Arbor x HM Product Demo: How does our sustainability data compare to the Higg Index?

Find out how Arbor's sustainability data stacks up against the Higg Index in this in-depth product demo. See how we account for missing data & region-specific
Updated on
November 6, 2023
Comparing Arbor & Higg Index's sustainability data
Table of Contents

“It all comes down to the data and the one source of truth. If you don't have that, you have nothing.”

- Kady S. SVP Global Marketing, Klaviyo

In a 2020 survey by the National Retail Federation, 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact. And out of the 71% surveyed, who say that traceability is very important to them, they are willing to pay top dollar for brands that provide it.

Consumers are purpose-driven and expect brands to "walk the talk" and drop the greenwashing. They are frustrated by the lack of transparency, increasing confusion around virtue signalling, and countless sustainable and ethical dilemmas.⁠

Companies are cutting it close, but it's not too late for them to do what is right.

The What:

“Digital tools based on comprehensive data sets spur knowledge exchange and innovation at an exponential rate.”

- Glasgow Caledonian New York College

Welcome to the Arbor Dashboard

It all started at Web Summit where we met Alan Boehme, CTO of H&M –who’s talk at Web Summit was entitled “What If?”, which was about moving past the traditional way of looking at things and asking “What if we could do this…?” instead– and, Linda Leopold, Head of Responsible AI & Data at H&M Group. Through this initial connection, we were able to get a meeting with their Head of Innovation & Incubation, Business Tech. H&M already uses Higg–hang tight, we will get into this– and we wanted to show them how easy our impact calculator can be applied to measure the impact of their existing products and how it differs from Higg –again, hang tight.

People in the sustainability field are visionaries. When they see what we are capable of measuring and showcasing without actually working with them, they start imagining, 'what could we accomplish if we did?'

“When we tell people the capabilities of our technology, they kind of look at us like we're having a pipe dream,” says Danny Grande, Arbor co-founder & CXO, “When we show people a quick demo, with no prep or materials from them, they really see the power of Arbor."

How did we do it? "We used the technology we had already built for our browser extension (RIP), the first generation of Arbor! This gave us a little bit of insight into how to create some wizardry to actually make it,” says Ben Grande, Arbor co-founder and CTO, “with a bit of wizardry we were able to rework the technology so that we can showcase demos for companies without having them take time out of their busy schedules to supply us with tons of product information.”

With our data, and apparently magic, we were able to show H&M their impact before we even met them.

The Why:

“What are the future key drivers of companies embracing ESG/Responsible Business/etc.? To date it has been investors. In the short term it will be driven by regulation.”

- Chatham House Panel on Responsible Business

Across the globe regulations are only going one way –in the way of exploitative capitalism. If both SMBs and SMEs aren’t planning for this, they could get crushed –and pay for it. In 2020, the European Union announced their plans and frameworks for sustainability regulations. These regulations would make sure that companies are accountable for upholding the environmental and social standards throughout their supply chains. This gives companies only three years to prepare for mandatory emissions disclosures. If they don't adapt in time, they with be left with a bleak future full of regulatory taxes.

And as of February 23rd, the EU introduced the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. According to Lucrezia Busa, member of the Cabinet of Justice of the European Commission, “this is the most ambitious legislation yet”. Here is just a taste of what it means for big business:

"This proposal aims to foster sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour throughout global value chains. They will be required to identify and, where necessary, prevent, end or mitigate adverse impacts of their activities on human rights, such as child labour and exploitation of workers, and on the environment, for example pollution and biodiversity loss. For businesses these new rules will bring legal certainty and a level playing field. For consumers and investors they will provide more transparency. The new EU rules will advance the green transition and protect human rights in Europe and beyond."

“The lighting bolt we have been waiting for,” says Bennett Freeman, Associate Fellow, Chatham House former Senior VP, Calvert Investments. If approved, member states will be given only two years to implement the requirements into national law. Important to note here is that the due diligence obligations laid out here also apply to companies based outside the EU but still operating within their borders.

Also coming down the pipeline is The EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) which is set up to help reduce the risk of carbon leakage by encouraging producers in non-EU countries to green their production processes. It’s a flip in the prices of sustainable vs. unsustainable goods, with tax incentives making sustainably produced goods perceivably cheaper.

2022 may just be the year of legislation, forcing the industry to take responsibility for its actions. You bet your bottom (billion) dollar that H&M is preparing for all of this. Enter Arbor. They came to us, because they know that applying data science –and processes to apply data analysis– support’s their strategic sustainability goals. It also allows them to measure and benchmark the performance of their goods to adapt in time. Remember: EU-based companies have only three years to prepare for mandatory emissions disclosures. Don’t just sit and wait for regulation.

How it Works:

Our product demo showcases a hands-free solution on any website and be automatically implement for any business.

Our Calculator + Your Carbon = Reductions

Just look at how we did it for H&M. “We were able to pull in all their products and actually showcase the demo”, says Ben, “it’s super easy and fully automated. You don't really need to bring in your development team to do it. You probably want to at certain times but the companies can just pretty much use it right out of the box."

We have the ability to showcase it on the product card as well. This means that H&M customer’s shopping in the brand’s Conscious Collection will see an impact symbol on the top right corner of the product card. These little symbols showcases the area where the product is doing well. And get this: adding the impact symbol is a customizable step that doesn’t have to be tagged on every product.

Impact Symbols in Action

So while you're scrolling through t-shirts, we can give you little insights into which ones are better for water use or which ones are better for CO2 emissions.

According to the most recent State of Consumer Spending report, consumers are willing to spend an additional 10% or more on sustainable products compared to data from 2019. Consumers are conscious and educated and know the impact of the products they are purchasing. By giving them what they want, brands will drive more traffic to the product pages and boost their conversion rates.

Don’t believe us? With one shoe company, we were able to redirect 137 shoe purchases to more sustainable ones. Out of that, we were able to prevent 15,000 kilograms of CO2 emissions, and saved over 221,000 litres of water. And with just one of those products, there was a 400% increase in conversion rates based on earnings per click. *chefs kiss emoji*

Then once the customer gets to the products page, they can see the actual impact of the shirt, sweater, or sweatpants that you have chosen to showcase.  

Here, we display the metrics in terms of balloons rather than just saying, “this is 136 Kilograms of CO2 for a pair of sweatpants” because, let’s be honest, nobody knows what that means. By displaying this number in terms of balloons it gives customers a better sense of what that actually looks like.

Arbor Data vs Higg:

We are thrilled to launch a first version of the Higg Index Sustainability Profile with material environmental performance scores now available on selected products in all our 31 European online markets & the US. This is a major milestone for us and something we have been working towards for a decade. We firmly believe transparency is key to transforming the fashion industry and we are excited to see this tool further develop so that we can share even more environmental and eventually social data with our customers across our products in the near future.”

- Pascal Brun, Head of Sustainability at H&M

“So Higg is actually a really cool tool too”, says Ben, “it allows for LCA [Life Cycle Assessment] analysis on Scopes 1, 2, & 3 or the GHG Protocol and gives each product a score based on the environmental impact of the materials. This isn’t quite how we do it at Arbor.”

What LCA means: It is a way to break down all the steps in a manufacturing process to understand how much waste is being generated and how many inefficiencies can be identified and corrected along the way. It includes all the information acquired from assessing the processes that a product goes through. This provides a brand with the average life span –or cycle– of their product.

What Sets Our Data Apart:

  1. We automate the process.
  2. We take an in-depth look at the product and feed it into our engine. This quick and easy step allows us to automate 80-90% of what consultants would have to do with Higg. What we are able to do at Arbor is take the average t-shirt based off of all of the T-shirts that we've crawled through the internet or, specifically, from all of our different clients. This lets us pull in all that data and gives us an average T-shirt value.
  3. “That is probably the best you're ever gonna get,” says Ben, “because with all the information we compare that to the t-shirt that you're actually looking at.”
  4. How we compare product to product.
  5. For example, when comparing textiles, Higg’s showcase feature only compares the fabric that an apparel item uses, to the conventional version of that fabric. That means it compares recycled polyester to conventional polyester. This is pretty limiting, since it suggests that conventional polyester is really isn't that bad (it's really bad). It is 0% better than conventional polyester.

The Limitations of Higg for H&M

Arbor, on the other hand, compares the impact of the actual item, to the average in its category. For example, a polyester t-shirt would be compared to all t-shirts –conventional cotton, organic cotton, you name it. The proof is in the metrics. You’ll see for yourself how much better it is for emissions to purchase a cotton t-shirt, and even better to purchase organic or recycled cotton. This is exactly the type of information consumers need to see in order to make the best decision.

We spoke to Caroline Priebe, adviser, strategist, and founder of the Center for The Advancement of Garment Making, and all-around sustainable data expert, about Higg. “I think two of the biggest challenges with the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) tool is that the LCA's behind this tool have a different scope for farmed and synthetic fibers they only measure "cradle to gate", says Caroline, “Comparing LCA's with different scope or methodology is comparing apples to oranges. "Cradle to gate" misrepresents the impact of a fiber that may have greater impact past the gate". Here is what she means: the LCA’s used by Higg to get the impact data from cotton start at the actual cotton seed, but the LCAs used for polyester don't start with the oil extracted from the ground. If this were taken into account, it would drastically add to the emissions footprint from polyester.

How Our Data Compares to Higg

Companies need to understand the difference between the metrics that are available to them. This will give brands like H&M the time-sensitive decisions needed based on their sustainability initiatives or climate/ESG targets. With the right metrics in place, they can pivot accordingly before getting slammed with legislation, and well, climate change.

How We Account For Missing Data:

“People keep saying to me, we must have data. The Higg MSI is the best that we've got.’ But it isn't data. It's just numbers. Worse, the 'mathiness' suggests that something accurate is going on, when exactly the opposite applies. [For example], there is no Chinese data in the Higg MSI - despite the fact that almost all globally traded silk [95%] comes from China.”

- Veronica Bates Kassatly, Independent Analyst & Consultant for data-based sustainability claims

But this isn’t just a Higg problem. We are also faced with insurmountable missing data from China. “They really keep their data on lockdown,” says Ben. “That's just the world. It really is difficult to get any data on the cotton or silk coming from China. And once it is out it’s after a huge delay. We're trying to fill in as best we can.”

And we are so close to finding a solution for it. How? With a bit of wizardry, machine learning, and detailed country data. Soon we will be able to estimate the impact of missing materials. Just wait.

The Future of Sustainable Data is Now

Reliable, accessible, data is the cornerstone to a transparent global fashion industry. And it is one of the most important tools we already have available for creating transformative change.

But we need metrics to track the transition. If brands and businesses aren’t measuring their metrics, they can’t track progress in a meaningful way. Nor can we ultimately locate where the most impactful avenues are to make evidence-based, data-driven decisions for sustainability. Through our demos we show brands how we understand and apply the data. That way they can truly start investing in the future of their company, their customers, and our climate. It’s that simple.

Ready to see how your products compare? Let us show you.

Thanks for reading!
Arbor x HM Product Demo: How does our sustainability data compare to the Higg Index?