As consumers hit the stores this holiday season, REI is reminding them to vote with their dollars. Pointing to its own recent success in packaging waste reduction, the company argues that choosing an environmentally friendly product in a sustainable package sends a strong message to manufacturers in the final weeks of the year.
The outdoor apparel brand made headlines last month for cutting energy use at its data center by 93 percent, but it's also making strides in sustainable package design. TriplePundit pinpointed REI as a packaging trailblazer back in 2011, and key innovations have since helped the brand reduce consumer packaging by 36 percent - designing out more than 1.4 million pounds of waste, the company said.
"We must go beyond the traditional 'reduce, reuse, recycle' model to eliminate waste at the front end of the manufacturing process," the company said in the overview of its waste and recycling strategy. "And, we must carefully examine and reengineer practices attached with waste generation throughout our operations."
With a goal to reach zero waste-to-landfill by 2020, REI's current packaging guidelines eliminate PVC and seek to maximize the use of post-consumer recycled content, agricultural waste and textile scrap. In an effort to further reduce the impact of its packaging, the brand switched to FSC-certified paper with high recycled content for hangtags and paperboard and swapped out virgin plastic for recycled polypropylene fasteners made from melted hangers.
REI was also one of the first 20 companies to sign on to the How2Recycle Label program from GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which finished its soft launch earlier this year. Modeled after the successful On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) system used in the U.K., How2Recycle is billed as a straightforward label that gives consumers detailed information about packaging materials and proper disposal.
"Consumers are faced with a confusing landscape of material and recycling messages that are often inconsistent or misleading," GreenBlue Senior Manager Anne Bedarf, who has led development of the label for the SPC, said in a news release. "We believe this label will help consumers and companies more effectively communicate recyclability and contribute to more successful resource recovery."
On all REI hang tags, as well as packaging for REI Multi Towels and some Novara bike products, the label clearly identifies each material used, provides recycling guidance and specifies when a packaging component is not recyclable. The SPC hopes to have the label on the majority of consumer goods by 2016.
While reducing overall consumption may be the best bet for those looking to shrink their environmental impact this season, REI is right on target in suggesting that analyzing a product's entire lifecycle - from manufacturing to packaging disposal - can help send a message to the consumer products industry that sustainability is something shoppers care about. More than 85 percent of consumers reportedly care about sustainability, and keeping up the trend throughout the holiday season certainly couldn't hurt when it comes to driving innovation in 2014 and beyond.
Image credit: How2Recycle.info
Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Mary also contributes to Earth911; her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.