REI Co-op yesterday debuted product sustainability standards that apply to each of the more than 1,000 brands sold at the co-op. The announcement, made as the co-op celebrates its 80th year. REI says its standards will make it easier for millions of outdoor enthusiasts to choose more sustainable products.
“With the formalization of these standards, the co-op is making a promise to its customers that gear purchased at REI will not only perform, but supports better ways of doing business – to shape the future of a life outdoors,” announced the company.
The REI Product Sustainability Standards outline the co-op’s expectations for how brands manage key environmental, social and animal welfare impacts, building on work that REI has done over many years to advance sustainability within its own brands. The standards reportedly were shaped by input from dozens of partner brands of various sizes and product categories, and were informed by years of participation in the Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group and other key sustainability forums. REI believes this input helped to ensure the standards are feasible, address the most relevant topics and reflect best practices.
“One of the most exciting things we’ve done in the past year was done completely behind the scenes,” says REI CEO Jerry Stritzke. “We’re collaborating with partners across industries to advance sustainable business practices, and as a result are completely changing the conversation around sustainability for the U.S. outdoor industry.”
The standards, as well as resources designed to help brands deepen their own sustainability efforts, will be made available to any retailer that wishes to use them. Alongside the standards, REI is debuting a list of preferred sustainability attributes, highlighting brands and products that are manufactured according to social and sustainability best practices.
“This effort to advance sustainability across an entire vendor base is among the most comprehensive in the U.S. retail industry,” says Adam Siegel, senior vice president of research, innovation and sustainability for the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “By going so broad with requirements for their suppliers and approaching this with such a spirit of collaboration, REI has not only moved their own operations forward, but they’ve raised the bar for the entire industry.”
Visitors to REI.com also can now shop by sustainability attribute, by searching for terms like “organic cotton” to find clothing made with resource-conserving farming practices, or “fair trade,” which promotes safe, healthy working conditions and sustainable livelihoods as products are created and sold.
“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. “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.”
“We are proud to be a leader in REI’s collaboration project around sustainability and product standards,” says Rachel Lincoln, prAna director of sustainability. “Our individual goal is to advance the principles of sustainability in the global apparel industry, supporting the implementation of these standards is just a start in our partnership with REI.”
“At NEMO we believe great design adds value to the world; not just for our end users, but throughout the value chain. Working hand-in-hand with a trusted leader in sustainability like REI helps small brands like NEMO maximize our impact,” says Cam Brensinger, Founder and CEO of NEMO Equipment, which was recently named REI Vendor Partner of the Year. “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.”
Some of the new requirements, such as establishing a manufacturing code of conduct for supply chains, take effect immediately, while others that may take additional time for brands to meet have an implementation deadline of fall 2020 product lines. For example, by 2020, REI will no longer carry any sunscreens or sun-protection products made with oxybenzone – a chemical known to exacerbate bleaching in coral reefs. Each brand is also expected to have a restricted substances list, which specifies which chemical substances are banned or restricted in their products. Other expectations outline key impacts to be managed in specific product categories.
“No single brand can move the needle on sustainability alone, but by working together we have the potential to make a big impact,” says Thurston.