REI recently released its 2010 Stewardship (corporate social responsibility, or CSR) report. With its successes the last several years, REI offers a template for other companies, particularly retailers, which try to solve the riddle of increasing revenues while slowing the effects of their carbon footprint.
Outdoor lovers flock to REI for their cutting edge equipment and clothing. No matter how much you eschew cities for wilderness, however, all that inventory, shipping, and managed real estate have their effects on people and the planet, and REI tackles those challenges aggressively.REI’s management has long used its greenhouse gas emissions to help them make strategic business decisions, and this year’s report is another such demonstration. The company established its employee commuting policy, climate-neutral travel framework, and improved shipping procedures based on those metrics. As a result, while 2010 sales increased 14% from 2009 to 2010, its total climate impact only increased 7.3%. Meanwhile, despite adding four new stores and moving two locations to larger spaces, REI overall decreased its energy consumption by 2.4%.
Along with its energy efficiency initiatives, REI took additional steps to decrease waste and its total paper consumption. REI admits that it still churns through paper because of its direct mail campaigns and catalogs, but the company optimized its catalogs, explored additional media such as mobile devices, and meanwhile increased the share of FSC-certified paper in the mailings it did distribute. In the meantime REI is looking for alternatives to its stock of shipping boxes and is researching how it can streamline its packaging materials, too. To that end, REI claims it is going far beyond the old mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” and is working with organizations like the Outdoor Industry Association’s (OIA) Eco Working Group to meet the holy grail of zero waste by 2020.
Finally, REI is looking at the long term. It established a new product stewardship vision, and had a role in the creation of the OIA’s Eco Index to measure the long term impact of its products. The company also emphasizes community work, working on a bevy of initiatives from philanthropy, conservation advocacy, and getting kids away from the computer and outside to play.
CSR reporting mavens will find plenty of data to crunch. The report is almost pedantic, with each page posing the issue, then posting charts of data, disclosing results, and then discussing what lies ahead. It may not use Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines, but REI could give the Amsterdam lesson a few pointers on creating a concise reporting framework.