New REI Product Standards Raise Sustainability Bar for Outdoor, Retail Industries

Smack in the middle of the third year of its groundbreaking #OptOutside campaign, which began with a bold stand against the shopping rampage of Black Friday and has expanded into a global movement to empower its customers to embrace the great outdoors, REI Co-op today debuted a set of product standards aimed at elevating sustainability across the retail and outdoor industries. The new standards — which apply to each of the more than 1,000 brands sold at the co-op — will make it easier for millions of outdoor enthusiasts to choose more sustainable products.

For 80 years, REI has been a trusted outdoor brand, offering quality gear selected by knowledgeable, passionate staff. 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 support better ways of doing business — true to the company’s ethos of embracing the better things in life.

“One of the most exciting things we’ve done in the past year was done completely behind the scenes,” says 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.”

  • Fair and safe supply chains all brand partners must have an effective manufacturing code of conduct that outlines the social and environmental standards to be upheld within their supply chain, based on internationally accepted fair labor principles and practices, such as those outlined by the International Labour Organization, with a preference for fair trade certification.
  • Chemicals management — each brand is expected to have a restricted substances list, and REI encourages Leather Working Group certification and use of the bluesign® system for applicable products.
  • Land stewardship — REI encourages brand partners to use FSC-certified materials, as well as organic cotton and other organic ingredients in applicable products.
  • Animal welfare — all applicable partner brand products supplied to REI must meet humane standards for down, wool, and animal fur and exotic leather; with a preference for adherence to the Responsible Down Standard or Traceable Down Standard, and the Responsible Wool Standard.
  • Environmental management — all brand partners in the apparel and footwear industries are expected to complete the Higg Index Brand Module annually; and REI encourages use of recycled and FSC-certified materials where applicable.

The standards were shaped by input from dozens of partner brands of various sizes and product categories. This input helped to ensure the standards are feasible, address the most relevant topics and reflect 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, SVP of research, innovation and sustainability for the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). “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.”

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 environmental best practices.

Visitors to REI.com can now shop by sustainability attribute, by searching for terms such as “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. Learn more about REI’s preferred sustainability attributes on the Co-op Journal.

“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, director of sustainability at prAna. “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. 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,” Thurston says.

Today, REI also published its 2017 Stewardship Report, highlighting 80 years of doing business differently on behalf of members and the outdoors. In its 80th year, the co-op turned record sales into record impact, reinvesting nearly 70 percent of profits into outdoor communities and advocating for public lands and gender equality.


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