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Leon Kaye headshot

REI Elevates Sustainability Standards to Cover Entire Supply Chain

By Leon Kaye

REI has long been a sustainability champion, from encouraging consumers to skip Black Friday, to its sponsorship of outdoor events, to the expansion of its popular “garage sales” of gently used or worn goods from solely its brick-and-mortar locations to online.

Yesterday, the popular outdoor apparel and gear retailer announced that it would roll out rigorous sustainability standards across its supply chain. The more than 1,000 brands that can be currently found on REI’s stores or its web site, insists the co-op, will “make it easier for millions of outdoor enthusiasts to choose more sustainable products.”

These new standards outline REI’s expectations for how apparel and gear manufacturers should adhere to the company’s desired level of environmental, social and animal welfare impacts – based upon what the company says it has done over the past several years with its own suite of branded products.

According to REI, these standards were shaped by feedback from dozens of partner brands, from small firms to global apparel giants, which together manufacture the varied product lines found in the company's stores. Years of participation with the Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group and other sustainability forums also were attributed to helping the company frame this 12-page document. The company claims these updated standards are feasible, focus on the most pressing environmental and social challenges and are reflective of the outdoor gear industry’s best practices.

Standards of which REI’s suppliers now need to be aware include fair trade certifications, the Leather Working Group, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and animal welfare guidelines including those that cover responsibly-sourced wool and down.

“We work with more than 1,000 brands, both large and small. Some, like prAna and Patagonia, are on the leading edge in integrating sustainability into their products and supply chains. Others may have a keen interest in sustainability but lack the resources to fully implement a program,” says Matthew Thurston, REI’s director of sustainability in a public statement. “We’re in a unique position to unite our brand partners around a common goal, by sharing best practices and resources that we’ve learned from both our own work and that of the brands we work with.”

Based on recent sales, REI is bullish that this accelerated commitment to sustainability can help the company perform strongly at all levels. The company also announced yesterday it reaped over $2.6 billion in sales during 2017, added 1 million more new members and that 70 percent of its profits went back into “community” – defined as the support of employees’ retirement programs, supporting outdoor-oriented nonprofits, work on outdoor trails for which the company funded - as well as the return of annual dividends to what is now as many as 17 million members who shop at its 151 stores across 36 U.S. states.

Image credit: REI

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye