Small steps in the right direction

At RESET we started 2018 optimistic that Higg FEM 3.0 would conjure up much needed impetus to a sector seeking to reduce the environmental impacts of manufacturing at scale.  However as FEM recently beat out the trade war and the IPCC special report to win RESET’s 2018 ‘most likely to induce office profanity’ award, our mood has changed.

Until September, the FEM rollout was pretty much a disaster. Deadlines were delayed, sometimes by months. Factories couldn’t get their data in, brands couldn’t get it out. The online tool bugged, crashed and generally regarded users with suspicion.

To be fair the situation is improving and November’s new ‘Streamlined’ Higg Index release– the latest in a long line of updates, patches, tweaks, apologies– continues the SAC fight against the forces of entropy. With the latest update, we see improved formatting significantly reduces online time for most common tasks, the verification process is simplified, and an imminent fix allowing brands and factories to connect more easily with each other online is promised.

Long may this trend continue. Unfortunately beyond the warm fuzzy world of SAC press releases, market confidence in the FEM has taken a hit. Especially in Asia and especially with teams working in or close to the factory.

There is anecdotal evidence to support this. At SAC’s recent Manufacturers Forum in Hong Kong only about 20% of the audience was in fact a manufacturer. Several major brands have introduced the tool as an ‘option’ for factories or delayed implementation. And the number of factories generating verified data appears to be a significant minority of total sites, because most brands are not yet relying on Higg data to make decisions.

In RESET’s view Higg FEM– in tandem with the ZDHC toolset– remains the only chance of achieving a single, unified approach to measuring and benchmarking factory performance for the sector in the short term.   

And we need this– for solutions to Detox, for Science Based Targets and for management of water risk. But if SAC can’t deliver the practical, cost effective, time-and-resource-saving tool that was promised, then factories will not use it and most brands and retailers won’t ask them to.  

FEM is not too big to fail. It shouldn’t be too complicated to succeed either.