• PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP
  • FAIR LABOR
  • MATERIALS
  • INDUSTRY COLLABORATION

Most of REI's environmental and social impact stems from the clothing and gear we sell. Take a cotton T-shirt, for example. Each stage of the shirt's existence—from raw cotton fiber to fabric dyes to the sewing process to the shirt's end of life—creates a separate impact. And that's just a "simple" cotton shirt. Product stewardship gets considerably more complex when we look at technical gear such as high-performance clothing, backpacks, tents and more.

Taking Our Measure

Addressing the life cycles of the products we sell presents both a responsibility and a business opportunity for REI.

Our first step: to objectively measure our products' impacts. Where are the biggest opportunities? Where can we improve the most?

This is an enormously complex challenge and we're not alone in tackling it. We actively collaborate with other retailers and manufacturers such as the Outdoor Industry Association Eco Working Group and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to create standardized tools for assessing our products' impacts.

The payoff? Armed with the right information, we can improve production processes, find innovative solutions, help our customers to make more informed decisions and ultimately reduce the impacts of the products we sell.

Chemicals in REI Brand Products

Chemicals are used in the manufacturing of most consumer products, including the waterproof, breathable materials we use in many of our high-performing outdoor products.

REI cares about the health and well-being of those who use our products, and the impact they have on the environment. That’s why we are working closely with many companies in the Outdoor Industry Association to research, understand, reduce and eliminate all chemicals of concern used in the manufacturing of our products.

The process to know and understand the impacts of the chemicals found in products we sell is complex and will take time. However, we are committed to finding attainable solutions and providing accurate information so our customers can make informed decisions about the products they buy.

Learn more about product stewardship in our annual Stewardship Report

The gear and apparel we sell comes from sources around the world. At REI we expect workers in the global supply chain to have safe, fair and non-discriminatory working conditions. Because relying solely on local laws and enforcement may not be enough to achieve this goal, REI introduced its factory Code of Conduct in 1993. The code establishes standards of workplace conduct for the factories that manufacture products we sell -- both our own REI-brand products (REI and Novara) and the products of other brands.

The breadth of fair labor compliance cannot be accomplished solely by one brand. Accordingly, REI has developed partnerships with associations such as the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and the Fair Factories Clearinghouse (FFC). As an active member in the OIA Social Responsibility Working Group and through the FFC, we enhance leverage, build trust with suppliers and brands and work together to address systemic causes of fair labor violations. REI also contributes to the growth of these collaborative organizations through active participation.

In January 2011, REI and other reputable brands and suppliers joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). As a member of the SAC Founding Circle, REI participates fully in the Environmental and the Fair Labor Working Groups. These groups are developing practical tools for use with and by our respective brands and suppliers to ultimately improve labor relations and working conditions.

We will continue to actively collaborate with our industry and retail peers on common methods and standards to ensure a broader level of compliance within supply chains. Learn more about fair labor at REI in our annual stewardship report.

REI’s Disclosures under the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act

REI's Down and Feather Sourcing

REI is committed to sourcing materials from animals that are treated ethically and humanely. We believe that we have an obligation to ourselves and our customers to understand the source of materials in our supply chain.  Because of this, we work to align our business practices with our stakeholders’ expectations and industry best practices.

As supply chain issues are complex and often beyond the direct control of REI, our approach is to use our influence to have a positive impact. In supply chain matters, this means continuous improvement toward a desired end goal. And, as REI is only one small part in a large system, we also believe in using collaboration to increase visibility and importance of these issues with vendor and supply chain partners.

REI's down and feather sourcing policy is here.

Chemicals in REI Brand Products

Chemicals are used in the manufacturing of most consumer products, including the waterproof, breathable materials we use in many of our high-performing outdoor products.

REI cares about the health and well-being of those who use our products, and the impact they have on the environment. That’s why we are working closely with many companies in the Outdoor Industry Association to research, understand, reduce and eliminate all chemicals of concern used in the manufacturing of our products.

The process to know and understand the impacts of the chemicals found in products we sell is complex and will take time. However, we are committed to finding attainable solutions and providing accurate information so our customers can make informed decisions about the products they buy.

Material Selections

Some of the benefits and drawbacks of materials include:

Organic Cotton

Nonorganic cotton is one of the most heavily chemically treated crops in the world. Although it comprises less than 3 percent of the world's agriculture, it uses 25 percent of the chemical pesticides produced annually.

  • Pros: Organic cotton is renewable, biodegradable and nontoxic. The material is traceable through the supply chain.
  • Cons: Organic cotton is more expensive to produce than traditional cotton and has limited sources. Organic cotton clothing labeling can be confusing to the consumer. For example, "100 percent organic" means the garment is sewn with organic cotton thread and 100 percent organically produced fabric. "Organic" means 95 percent of the content is organically produced cotton. "Made with organic cotton" means that 75 percent of the content is organically produced cotton.

Organic Wool

For wool to be certified organic, several federal standards must be met in the production process. The sheep or goats may not be given synthetic hormones or insecticidal treatments and they must be given certified organic feed. The land used to raise the animals must follow strict guidelines: no synthetic pesticides may be used on grazing land and the number of grazing animals must stay within that land's carrying capacity.

  • Pros: Organic wool is renewable, biodegradable and supports more sustainable farming.
  • Cons: Organic wool is more expensive to produce than conventional wool. Limited sources currently exist for organic wool production.

Hemp

The production of hemp fabric is one of the oldest industries on the planet. With the appearance of linen and the soft hand of flannel, hemp is a very desirable fabric for sportswear and casual wear. While industrial hemp has no illicit uses, the production of hemp is illegal in the United States. Fabric made from hemp is warm, absorbent, breathable and significantly more durable than cotton fabric.

  • Pros: Hemp is a fast-growing, economical renewable resource that requires only 100-120 days from planting to harvest. Hemp is most often grown without herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and is a natural weed suppressor due to the fast growth of the canopy.
  • Cons: Hemp cannot be grown commercially in the United States. There is no internationally recognized certification for hemp, but the Hemp Industries Association has developed standards for hemp content in fabric and clothing.

PLA

Polylactic acid, or PLA, is a biodegradable and recyclable polymer derived from 100 percent renewable resources that are starch-rich, such as corn. PLA exhibits many properties that are equal to or better than many petroleum-based plastics, which makes it suitable for a variety of applications.

  • Pros: Starch-rich products are renewable resources. PLA is recyclable and will biodegrade down to carbon dioxide and water in commercial composting systems.
  • Cons: Because of the relatively small manufacturing volume, PLA is still expensive to produce and is impacted by fuel and corn commodity prices. Although fossil fuels are not used in the polymer itself, they are still needed to power the processes involved in harvesting of corn and chemical production. Lastly, the U.S. commercial corn market has a significant percentage of grain that comes from corn plants that have been genetically modified to improve production. As a result, as with many other products that use commercially available corn, PLA production currently supports the market for genetically modified crops.

Recycled PET

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the most important thermoplastic polyesters. The majority of PET is made into fibers for clothing, while 30 percent is used for bottles and containers. It can be reclaimed and readily recycled—for example, "pop bottle fleece" has existed for many years.

  • Pros: The use of recycled PET reduces landfill waste, the use of raw materials such as petroleum and the use of energy in the manufacturing process. "Disposable" PET bottles represent an increasing problem as the market for bottled water has skyrocketed. Finding a recycling solution that can reduce this waste stream would be a big environmental win.
  • Cons: Contamination through manufacturing or consumer use makes post-consumer-recycled PET very difficult to use as new fibers and fabrics because it is not as high a quality and has different properties—a less soft feel, for example. For this reason, the plastic is often collected and used in bulk applications where the material purity is not important (i.e. park benches). While better than the landfill, this "down cycling" approach has limited markets.

REI and other outdoor brands are working with fiber and fabric suppliers using new processes which can restore the recycled material to its original quality. However, these techniques are in relatively low production and are currently expensive.

Post-Industrial Recycled Polyester from Polartec® (Formerly Malden Mills)

Polartec® is moving toward recycled PET by reusing scraps and by-products of fabric and yarn created in the manufacturing process. REI supports this effort as a transitioning from virgin polyester to the use of recycled materials by using Polartec recycled fabric as an ecoSensitive™ choice.

  • Pros: The reuse of manufacturing scraps reduces waste and the amount of virgin petroleum products needed. It also reduces the energy used in processing. The development of manufacturing capabilities to reprocess the material into high quality fiber and fabric is intended to be a first step in using increased post consumer waste.
  • Cons: Generally, recycling industrial waste is viewed as a process improvement rather than a major environmental win. Achieving a process that utilizes a high percentage of post consumer waste will be the ultimate goal.

Bamboo Fabric

Bamboo fabric is a natural, soft textile made from the pulp of the bamboo grass. Highly absorbent, hypoallergenic, fast drying and breathable, it's an ideal wicking fabric for next-to-skin use. Its ability to insulate keeps the wearer cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The bamboo plant has antibacterial properties that transfer into the fabric and remain through several washings.

  • Pros: Bamboo grows very rapidly and replenishes itself each year. Additionally, the plant can be harvested without ecologically damaging chemicals, and chemicals are not needed to turn the plant into fiber. The process of making unbleached bamboo fabric is light on chemicals.
  • Cons: Bamboo fabric is still expensive to manufacture. It's also not grown in large quantities in the United States. The fibers often need to be bleached before dyeing.
  • Note: We only refer to products as bamboo when they are converted to yarns by means other than the viscose process (basically, making a Rayon or Rayon-like material). In the viscose process bamboo, or other cellulose fibers, are converted to a yarn through an extremely toxic chemical process, which is bad for both the worker and the environment and would never be considered ecoSensitive.

About 80 percent of the products we sell at REI are made by other brands and manufacturers. One of our greatest opportunities as a prominent retailer? To connect with like-minded organizations to influence entire supply chains for the better.

Here are some of the partnerships we've formed:

  • Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Eco Working Group
    This is a hardworking collaboration of more than 150 outdoor industry brands, suppliers, manufacturers and other stakeholders. The Eco Working Group has launched the industry's first environmental assessment tool: the Eco Index.

  • Sustainable Apparel Coalition
    By joining this large industry group—which includes, by some estimates, 60% of the apparel value in the world—REI has dramatically expanded our work with the OIA Eco Working Group.

    Like REI, the coalition recognizes that the environmental and social challenges faced by the industry are too big for any one company to solve alone. By sharing tools and working together with the world's biggest retailers, we can make real progress on reducing product impacts.

  • bluesign® technologies ag
    REI is a member of this nonprofit organization that tackles the problem of hazardous materials in the textile industry.

    Through an independent tool called the bluesign standard, the group analyzes and measures the production processes used in textile manufacturing—from raw materials to dyes and other chemicals.
    We consider the bluesign standard the strongest global solution available to proactively address environmental, health and safety issues in textile manufacturing.

    Read more about product stewardship and industry collaboration in our annual Stewardship Report