REI to Require Sustainability Standards From Every Brand It Sells

In major shift likely to transform outdoor gear, every one of the 1,000-plus companies it carries must conform.


REI just announced an ambitious new plan that will likely shape your outdoor goods retail experience in coming years.

By 2020, everything sold at REI—regardless of brand—will be held to seriously lofty sustainability standards. That bike rack you need to buy for your Subaru? It will be manufactured according to fair and safe labor practices, no matter what logo is on it. Need a new down midlayer? Responsibly sourced down will be your only option. No more sketchy flame-retardant chemicals on tents. Hydration systems completely free from BPAs. No sunscreen with reef-destroying chemicals.

If REI sells a product, they will have made sure it was made humanely, by fairly treated workers, with a minimal environmental impact. This will be true for all thousand-plus brands REI carries. The company can certainly afford to take this plunge, as it reported a record $2.6 billion in sales last year.

A sustainability initiative this far-reaching is a major undertaking for REI, likely to have ripples, if not outright tidal waves, throughout the entire outdoor industry as brands sold at REI begin to implement the new standards and as competing retailers take stock of their own sustainability approach.

“The standards we launched today are about raising the bar on everything we sell,” said Greg Gausewitz, REI’s product sustainability manager. “We’ve structured the initiative so that it’s feasible for any brand we sell—we’re not trying to pull the rug out from anybody. We’re providing collaboration and support to all our brand partners to achieve these standards.”

REI’s new program is built on two tiers: “brand expectations,” which are essentially a baseline set of attributes and sustainability practices REI considers to be requirements for a product to appear on the shelves, and “preferred attributes,” which might involve stringent third-party certifications and/or materials that adhere to the highest levels of sustainable production.

The two tiers are spread across everything from fair labor practices to organically-grown cotton, humanely sourced animal products, products sourced from environmentally-friendly supply chains, and a list of banned chemicals.

REI intends to help shepherd big and small brands along with the process of meeting their standards.

“Many smaller brands have found that incorporating sustainability into their production is complicated and they have trouble knowing where to begin,” Gausewitz said. “This initiative will be really helpful to them. We know these standards are feasible and we know they’re very scalable—these are industry-best practices.”

“It’s so beneficial to use the standards that REI sets forth as a foundation and a guide to help us prioritize our activities and work more effectively with our manufacturers and their suppliers,” Cam Brensinger, founder and CEO of NEMO said.

Trust plays a big part in the verification process, at least initially. Questionnaires sent to each brand probing their manufacturing and supply chain practices will be be used to monitor adherence to the standards, unless brands are participating in a certification like Bluesign.

But with the standards shaped with direct input from brands REI already sells, Gausewitz doesn’t expect verification to be a problem.

Should you expect a sticker shock from the new standards? Gausewitz stressed any potential cost bump associated with incorporating things like better labor practices or organically grown cotton will be mitigated by industry-wide adoption—that supply will meet demand, in other words.

“We don’t want customers to have to choose between affordable and sustainable,” he said.

The full list of standards can be viewed here.

 

Showing 13 comments
  • Greg
    Reply

    Awesome!!!

  • jim
    Reply

    I don’t really shop for high end gear at rei but i applaud their business move.

  • Kevin
    Reply

    Honestly, this will just make it easier for Amazon and competitors to run them out of business.

  • JoeBen
    Reply

    That could be done today by only buying Made in America products. Of course if they check with PETA on “humanely”, no down, no wool, no leather. Does Subaru fairly treat its workers? Don’t think they are Union Shops. Then sustainable, cotton requires petroleum products. So, no cotton.

    I’m not sure that it is the responsibility for a company ( I know that REI is a “coop”, ha, ha) to boycott products based on THEIR sensibilities of right and wrong in humanity. Leave that to the church and individual choice.

  • Joel Karki
    Reply

    Respect Earth, Inc. It’s a start.

  • Accidental FIRE
    Reply

    Trust plays a big part in the verification process, at least initially. Questionnaires sent to each brand probing their manufacturing and supply chain practices will be be used to monitor adherence to the standards

    While I applaud this in theory, it sounds like this will be mostly on the honor system. REI sells tons of stuff made in China like everyone else, do they really think they’re going to get honesty?

  • Taylor
    Reply

    If you’re truly looking for sustainable outdoor gear then how about buying locally and not supporting the big name sellouts that fire their career employees to exploit low wages and low pollution standards in developing countries. Take a look at http://www.AmericanGearGuide.com for the real sustainable alternatives.

  • Gary
    Reply

    Great if it’s real on the part of REI and not just eye wash. Having worked my entire career in environmental compliance for major corporations, and overseeing activities of suppliers, I know that some people will take this seriously and others will do a lot of handwaving. Hope REI develops a good audit team. That’s then only way these things work successfully. Trust but verify.

  • Kevin
    Reply

    Fair labor practices in China??? Buy USA, forget all of this mumbo, jumbo.

  • Bobby G
    Reply

    Wow, cynical much? You’re probably the same people who would slam REI for not doing enough. No standards are perfect, and just because your tent is made in America doesn’t mean its fire retardant coatings are any better for the planet than those in China. I applaud REI. They are big and imperfect, but like Patagonia they’re making what appears to be a sincere effort to use their influence to make the world a better place.

    • Kevin
      Reply

      Made in the USA means wages stay in the USA. I don’t see any reference to local sourcing and keeping the green here in REI’s new “sustainability standards”. Maybe if they talk more about local sourcing, the more people will listen.

  • jww
    Reply

    I just read that Apple announced today that they are now 100% green energy as a company, and have plans to move their suppliers to green energy as well. I think this is awesome.

    REI, Patagonia, and Apple are demonstrating that business can indeed be part of the solution to the global environmental crisis. Indeed, businesses are taking the lead where the government (Pruitt? Zinke? Yikes) is abysmally failing.

    They won’t be perfect, and they won’t entirely solve the problem on their own. But I know that I will be more likely to shop at REI when they have accomplished this.

  • Andrew
    Reply

    I think that this effort is a step in the right direction. By making the effort it encourages other companies and consumers to become more conscious. No it’s not perfect, but then again very little in this world is. This puts something big out there that they can build on in the future. Something is better than nothing. Bringing jobs back to the USA is a tough issue, especially when the consumer culture places value on the MSRP over where there products are made. Once the paradigm shift moves to the majority of people buying less stuff (albeit higher quality) with more value on its origin we will see more companies shift to USA made. Until then the best we can do as consumers is be vocal of our values and encourage others to do the same.

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