Redoubling Our Commitments to Racial and Climate Justice
A message from Eric Artz, REI President and CEO, and Tony Truesdale, Chair of the REI Board of Directors
In a typical year, this message serves as an introduction to our stewardship report and annual results. We celebrate the past year’s impacts on the issues that matter most to us in our fight for life outdoors. Now, however, is not the moment to reflect on what we have done, but to renew our commitment to what we need to do – as individuals, as a co-op, and as a country. As we face challenges of historic proportions, we must focus on the change we want to see.
We began 2020 with a strong sense of optimism and plans in place to build upon our work of previous years. But things have changed quickly and in ways that are having profound impacts on all of us.
As we write this, our country and our co-op community are hurting.
An outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 spread around the world and the country, and it forced us to make difficult decisions to ensure the safety of our employees, our customers and our communities, and to protect the future of the co-op.
We closed our offices and our retail stores in mid-March, furloughing the majority of our retail employees. We made hard choices to manage our expenses and finances responsibly and refocused on a streamlined set of priorities. We embraced new ways of working to serve our customers, first relying on digital and direct-to-home deliveries while developing entirely new offerings including curbside pickup for online orders, virtual outfitting, and zero-contact shop services.
Recognizing the vital need for aid outside of the co-op, we provided support to the 100 Million Mask Project’s Protecting People Everywhere program, which matches organizations that can donate personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals that need it, and scoured our own warehouse inventory for gear that can serve as surrogate PPE. Understanding that the historic impacts to the economy brought about by COVID-19 stood to have a devastating impact on the philanthropic community, we launched the REI Foundation’s Outdoor Emergency Fund, inviting members to co-invest alongside the co-op in our more than 450 nonprofit partners that care for our local parks and greenspaces.
Just as we began to reopen stores for some limited customer services, our nation was rocked again. This time by a wave of protest and civil unrest brought about by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. This killing, on the heels of those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others, raised the painful racial injustice and violence the Black community has endured for far too long, to the forefront of our consciousness. While communities around the nation grieve and stand up to air anger and frustration, we stand with them and are looking inward to examine our own actions. We are speaking up in support for the Black community, and, at the same time, recognizing that we need to do more.
At REI, we have a responsibility to lead -- both in the outdoor community and as a purpose-driven business. As a leader, we are re-affirming our commitment to build an inclusive environment, one that respects and values people from different backgrounds. We are committed to creating safe, inclusive environments for our employees, customers, and members. We must take part in efforts to reduce systemic discrimination and racism that has been present in our nation for far too long. We must do better. For us to see the change we want in the world outside, we must start inside.
That does not mean that we will turn our backs on the other issues we care so deeply about – issues impacting the environment and global climate change. But because these issues – climate change and social justice – are so closely linked, we believe that our commitment to each will strengthen our impacts on the other.
As former Irish president and human rights champion Mary Robinson noted in an interview at the United Nations General Assembly, climate justice “insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart.” That sentiment is supported by the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program, which notes that “environmental injustices, including climate change, have disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income communities.”
We are proud of the work we have done to ensure the outdoors is accessible to all. You can learn more about those efforts in our stewardship report. But we also know there is still much more to do.
Rather than looking for leadership elsewhere to address these issues, we will look to ourselves and our co-op community to lead. This has always been our path, and we know our impacts can be greatest when we lead with our beliefs and bring people together to make a positive impact. That continues to fuel a great sense of optimism among all of us at REI.
Our community is much stronger and much better when we are aligned around a common purpose. We hope we can count on your continued support and appreciate all of your engagement with REI and the outdoors.
President & CEO
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