On childhood drives into Chicago with her parents, Amina Razvi MArch ’02 noticed large numbers of people living on the streets and vowed to help build homes for them. “That was a significant turning point for me,” she recalls. “It just seemed unconscionable.”
That passion for social justice eventually brought her to MIT to study architecture, with a focus on sustainable development. Now, as executive director of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Razvi leads a global partnership of more than 250 brands, manufacturers, and nonprofits to improve environmental and labor standards in the clothing industry.
At MIT, Razvi participated in a research project in Vietnam through the School of Architecture and Planning’s Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement (SIGUS). “It was eye-opening to see what living situations were like and catalyzed my thinking on how urban development and architecture could start to address some of these big systemic problems,” she says.
After MIT, Razvi spearheaded the use of green building techniques at Gap, with projects including the company’s first LEED-certified store. When Gap joined SAC—a coalition begun in 2009 by Walmart and Patagonia—she saw the potential of the group. Razvi became SAC’s vice president of membership in 2015 and its executive director last year.
We want to put this information in the hands of consumers so they are empowered to make purchasing decisions based on credible and comparable data.
At the heart of SAC’s effort is the Higg Index, a set of tools companies can use to measure sustainability in areas throughout the product life cycle, including materials, factory working conditions, transportation, and recycling. “The whole point of these tools is to provide a pathway toward performance improvement by giving you an understanding of where you are and a roadmap of what you need to do,” she says.
In 2019, the average environmental score of facilities using the Higg Index (measuring 2018 performance) increased by 7 percent. Preliminary results indicate an even higher increase for 2020. SAC spun the index off into a separate company in 2019 to further develop the technology behind it, and is promoting its adoption by other industries. SAC is also working on ways to verify the self-reported data behind the scores, as a precursor to making some of the data public next year.
“The MIT community will appreciate that it’s not an easy thing to translate complex sustainability data and simplify outputs from millions of data points,” Razvi says. “We want to put this information in the hands of consumers so they are empowered to make purchasing decisions based on credible and comparable data. Ultimately, that’s what’s going to transform the industry.”
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of MIT News magazine, published by MIT Technology Review.