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Honey, We Shrunk the Electric Bill: REI and the Path to Sustainability

When it comes to the environment, can business be part of the solution? Conventional wisdom says that growing a business means increasing environmental and social impacts. More sales must mean more trash to the landfill and burning more coal to make the electricity that keeps our lights on… right? 

Maybe not.

REI Energy Use ChartAs a co-op devoted to getting people outdoors, enjoying nature and taking good care of it, REI is out to chart a different future for business. And we're starting to show some results. Parts of our 2010 stewardship report tell a more hopeful business story: We don't have to be part of the problem—and maybe business can be part of the solution to some of the world's biggest challenges.

Take a look at our energy use for example. Over the past 2 years REI has increased sales by about 16%, added 9 new stores (about 8% increase), added shifts at distribution centers and expanded our business in other ways. But instead of increasing the amount of energy we use, we've actually decreased our total energy consumption for 2 years in a row. That's about a 4% reduction in total energy use measured in thousands of British Thermal Units (MBTU), a measure that combines electricity and natural gas use.

Solar panels on REI San Francisco storeHow'd we do it? Through aggressive energy-efficiency efforts such as installing new lighting, improved heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and by building energy-efficient new stores. We've also begun to install solar electric systems on stores (about a dozen so far) to make our own renewable energy right on site. This helps us further reduce our dependence on fossil fuel as we become more energy self sufficient. Even better for the co-op's future, all of these investments are delivering attractive financial returns as well as environmental results.

These energy results offer a lot of hope for us to achieve even more aggressive goals. Over the next 5 years we plan to:

• Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2010 levels
• Reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills by 50% from 2010 levels
• Hold energy usage flat to 2010 levels despite continued business growth.

Looking farther out, our aspiration is to be climate-neutral and send no waste to landfills by 2020. 

Although we're pleased with our progress so far, we know it's only a start. Our annual reporting will offer a transparent, full disclosure view of our progress toward these goals.

We're hopeful that what we're learning can be applied in many places. Tackling environmental impacts while we grow the co-op is a tall order, but we're showing that it's possible. We look forward to the challenge and invite REI members, partners and communities to join us in making a difference out there.

Below: A larger view of the REI Energy Use chart.


Posted on at 6:57 PM

Tagged: CSR, Climate Change, MBtu, Stewardship report, carbon emissions, energy, growth and sustainablity

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Pickering Family

Great Job!!!

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Jay M

Great job REI! Any plans to add solar on the stores here in Utah?

Kevin H Staff Member

We plan to add more solar to stores this year, keep an eye here for more info as the details emerge. You've got lots of sun in Utah, but the decision on which stores get solar first is more complex. We look at many factors beyond just solar production such as the local cost of electricity, physical conditions of the roof and State/local/utility support. A key to our approach is that solar electric systems have to compete for investment dollars with all the other capital projects – which means that co-op members can rest assured that we're meeting both the business and environmental goals of the co-op. As the blog says, we're trying to make the business part of the solution.

Kevin H Staff Member

The photo of the solar electric system on the REI San Francisco Store is used courtesy of Blue Oak Energy


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