The Preferred Fiber and Material Matrix
The Preferred Fiber and Material Matrix (PFMM) is an interactive tool intended for standards systems to view their performance across impact areas in a standardized way and toward a shared “direction of travel”, as well for brands to inform and guide material sourcing decisions. According to the EU Commission, it is estimated that over 80% of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase; therefore, sourcing decisions are critical in reducing environmental impact.
Originally conceived by Gap Inc. to help designers and product teams understand the benefits and trade-offs of their fiber and raw material choices, Textile Exchange adopted the PFMM in 2020. Since that time, we’ve been working to update and refine the tool, drawing on expertise from across the sector. Our overarching vision for the PFMM is for it to support the industry in taking an “LCA+” approach to decision-making related to fibers and raw materials.
We have implemented three key changes to the Preferred Fiber and Material Matrix so far:
Updated environmental impact areas
A systematic review of the previous version of the tool methodology indicated the need to update certain indicators within the existing impact areas to reflect the latest environmental best practices. All environmental indicators that were previously sourced from the WWF Certification Assessment Tool (CAT) have been replaced with custom indicators. We conducted an expert review of this updated methodology in September 2022.
Inclusion of biodiversity as its own impact area
Biodiversity was not included in the previous version, as we wanted to ensure that adequate time was allocated to developing indicators for this integral impact area. This has now been included. We worked with experts including The Biodiversity Consultancy to develop the biodiversity indicators.
Improved consistency, comprehensiveness, and scoring structure
Our aim is to develop a systematic approach to scoring within the PFMM that allows for flexibility and nuance across impact areas, while minimizing room for bias. Key updates so far include:
- The development of new types of indicators to demonstrate performance; the methodology now includes progressive and multiple-choice indicators.
- The introduction of management indicators focused on program strategy, across all impact areas.
- The development of specific indicators that are differentiated for raw material extraction vs. processing.
- The development of indicators that assess the “level of execution” of a given practice being implemented.
More details can be found in the current PFMM methodology document.
The public version of the Preferred Fiber and Material Matrix will launch in Summer 2023, and will include updates to the human rights, chemicals, and initiative integrity indicators. We’re also undergoing a review of the weighting of quantitative and qualitative indicators within the methodology. Finally, we’re working to refresh the tool’s user interface, aiming to provide greater transparency on the indicators and methodology.
After the public version is launched, our next phase of development will focus on expanding the number of standards systems available within the tool. We recognize there are many standards systems to consider including in the next phase, and we plan to prioritize according to the following criteria:
- High overall market volume
- High volume in top sourcing countries/region
- Standards systems that have been identified as having significant potential for positive impact
What is a Preferred Fiber and Material?
A fiber or raw material that delivers consistently reduced impacts and increased benefits for climate, nature, and people against the conventional equivalent, through a holistic approach to transforming production systems. Learn more.
About the Preferred Fiber Material Matrix
Within the PFMM, fiber or raw material standards systems are grouped within their material category. The PFMM currently includes the following material categories: cotton, synthetics, manmade cellulosic fibers (MMCFs), flax, and wool. Within material categories, fiber and raw material standards systems are assessed across environmental and social impact areas, on a scale of 0-4, with Level 0 representing “status quo” production systems in most cases and Level 4 representing “Transformational” performance.
The core impact areas assessed are: Climate, Water, Chemicals, Land, Resource Use and Waste, Biodiversity, Human Rights, and Animal Welfare. In addition, Initiative Integrity measures the robustness and governance of a given standards system. All sources are assessed for data quality, representativeness, and integrity. Read more on our data sources below.
The PFMM methodology currently includes 71 indicators, an increase of over 40% from the previous version.
The updated Human Rights and Initiative Integrity components of the methodology are being developed from January to May 2023, and will be included in the public launch of the tool in Summer 2023. As such, currently, the Human Rights and Initiative Integrity components of the PFMM still include WWF CAT indicators for the time being, but these will be phased out as the indicators are redeveloped.
We’re also working with experts to review and update the Chemicals indicators.
Finally, we’re working to refresh the tool’s user interface, aiming to provide greater transparency on the indicators and methodology.
Textile Exchange supports the use of other industry tools alongside the PFMM. For example, we recommend referencing Canopy’s Hot Button Report when considering sourcing decisions for man-made cellulosic fibers.
The PFMM includes both quantitative and qualitative data sources, providing a consistent framework to help identify preferred materials by category. More details can be found in the current PFMM methodology document.
The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) section of the PFMM is limited to normalized LCA data, from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) (see more below). Normalized LCA data is useful as it ensures that information is comparable and that percentage impact reductions are quantifiable. 6 of the 71 total indicators are based on LCA data.
Going beyond LCA data, custom indicators that consider both program requirements and demonstrable outcomes are incorporated across the environmental impact areas. Programs can achieve points for having explicit program requirements or by demonstrating positive environmental outcomes associated with their production system. Evidence of environmental outcomes is assessed for data quality, representativeness, and integrity. These qualitative indicators comprise the remaining 65 of the 71 total indicators.
Sustainable Apparel Coalition – The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI)
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) is a cradle-to-gate material assessment tool that calculates environmental impacts of materials. The Higg MSI uses peer-reviewed life-cycle assessment data to quantify the environmental impacts of material production from the extraction or production of raw materials through to manufacturing, finishing, and preparation for assembly. Environmental impact is measured in five areas:
- Global warming
- Nutrient pollution in water (eutrophication)
- Water scarcity
- Abiotic resource depletion, use of fossil fuels
LCA data from the Higg MSI provides the quantitative assessment aspect of the PFMM. In instances where data for the raw material or fiber program isn’t available in the Higg MSI, conventional production for the given fiber is used as proxy LCA data. We recognize the limitations of using proxy data where standards system specific LCAs are not available. To combat this challenge, in 2023, Textile Exchange and its members are investing in the development of high-quality LCA studies to fill key data gaps, including cotton, polyester, wool sourced under the Responsible Wool Standard, mohair, cashmere, and leather.
We’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the development of the PFMM, as well as those who shared feedback during the expert consultation process. For more information, please see the methodology document.
As the PFMM evolves further, we’ll keep exploring ways to collaborate and draw on external expertise.
Want to be involved? Please get in touch at email@example.com.
The Preferred Fiber and Material Matrix looks at how a range of standards systems are addressing specific criteria across key impact areas, while the Material Impact Explorer (formerly Global Fiber Impact Explorer) is a broader risk assessment tool incorporating 200+ country-level data sets. Information from the Preferred Fiber and Material Matrix will be embedded within the Material Impact Explorer as part of the assessment of risk associated with sourcing certified fibers. The Material Impact Explorer is scheduled to be released in late Summer 2023.
How to use the Preferred Fiber and Material Matrix
The PFMM is an interactive tool intended for standards systems to view their performance across impact areas in a standardized way and toward a shared “direction of travel”, as well for brands to inform and guide material sourcing decisions. According to the EU Commission, it is estimated that over 80% of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase; therefore, sourcing decisions are critical in reducing environmental impact.
Textile Exchange’s overarching vision for the PFMM is for it to support the industry in taking an “LCA+” approach to decision-making related to fibers and raw materials.
The PFMM was created to provide the industry with a user-friendly resource for assessing the standards systems within a material category, across a holistic set of environmental and social indicators. As each material type has different raw material feedstocks and production processes, they also have different hotspots and associated risks. As such, The PFMM was not designed to compare different material types, and Textile Exchange strongly advises against this (e.g., comparing cotton against polyester).
To ensure equity and transparency in the assessment process, only publicly available sources are used. Secondary research, also publicly available, may be used in addition to program documentation to determine scoring, including from academic or non-governmental organization sources.
Assessments of standards systems were conducted in Q4 of 2022 and were conducted using documentation available at the time.
A full list of the sources used to assess fibers and raw materials standards systems can be found in the methodology document.