higg Index is to develop full product transparency across footwear and apparel supply chainsF. It’s an evolving process of gathering data, refining reporting tools, and establishing verification programs that in turn improve the accuracy of the data gathered. Instead of being a closed circle, it’s more accurate to envision the Index as a spiral that grows to encompass the more we learn.

In the future, the intent is to have all participating companies share their Higg scores. Supply chains in apparel and footwear are incredibly complex. For consumers, the scores will be a tangible and credible marker of a company’s commitment to sustainability.

So ultimately, Higg scores will provide three, distinct value propositions for participating brands and consumers.

  • Competitive advantage. Higher scores will demonstrate alignment with consumers who value environmental stewardship and human/worker well-being.
  • Industry transformation. Consumers are aware that footwear and apparel manufacturing is rife with environmental degradation, waste, and limited end-of-life solutions. Engaging with the Higg Index is verifiable proof that a brand (and its suppliers) are actively working to effect positive, lasting change.
  • Verifiable improvement in sustainability performance. Individual brands will have objective benchmarks against which they can demonstrate year-over-year improvement. Consumers will have transparent access to those beneficial changes.

Logging in high scores now is a point of pride for OrthoLite, though we’ll be the first to advocate that no brand should be shamed for a low starting score. If the Higg Index is to truly effect positive change, the primary metric of success will be the year-to-year improvement of scores across the industry.

We’ll keep striving to lead with high scores because doing better is part of our brand ethos. In the hopes that a rising tide lifts all boats, we’ll share both our successes and missed opportunities with the Index, with our brand partners, and with consumers.

As the Higg Index evolves into a consumer-facing tool, we’re optimistic it will provide clarity and consistency for consumers seeking to understand the supply chain maze. We’re optimistic that we’ll see widespread, collective change in footwear manufacturing.

And yes, though this is bigger than OrthoLite, we’re also confident that we’ll continue to lead the charge toward improving working conditions, community benefits, and environmental performance in manufacturing. Expect big things.



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We’re fueled by innovation, a deep understanding of our brand partners’ needs, true collaboration, and a dedication to limiting our impact on the planet—and it shows in every product we make. That’s how we became the global leader, and why we’re proud to partner with the best brands on earth.