To REI, product sustainability describes the process to understand, consider and manage the long-term social, environmental and economic impacts associated with the design, manufacture, use and disposal of products we sell.
REI was a pioneer in pushing for a universal standard by which to evaluate product sustainability. This work began with REI co-founding the Eco Index with Timberland in 2006 and led to the formation of the Sustainability Working Group under the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). The group’s goal was to design a tool to assess and manage the full lifecycle impacts of products.
A large number of apparel and footwear companies—beyond just the outdoor industry—adopted and modified the Eco Index into what is referred today as the HiGG Index.
Major Sustainability Milestone Achieved
A major landmark was reached in 2012 as the first HiGG Index (version 1.0) was published after nearly six years of diligent work.
In April 2012, REI was recognized by the White House as one of four companies representing the outdoor industry’s work on sustainability. The co-op was joined by colleagues from Patagonia, Timberland and Columbia Sportswear in accepting a “Champions of Change” award from President Obama.
Implementing and Using the HiGG Index
Although the HiGG Index continues to evolve, REI is actively working to implement the tool across our products and supply chain.
By using the HiGG Index, we’ve identified opportunities to improve materials selection and development, chemicals management and supply chain engagement. Our next step is to clearly define priorities and set measurable goals for improvement. We’re working collaboratively with the top vendors in our private brands supply chain to assess and ultimately improve their performance. We are doing this by working side by side with other brands and retailers sharing the HiGG Index best practices across the supply chain. Training sessions with suppliers is our primary tool.
REI believes the bluesign® system is a positive way forward to responsibly manage chemicals in our supply chain.
The bluesign system evaluates all the inputs (chemicals) for their intrinsic hazards, assesses the supply chain partners where chemicals are applied (mostly textile mills) for the quality of their management practices, and then checks the work through sophisticated risk management and testing. bluesign operates on the premise of preventing chemical problems rather than simply detecting them.
We have partnered with bluesign since 2008 and continue to elevate our support of the program for our private brands products. In 2012, REI increased the bluesign-certified material use to 23 percent, up from 17 percent in 2011.
Other Brands Sold by REI
The majority of products sold at REI are not our own brand. While we don’t have control over their supply chains, we do seek to influence responsible choices through education, engagement, and collaboration. Fortunately, many of these brands are already active in the work of the OIA Sustainability Working Group and Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Some have also been actively implementing the HiGG Index tools within their own organization and supply chain.